This is part of a series called The Happier Swimmer: how to set up your practice lifestyle so that you are making steady improvement toward your goal, making the body safer and stronger, and enjoying the process more than ever so you have the motivation to keep going.
In this series:
- Do Only That Which Matters
- Tips For Designing A Single Practice Session
- Designing A Weekly Practice Pattern
- More to come…
Do Only That Which Matters
Unless you are a professional, or uniquely situated to spend most of your time focused only on training, you are likely one of those who have limited time and energy and resources to give to your activity. Because of this, the time and attention you give to training is scarce and precious it make sense to choose the activities that do the most to prepare you in that limited time. If the pursuit of this goal lasts for only a specific season of time, then after that you can switch your focus to another interest or let more variety come onto your schedule.
The main point is this: use your scarce training time to acquire the skills and fitness that directly relate to the event you are training for.
Clarify Your Goal
So, it is important to ask and clarify: what precisely are you training for?
How far do you need to swim? Are your practices gradually building up your ability to cover that kind of distance?
Under what conditions? Will you be in a controlled pool environment or in the wild open water? Over the weeks leading up to the event, are your practices subjecting you to all the various kinds of environmental and race stresses that you will encounter?
What is your pace requirement or goal? Are your practices gradually increasing intensity so that you are working at the necessary speed and holding that speed over increasing distance?
How do you want to feel when you finish? Are your practices requiring you to improve attention and energy control so that you finish feeling they way you’d hope to feel at the end – nicely spent or feeling primed for the next leg of the triathlon?
Filter For The Most Important Activities
When you answer those questions, that helps you know precisely the outcome you need to train for. Then everything you might be inclined to include in your practice time can be filtered through that outcome, allowing you to keep those activities which are directly important and set aside those which are not.
There are many beneficial supplemental activities you could do to support what you are doing – and yes, they would likely make things better for you. But with such limited time, consider what is absolutely necessary to get to your goal, then separate that from what is useful but not absolutely necessary.
For example, nothing gets you in shape for swimming better than swimming. You could do extra work with weights and more stretching and other land exercises, but the specific fitness and muscle strength and control required for swimming well only come from practicing swimming. Just swimming more, focusing on holding best technique under more challenging swimming conditions would do more for building the mobility and strength that is specific to the swimming you want to do. Before adding more, maximize what you can get out of a well-designed practice – practice that requires both quantity and quality in each set. You may get more out of training when you do fewer things and do those with higher quality standards.
In another example, there may be some mobility restrictions that keep you from swimming pain or injury-free, or that keep you from moving through the full (safe and strong) movement pattern suitable to that stroke. For you, therapeutic mobility work may be a necessary part of your training plan. Such supplemental work is going to be essential for allowing you to practice with the technique and intensity that your goal requires.
Then there are activities you can do that don’t compete with the time you’ve budgeted for pool practice. There is a lot of mobility and strength work that can be done in creative ways throughout the day and week. Attention training (mindfulness) is available at any moment you are awake. You are applying attitude in every difficult situation you face in daily life – use your good athletic attitude to hardship outside athletics. Little pieces of movement patterns can be imagined and practiced standing around in quiet moments any time. And, of course, good/clean/dense nutrition, quality sleep, and diaphragmatic breathing are critical factors in performance that you could possibly make better decisions about throughout the day.
So remember: when time, energy and resources are scarce, do only that which most directly contributes to you reaching your goal.