In the previous article Can You Trick Yourself Into A Longer Stroke? I described the difference between doing tricks to produce temporary adaptation – or we might call them, temporary boosts in some part of your performance – and doing the work over time to produce permanent adaptation, where you can actually maintain that higher level of performance in your normal training, racing or recreation.

As I noted, the trick-exercises are important to conduct because they show you what next step of improvement is within your reach. Once you see what you may be capable of, you get to work, over weeks and months, to master the skills and build the requisite strength around those skills so they can hold up to the kind of swimming you intend to do.

As you dream of what you will be capable of, consider the path you need to follow to get there, then consider the steps you need to take along that path. Some folks might feel impatient to have all that skill and performance in place sooner than later. But good things take time, and the best often take more. There is a process for building up your body to reach your goal which requires time and likely several steps, taken one after another.  

Photo by Fabrizio Conti on Unsplash

Small Steps Toward A Big Goal

How big your goals appears is relative to where you are starting from and where you want to go. It doesn’t really matter what someone else thinks is a big or small goal – what matters is how it appears to you, from your vantage point.

For one who cannot even make it across the pool without fear of drowning, swimming a dozen laps with ease feels like a Big Goal. For one who has swam laps and played around in the pool, completing a first Olympic-distance triathlon with a 1.5 km swim in a cool, windy lake may seem daunting. For someone who has picked up swimming later in life, thinking about competing at level with the best people in your age-group may seem really tough to do. For most people, even among regular swimmers, stroking across the English Channel may seem crazy!

If you often dwell on how far you need to go, from where you are today, that can deflate your courage quickly. But once you decide on something to aim for, if you identify a path and a process that can lead you to that goal and then you can absorb yourself in just the current stage and the steps involved – you can make steady progress and boost your courage.

It’s also convenient that good processes provide you with early, small and fairly easy successes to build your confidence and momentum. A proper training process is going to prepare you mentally to be able to handle the longer stretches ahead where smaller gains will be earned.

This is generally true for new athletes. At the start of your swimming career, when following a well-designed program, you’ll get a dramatic increase in capability for a fairly small amount of training – pleasing neural adaptation take place in just the first 10-12 weeks of persistent training, and those adaptations make you feel stronger, and more confident that you can go further.

But later on in your career, as you move up the mastery ladder, you’ll find that you get less in return for a larger amount of training than you did before. So, if you intend to go very far up that ladder, you’d better learn to enjoy the training process and find reward in the daily activities. The mastery path will teach you to get more and more satisfaction out of smaller and smaller improvements. The mastery path will teach you to appreciate every step you take to get where you are. 


Small Steps For Safety

When you are new to training for this particular sport, and you are starting at a fairly low level of fitness and skill, you need to carefully increase the loading on your body proportional to the increase in your skills – skills don’t just mean moving faster or more effectively, the also mean having your joints moving in the way that are appropriate and safe. Good technique allows your joints to safely handle more work. Poor technique puts your joints at risk and more loading (more training stress) increases that risk. So, it is definitely advisable that you get help from a competent technique instructor to learn safer, stronger movement patterns. And, when compared to the amount of work you have been doing, it is important that you gradually increase the frequency, the intensity and the duration of your workouts so that your body has time to adapt in order to safely handle more work each week. 

Does it have to be a gradual build up? Can’t one just do more and get there faster?

I know this bothers some people. But you can’t have it all… right away. Rather than try to perfect all the skills at once, build up your foundation skills in a few areas, then build up fitness around those skills. As you build a bit more fitness it will reveal gaps in those skills, or may reveal relationships between skills that you did not appreciate before. The stronger your foundation skills, the more easily you will be able to work on advance ones for they are dependent on them. So focus on building those new skills for a while, then focus on building up more fitness around those new skills. Then go back to focus on a few more skills and then focus on building up more fitness around those. Go back and forth like that. 


Small Steps For Performance

When you start working toward your goal of a longer or faster stroke, you do well to set a smaller goal that takes you in that direction, then get to work on taking a small step toward it. The bigger the improvement goal you have set, the smaller those steps may need to be (or appear to be in comparison to how far you need to go). 

If your goal is to reach a podium, competing against others, the closer you get to absolute top performance for your age group, the longer you will likely need to work to earn smaller bits of performance gains. That’s because everyone you are competing with is dealing with the same physics and bumping up against the same physiological constraints that all humans are subjected to. Anyone trying this must pay a higher and higher price for smaller and smaller gains. (Consider by how many milliseconds world records are being broken by, and how many years those athletes are working to squeeze out those milliseconds.) 

If you are just starting out in the sport of swimming, with frequent sessions that follow an intelligent training process, you can make enormous gains in a matter of weeks, relative to what you were previously capable of. In the early stages, just by putting your body parts into better position, you can swim longer and get faster while working less hard than when you were struggling to make it across the pool. But you will eventually move past that ‘free-speed’ stage; when you get closer to your fitness peers and then work to get closer to the top performers in your age-group, you’ll find that it takes more work to earn those smaller gains. 

An example for how to apply is presented next in ‘Small Steps Toward A Longer Stroke


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