The Importance of Focus

As we get into the competition season, focus in practice and during meets is becoming more and more important.

Developing the ability to focus, and refocus if you lose it, can help out in nearly every aspect of life, including school, athletics, relationships, general problem solving and more. During swim season, having  a strong sence of focus is what will help you improve, and determine when (or if) you reach your goals.

As swimmers, it’s common to catch “black line syndrome” where during sets your brain just shuts off, you float into boredomland, thinking about songs, school, your cruch, what you’ll wear tomorrow, food, basically ANYTHING to keep from thinking about swimming. Guess what you should really be thinking about? Swimming!

High school season is short, it will fly by! Your time spent in the water during the season is extra valuable, and the quality of every stroke matters if you really want to reach your goals. So how exactly can you switch your focus from your dinner to your stroke? Stay in the present moment.

Check out this article from USASwimming.com on the art of focus before and during a race, how to develop good habits of focus, and how to continue to improve.


CONCENTRATION: THE MASTER SKILL OF MENTAL TOUGHNESS

BY ALAN GOLDBERG, PHD//SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY CONSULTANT

What you focus on both before and/or during your races will largely determine if you soar with the eagles or gobble with the turkeys!
Your training and health being equal, what you concentrate on at meets is the main cause of your best and worst swims. When you struggle with going faster in practice than races, faster in your off-events than your best ones or being unable to break through and get a certain time, faulty concentration is usually the main cause.

What you focus on as you go into a race will dramatically affect:

  • Your ability to stay calm and loose under BIG meet pressure
  • How quickly you’re able to bounce back from disappointing swims
  • Your level of self-confidence
  • Your skill in avoiding getting psyched out and intimidated
  • How well you handle adversity

Did you know that you’re ALWAYS doing a great job of concentrating, but most swimmers concentrate on the WRONG things?
That’s right! When you swim your fastest and when you totally fall apart under pressure and add gobs of time, you’re doing an excellent job of focusing! The key question here is, “ON WHAT?” When you go fast, your concentration tends to be on the RIGHT things both before and during the race, and when you struggle performance-wise, your focus is on all the WRONG things.

What SHOULD you focus on?
Championship concentration involves focusing on two, overlapping things: The first is the NOW, as opposed to the PAST or the FUTURE. Whenever you swim, your focus always has to be in one of these three “mental time zones.” The NOW is what is happening in the present and is the only time zone you have total control over and can swim fast in! If you’re stretching behind the blocks, three minutes before your race, your focus needs to be in the NOW on your stretching, not on your last race, (the past) or whether you’ll make tonight’s finals, (the future).

The second important target for your concentration is on what YOU are doing as opposed to what everyone else around you is doing. In other words, before and during your races, you want mentally to “stay in your own lane,” focusing on yourself and no one else. All too often swimmers get caught up comparing themselves, paying too much attention to their competitors or focusing on what others watching (parents and coaches) might think of them.

What does it really mean to stay in the now and in your own lane?
Staying in the NOW and in your OWN LANE means that your pre-race and during race concentration needs to stay on the FEEL of what you’re DOING before and during your swims. This means that if you’re behind the blocks pre-race, you want to focus on the feel of the stretching, NOT your thoughts about the race. Focusing on feel during your swim might mean that your concentration is on feeling long and smooth, how much water you’re pulling, your pace, feeling your chest pressing down just the right amount during fly or any number of other things depending upon what stroke you’re swimming. FEEL IS THE “GAS PEDAL” FOR FAST SWIMS!

Performance-disrupting distractions come from both outside and inside the swimmer!
OUTSIDE: Swimmers need to let go of all of the external distractions, such as who’s watching the meet, how their teammates or competitors are doing, the conditions of the pool, the clock, how crowded warm-up is, what their coach may do or say, who’s in their heat, their lane assignment, how important their race is and what’s at stake, their parents’ reactions to how they swim, etc.
INSIDE: Distractions from the inside encompass the swimmer’s thoughts about everything above as well as how they feel that day, whether they got enough sleep, how their training has been, whether they missed critical practices because of illness, how the taper went, the last time they swam this meet, how the season has gone so far, how they felt in warm-up, how big and fast their competition is, things going on in their personal or academic lives, etc.

Concentration is a two part skill:
#1) Recognize that your focus has drifted from what’s important
#2) Quickly return your focus to what’s important

What hurts swimmers isn’t that they lose their concentration. Breaks in concentration are absolutely NORMAL. What really hurts you, is when you lose your focus and you don’t immediately catch it and bring it back!

How do I get good at recognizing that I’ve drifted and then bringing my focus back?

  • You must spend regular time in practice deliberately working on this mental skill Throughout practice, for two minutes at a time, both during your warm-ups and through the main set, practice noticing when your focus drifts, and then immediately returning it to what you’re doing in the NOW
  • If you start thinking about what happened in school today, the past, quickly bring your focus back to your breathing pattern or keeping your stroke long as you swim
  • If you notice that you’re thinking too much about another teammate, return your concentration to your lane and the feel of how much water you’re pulling, one stroke at a time
  • In dryland training, focus on the feel of each exercise, one rep at a time

By regularly practicing this master skill of concentration, you will develop the ability to consistently swim fast when it counts the most!

See the origional article here.


 

 

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Summer Weights Practices

This summer, the mens’ and womens’ swim & dive teams have the opportunity to use cross-training in an effective way to become better athletes. Each weekday, the weight room will be open and monitored by an LHS coach at 1:00pm for any athlete who wants to lift. In order for S&D athletes to get the most out of their time in the weight room, I’ve put together a plan for our lifting practices. Each practice should take about an hour, in many cases maybe only 45 minutes.

A few benefits of weights training:

  • Give your swimming muscles a break
  • Train your whole body
  • Increase strength and speed
  • Increase mobility and range of motion
  • Strengthen shoulder muscles (rotators) and reduce injury
  • Increased bone density (especially young females)

When an athlete arrives at the weight room, they’ll find a binder with swimmer-specific workouts on the shelves by the garage door. With a different focus for each day, the athlete will choose a WOD (workout of the day) with that day’s specific focus and get after it.

The Breakdown

General Rules:

  1. Do NOT play with the weights or machines
  2. Never lift alone
  3. Ask for a spotter!!
  4. Help each other out by checking each others’ form
  5. Close-toed shoes are required
  6. Respect the coach attending
  7. If you have a question, either ask someone or ask the Google machine
  8. Report any injury to the supervisor immediately

Instructions:

Check your practice plan for the day. Depending on the number of times you come in to lift, your practice will be different. ex: on your first day lifting, do practice #1. On your second day lifting do practice #2 etc. The cycle will then repeat on practice day 5, where you’ll start over on #1.

Note: The number does not represent number of practices per week, but instead the total number of your practices. If you come in twice one week, the next week you’ll come in and start with practice #3.

Warm Up

All practices begin with a warm up. This is important for injury prevention. Take 5-10 minutes to jump rope, jog, do dynamic movements (arm swings, walking lunges, any moving stretches) and get your body warm and ready to work.

Skill

This is the meat of the practice. Take about 20 minutes to complete this portion, longer if needed. Focus on form and doing each movement correctly before adding weight, and then add weight carefully. Never lift to failure! If at any point you feel your form falter, decrease weight. All Skill movements should be done thoughtfully and with perfection in mind. 

WOD

This section of the practice is color coded.

Blue: upper body focus

Red: lower body focus

Green: core/plyometric focus

The actual specific workout is up to you! Choose one that corresponds to the color for the day. Be warned, shorter time-based workouts do not mean easier. 

Every workout will hit upon valuable movements, and encourage you to increase strength, speed, and muscle efficiency. These sections are usually time-driven, so you’re competing against the clock. If at any point during the workout you feel your form fade on a weighted movement, decrease weight. This section should take between 5-20 minutes depending on the workout.

Stretch

At the end of every workout, spend 5-10 minutes stretching, working to increase your flexibility.

Weight lifting practices should complement your swimming practices, not impede them! You will likely be sore, but you should warm up enough as you swim to eliminate most of the soreness. The more often you lift weights, and if you follow the instructions for weight selection, you will find yourself becoming more used to lifting weights and you won’t get as sore. 

If you have any questions about practices, contact Coach Sarah: 303-324-7596.

Between the dates of 6/26-8/1 contact Coaches Gabe (719-334-9692) or Katelyn (402-617-2999), Sarah will be without cell service.

1st Practice 2nd Practice 3rd Practice 4th Practice
Dynamic Warm Up 5-10 mins           

Skill: Deadlift

Work to challenging 8 rep weight then 3×5 reps (Explosive lift, slow lower)

WOD

Choose Blue Workout

Stretch

Dynamic Warm Up 5-10 mins

Skill: Pull up

3×10 reps w/ full extension, pause at top and at bottom (count 1-1000).

WOD

Choose Red Workout

Stretch

Dynamic Warm Up 5-10 mins  

Skill: Squat

Work to challenging 8 rep weight then 4×5 reps

WOD

Choose Green Workout

Stretch

Dynamic Warm Up 5-10 mins                

Skill: Bench Press

Work to challenging 10 rep weight then 3×7. Explosive lift up, slow lower.
WOD        

 Choose Red Workout

Stretch

 

Feel free to google movements you don’t remember to refresh your memory. YouTube is an amazing resource.

Green Workouts (Core/Plyo)

Blue Workouts (Upper Body)

Red Workouts (Lower Body)

 

Fine-Tune Your Open Turns

Last week was our first meet of the Men’s season, and we absolutely crushed it. The team as a whole looked pretty solid, and everyone swam great, but we still need some fine-tuning.

“Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points.”

– Knute Rockne

Meets are a great time for coaches to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both individuals (which we will tell you post-race) and the team as a whole. This lets us design practices with specific skills in mind to work on turning weaknesses into strengths.

At this point, LHS is weakest between the flags and the wall in either direction.

  • Starts
  • Turns
  • Finishes

Our open turns and backstroke turns are particularly hard to watch.

Over the next few practices, we’ll be working on all of our weak points, starting with open and backstroke turns.

While Ryan Lachte isn’t my favorite person to have do these examples (he does some odd things that don’t work for every swimmer), these vids do offer some really good basic tips that everyone should get familiar with.

Open Turn (Fly)

Backstroke Turn

Backstroke to Breaststroke “Bucket” Turn

I realize this girl is MAYBE 13 years old, but this is the best example of a high-school legal bucket turn I could find.

Stay Motivated

It can get tough working on skills and drills in practice. Often times these sets are the most boring, or most technically challenging, and the tired mind will start to wander. Well, don’t let it!

While drill sets might be dull, they are one of the most important parts of practice. Developing good techniques leads to more efficient swimming and faster times in races, which is the whole reason we’re here, right?

One of the best ways to get motivated and stay focused is to watch some fast races. So here you go!

Michael Phelps Wins 200m Individual Medley Gold – London 2012 Olympics

and…

Developing Your Best Non-Free

We have a quick three days before our first meet on the 10th, each day we’ll dig into a stroke, working on both the foundation of the stroke and refining technique. We’ll start with Butterfly and end with Backstroke.

To get prepped for this week, take a look at the video links below. Even if you’re a veteran swimmer, watch the videos. If you’re willing to work to change bad habits into good ones, you’ll get faster. If you fight the change, no one can help you.

Also below you’ll find an article that Swim Swam published last week about reducing frontal drag: Public Enemy #1 of fast swimming. Other than shaving and wearing tech suits, all of the listed methods of drag reduction are things you can start doing right now (Monday) to get faster. You should probably do them.

Note: Tuesday’s morning practice will be required, Friday will be a make up practice.

For Monday

For Tuesday

For Wednesday

Feel free to continue browsing videos to improve your best strokes, The Race Club is a great place to start.

10 Ways to Reduce Frontal Drag in Swimming

Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder. Original article found on Swim Swam.

Frontal drag is the number one enemy of the swimmer. Swimming is arguably the most technique sensitive sport on the planet. With water being some 800 times denser than air, the frontal drag forces that slow swimmers down come into play at much slower speeds than all other sports on land. For that reason, in order to become fast, we must learn how to reduce frontal drag as much as possible.

There are three types of frontal drag; friction, pressure (form) drag and surface (wave) drag. Researchers have shown that all three can contribute significantly to the slowing of a swimmer. In any given medium, including water, the frontal drag forces of an object are determined by its shape, its surface texture (friction) and its speed squared. Here are ten good ways to help reduce frontal drag.

1 – Keep the body aligned.

A curved body creates more frontal drag than a straight body. While some curve in our body is needed in order to create more propulsion, such as during the hip undulation in the dolphin kick, it is important that we bend, but not break the body. Too much curve or too much angle of one of our appendages sticking out causes an enormous increase in frontal drag. Keeping the body aligned requires having a tight core.

2 – Keep the head down.

Keeping the head down helps keep it in alignment with the body, but more importantly, a head down also can help reduce surface or wave drag. There is actually less drag underwater than on the surface of the water (think of a submarine), because we eliminate surface drag. Frontal drag is proportional to our speed squared, so ideally, we would like to see the head submerged during the fastest point in the stroke cycle, which I call the surge point. All four strokes have a surge point where the head should be underwater, even if it is slightly so.

3 – Pull underwater with a high elbow.

In the pulling motion of all four strokes, the upper arm is the ‘bad cop’, causing most of the frontal drag. By keeping the elbow nearer to the surface (except it backstroke) and more in alignment with our body’s motion, we can reduce, but not eliminate, the frontal drag caused by the forward motion of the upper arm during the pull.

4 – Wear the fastest technology racing suit possible.

The records set in 2008 and 2009 convinced all of us that the suits really matter. Even today, the best suits help reduce friction and keep the body tighter to reduce frontal drag.

5 – Shave all the hair from your body.

Although this is generally not done (or recommended) until post puberty, when significantly more hair grows on the body, shaving the entire body will reduce friction and make us slicker and faster.

6- Streamline off the start and all turns.

Getting into the tightest streamline possible creates a huge advantage when you are moving fast. The fastest point you will reach in a swimming race (about 15 mph) is when the fingertips touch the water off the starting block. The second fastest is when your toes leave the wall on each turn (6-8 mph). At either time, because of the exponential relationship between speed and frontal drag, you had better get into the tightest streamline possible.

7 – Keep your kick tight.

In freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke, the kick must be tight in order to help reduce frontal drag. With the former two, that means not bending the knees too much and in breaststroke, it means keeping the knees at or inside the hips.

8 – Double cap.

Covering up that thick head of hair and creating a new surface for your head with the reduced friction of silicone is another good way to reduce drag. Most athletes today will double cap, leaving the goggle straps between the first and second caps. The outer cap should be a thicker silicone material to maintain its smoothness.

9 – Wear low profile goggles.

Racing goggles should be strapped on tighter to the face and are a little smaller and sleeker than larger training goggles. The less they protrude from your face, the better.

10 – Point your toes.

One of them most common mistakes made on the start is not pointing the toes at entry. A German study recently showed that a relaxed foot creates 40% more frontal drag than a pointed toe. In general, the less splash one makes on the dive entry, the less frontal drag. The other common strokes where the relaxed foot causes more frontal drag is at the end of the breaststroke kick and the down kick in dolphin. In either case, keep the toes pointed backward to reduce drag.

 

 

Mental Game: How to Develop a Pre-Race Strategy

The 2016 Men’s swim & dive season starts tomorrow.

Our first meet is 11 days into the season, on March 10th, which doesn’t leave much time for non year-round swimmers to get in shape. While your body might not be 100% ready to rock quite yet, you can make sure your mind is in the best shape of your life by developing a pre-race routine now, and refining your strategies during practices.

Why is a pre-race routine valuable?

Being in the right mindset before competition can make or break a race. If you’re inconsistent with your preparation, you race performances are likely going to be inconsistent as well. Having a set routine that helps you get in the zone before races can help set the stage for an amazing performance. Once you learn exactly what you need to do to access beast mode, you’ll have unlocked the door to almost unlimited potential.

Start developing this routine now, at the beginning, so that when conference rolls around you know what works for you.

Below the weekly news is a great article found on Swim Swam about developing and implementing a pre-race strategy. Give it a read, and start to put together the routine that’s perfect for you.

Weekly News

  • There will be a Parent Meeting on March 3rd at 5:30PM at the LHS Pool 
  • The Season Information Packet can be found here. This includes the meet schedule, practice schedule, team rules, lettering system and more.
  • The team dinner signup/schedule can be found here. If you haven’t yet signed up for a team dinner, please do so, and thanks to those who have!!
  • Follow LHS Swim & Dive on Twitter for up to date information and meet highlights.
  • Athletic Release Forms must be turned in BEFORE a swimmer can get in the water.
  • Team Suit Order Deadline is MARCH 3rd. Order your suits at MI Sports. Team suits are REQUIRED for each swimmer.
  • Team Shirt Order Deadline is MARCH 3rd. An order form will be at practice. We’ll take sizes and place the order, you pay when the shirts come in.
  • Practice this week: M-W 3:15-5:20, Th-F 7:30-9:30

7 WAYS TO DEVELOP A KILLER PRE-RACE ROUTINE TO SWIM OUT OF YOUR MIND

The process of getting ready to swim fast is one that is sacred and unique to each athlete. We each have our own approaches to racing, our superstitions, our special meals, and so on.

For some swimmers they need to go somewhere quiet, and not talk to anyone before their race. They’ll zone out to some music, a towel hanging over their head marking “do not disturb.” Others are the polar opposite; they talk with teammates, joke around, and seem to not have a care in the world as time drains before race time.

In both cases, the swimmer is doing what is necessary for them to relax, to get primed, and to prepare to swim fast.

Developing a powerful pre-race routine that you can use to unleash fast swims consistently will ultimately come down to what works best for you. The mental and physical preparation required for an athlete doesn’t suit a one-size-fits-all approach, and even the suggestions from your coach or parents might not work best for you.

Ultimately, you will have to figure out what works best, what gets you in the zone, and what has you feeling ready and primed to swim like a demon.

BENEFITS OF BUILDING A PRE-RACE ROUTINE:

  • Places you into comfortable surroundings, which is especially helpful on away meets, where the pool, competition and even the language might not be what you are used to.
  • Helps reduce the distractions that comes with being at a swim meet, surrounded by heaps of friends and teammates who may be more interested in the social aspect of the meet than swimming fast.
  • It will reduce stress and anxiety by giving you a familiar set of cues to focus on executing.
  • Having a consistent pre-race routine has also been shown to make you 16.8 times more attractive. **

But where do I start, man?

Bad news is that there is no template that works for every athlete. The good news is that you have your own personal history to draw from. From this you can draw up your own personalized program. No matter how long you have been doing this by now you should have a good idea of what works for you, and what doesn’t.

Think back to the last time you swam out of your mind. Where you performed exactly as you hoped you would, where you swam effortlessly and quickly and achieved what you set out to do:

  • How did you feel before the race? Calm? Focused? Think back and try to remember what was going through your mind in the moments and minutes before the race.
  • Did you give yourself enough time to fully warm-up and stretch out before the big race?
  • How was your nutrition and hydration that day? Do you remember what you ate that morning?
  • What did you do to get focused in the 20-30 minutes leading up to the race?
  • Were you feeling exceptionally confidant that day? And if so, why?

The answers to these questions will help give you a general idea of what your pre-race routine should look like.

If you are a little short on ideas for what works for you, or you haven’t had one in the past but would like to develop a routine moving forward, here are some ideas to help you get going:

1. Visualization.

We discussed visualization a little bit earlier this week, and how it can help hardwire the performance you want into your noodle. To make the most of this tool you should be practicing it long before the big competition.

Either way, sit down 20-30 minutes before your race and visualize it in glorious detail from beginning to end, burning the performance into your brain so that the moment you step up on the blocks you’ll get the sensation that you’ve already raced this race 1,000 times.

2. Simulate race starts (on land).

Before you step up on the blocks, go somewhere where you can still hear the starter’s gun. Crouch down into the racing position, and jump forward in sync with the starter. Doing this a couple times will get your brain and muscles firing and ready for the real thing later.

3. Walk the plank, err, deck.

One of my teammates back in the day used to do this; he would set a timer, and walk up and down the distance of the pool, trying to walk exactly as fast as he wanted to swim. He would simulate the breathing he was aiming to do as well; no breaths in and out of the turns, off the breakout, etc.

In his mind he would be visualizing himself swimming the race, while adding the relative speed by walking along the pool. So not only was he rehearsing the race mentally, but also incorporating the physical cues — breathing, speed — making the rehearsal even more real.

(Doing this can get tricky at a busy meet, with officials, swimmers and coaches milling about the pool deck; consider trying this at practice as well to give yourself a feel for how long the race will actually be.)

4. Avoid tinkering on race day.

The unrested, untapered meets, as well as practice, are the times to try out new stuff. Not in the minutes and hours before the biggest race of the season. There is always a time to try out something unique and new, and it is called training.

5. Go through the motions during training.

Practice your pre-race routine in the days and weeks leading up to the big meet. You can get as detailed as you like with this as well; getting up at the same time as you will on race day, go to the pool at the same time, and even include some all-out efforts in the water around the time that you estimate that you’d be competing.

The more you make your pre-race routine a habit, the less stress, the more focus, and the more confidant you will be feeling when it comes to crunch time.

6. Have your pre-start cues lined up.

Phelps has been doing the same double arm swing thing on the blocks since he was an age grouper.

Have a couple very simple movements that you perform in the moments before you get up on the blocks — a couple arm swings, chest slaps, fist clenches — combined with a couple quick action words — Let’s go! Focus! Let slip the dogs of war! — to let your body and mind know that it is GO TIME.

Having this set of cues, and using them consistently, will make priming your body automatic, which can become especially helpful over long meets or in moments where you are feeling distracted or overwhelmed.

(To make the most of this use it in practice as well before main sets or whenever you are doing max effort work to fully ingrain the cue.)

7. Remember that it’s up to you to be ready.

If your coach has prescribed a certain warm-up, and if after completing it you still feel like you need to shake some cobwebs loose, let her know! Also, just because your friends or teammates are getting out of the warm pool, doesn’t mean you need to if you aren’t 100% ready to go yet.

** Just kidding.


 

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

Photo via Mike Lewis/Ola Vista Photography