There is this wide spectrum between “I want to perform better” and “I want to feel better” – a few swimmers seem to be on one extreme or the other, while the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle with a mixture of both. However, one of these tends to be the dominant motivator for each of us, and I try to sense which one it is in each person I work with.
So, let’s examine these two categories. Here are two scenarios describing each kind of swimmer:
Jared has a particular achievement in mind – “I want to finish a full Ironman in 6 months from now.” He asks me, “Can you help me learn how to do that swim so I don’t feel like I am merely surviving it, but feeling pretty good?”
Tom has a particular sensation in mind – “I feel breathless and quickly tired when I try to swim even a couple laps at the pool. I don’t want to race. I just want to be able to go on vacation to a nice beach or resort, jump in the water and cruise around for an hour or two without feeling exhausted right away.”
Jared has a specific achievement goal which will be measured externally – finishing a certain distance, in a certain amount of time. That achievement will require that he develop certain internal qualities – such as streamline shape, coordinated body movements, easy breathing – that make that kind of distance and speed efficient and comfortable. He needs to develop certain internal qualities as a means to getting to this external result.
Tom has a specific subjective goal, which will be measured internally – the removal of stress, struggle, premature exhaustion. He just wants to be able to feel good when he gets in the water to swim around, feeling free to go more or less distance as he pleases. He wants the internal qualities of efficiency and comfort, but without any particular demand on how he must use it.
A Training Plan For Both
Obviously, Jared is the kind of athlete that is going to be interested in a structured training plan that builds the specific skills and fitness that he will need for that 3.8km swim. He knows he will need to do it within a certain time frame. He’s got a goal and he is ready to do what it takes, on schedule, to get to his goal – sounds like most dedicated triathletes I know!
I want to make the argument that Tom could also be served well by taking up a specific achievement goal as a tool – like choosing a swim event or race later in the year – something with a deadline or time frame involved. Not because he should race but because he can then use an external goal as a way to hold himself accountable to get the work done that will produce the internal qualities that he seeks. A race has a certain distance, and the event happens on a certain day. Usually, one pays a bit of money to register and he lets others know he’s going to do this. There is incentive to learn how to be efficient and comfortable for a specific distance and certain conditions. And the deadline of an event or schedule of the training plan holds him accountable to get the work done in a timely manner. The structure of a good training plan organizes his work for the skills and fitness in a way that is consistent with physiological principles.
What Kind Are You?
So, primarily, what kind of swimmer are you?
Achievement-Oriented, or Sensory-Oriented?
Quantity-Oriented or Quality-Oriented?
I am making the case that, regardless of which one you are, you need a bit of both to help you get what you are primarily after. The swimmer who wants to perform better needs to improve how it feels. The swimmer who wants to improve how it feels, will do well to structure practice and measure progress with a specific swimming achievement challenge.
You can pursue an external quantitative achievement, and then seek the technical and qualitative improvements you need to get there.
Or, you can pursue internal, qualitative achievement, and then use an external achievement as a tool to measure progress and provide structure to how you practice and doing the work in a timely manner.
Set Up Your Training Plan
Either way you are oriented, here are some suggestions:
Choose an achievement goal that will require you to demonstrate the internal qualities you desire. There are triathlons, and open water swims, and masters swim meets in so many places that offer a variety of challenges and different levels of competitive atmosphere.
Or choose the qualities that are most likely to help you achieve your current goal in terms of how you want to feel at the end of it.
Look for a training plan that includes emphasis on both, the attention to developing the qualities and the quantities you need for that goal.
Set aside the time in your schedule for a few months to get the work done in a timely manner.
Use test swims periodically, to measure both how much further or faster you can go, but also how much better it feels to do it – both are important indicators of your progress. Don’t wait for race day to find out if your skills are ready for the challenge. A good training plan with feedback and measurements along the way should remove those surprises.
Of course, we provide some training plans in our Mediterra Swim Dojo, and you are warmly invited to check them out and consider entering our unique way of practicing. But there are many training plans on the market these days for specific swimming and triathlon distances. I hope you can find something that fits your style and budget.
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