Every swimmer knows that sinking feeling of dread when you walk out on deck and see a brutally difficult set scribbled on the whiteboard. You might find yourself instantly fearing the pain you know is coming, and your mind might begin screaming, “I can’t do it!”
But instead of giving in to negativity, develop some strategies to help you accept the challenge and push through the pain. Check out these 9 tips for conquering tough sets:
1. Approach with purpose
Don’t allow yourself to give in to dread and approach the set in a negative state of mind – that isn’t productive and won’t help you reach your swim goals. Instead, consider why you’re doing the set and how you can benefit from it. What can you accomplish, and how will those small accomplishments contribute to your long-term improvement?
2. Chunk it
Facing a mammoth set with high-intensity repeats can be overwhelming and even disheartening. You might think to yourself, “how am I ever going to get through this?”
Rather than worrying about the entire set right from the beginning, try breaking it up into smaller pieces. If you chunk the set and tackle each part separately, you’ll be less overwhelmed and better able to push through.
3. Reverse any negative self-talk
When you’ve only completed the beginning portion of a very long, intense set and you’re already exhausted, it can be easy to fall prey to negative self-talk. Once you start telling yourself you can’t do it, you’ll certainly fulfill that prophecy.
As human beings, it’s extremely difficult for us to reverse negative thoughts. But if you’re able to turn that pessimism on its head, you’ll benefit tremendously. After telling yourself you can’t do it, try thinking, “but what if I did do it?” Consider the view you’ll have from the top of the mountain.
4. Feed on your teammates’ energy
Teammates can be your best source of energy in the middle of an intense set. You’re in it together. Be sure to recognize the fact that everyone is in pain, but you’re all making a commitment to avoid backing down.
Try pumping up your teammates by shouting words of encouragement, and they will reciprocate. When enough swimmers are working hard together and supporting each other, the positive atmosphere becomes contagious.
5. Concentrate on skills
When you’re suffering and you still need to push the next repeat, you might be tempted to let your technique slide in order to muscle through. However, the sloppy strokes and skills you practice during tough sets will be the same ones you fall back on when you get tired in a race. Giving up your technique in order to thrash your way down the pool is not constructive.
As you get tired, remember to focus on the skills that will make a difference in your race. By concentrating on your stroke counts, or the number of dolphin kicks you take off the walls, you will distract yourself from the pain and shift your focus to more important matters.
6. Keep track of your metrics
In addition to concentrating on skills, take that focus one step further and keep track of your metrics during the set. This is another way to distract yourself from pain and see real benefits. By focusing on how your stroke counts are changing from one repeat to the next, you will be more aware of your swimming and better able to pinpoint weaknesses.
Of course, this is much easier to do if you are wearing a TritonWear unit, and then your coach will be in the loop as well!
7. Internally blast your pump-up anthem
Sometimes you just need a good song to give you the boost you need to continue pushing. Music can help get you into a good rhythm, distract you from pain, and – if it’s the right song – pump you up!
Blast your pump-up anthem in your head to help you keep fighting and ultimately conquer the set.
8. Visualize your race
One great way to stay motivated during a tough set is to think ahead to your big race. Focus on the ways in which your hard work will pay off at the end of the season. If you visualize yourself executing the perfect race, you’ll feel a boost of energy and you’ll be more determined in training.
Studies have shown that visualizing success in advance leads to real benefits. As you’re working through the set and focusing on technique, consider how your efforts will translate in the future. Imagine yourself racing down that final length feeling confident and powerful. Visualize this and you’ll be inspired to keep pushing your limits on every repeat.
9. Look forward to what awaits
There’s nothing like a post-workout high to make you feel accomplished and euphoric. The next time you're suffering through a set, keep in mind how great you'll feel after completing it.
The better you conquer the set, the more pride you’ll feel afterward. Consider this while you’re struggling against the pain and fighting negative self-talk. You can also look forward to the pleasure of a big breakfast or dinner to replenish all that lost energy!