When training is going poorly, you need strategies for turning around. Rather than accepting your fate, take action and make it happen. Here are four more counter-intuitive strategies that make a big difference.
Lower your expectations.
This is the most counter-intuitive, yet effective strategy that will impact your training. We’re constantly bombarded by messages of ‘reaching for the stars’ and setting really high goals. While that can be an effective strategy when considering long-term goals, I’m suggesting that you’re much better off doing the complete opposite. For each practice, each set, and each repetition, lower your expectations. Expect to achieve less than what you would normally. Preferably, expect to accomplish MUCH less.
Lowered expectations can exist in any context. It could be less work. It could be slower speeds. It could be higher stroke counts. It could be only committing to finish a given percentage of the workout. In some ways, this is an extension of ‘one at a time’. You’re simply going to focus on doing what you’re doing right now, even if it’s not great.
Why does this work? Everyone loves accomplishing goals. Swimmers REALLY love accomplishing goals. Accomplishing goals motivates people to strive for more. So rather than setting very challenging and possibly unrealistic training goals, particularly when you’re struggling, lower your goals to ensure you get some positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment. With a little reinforcement, you’ll often find that motivation builds just a little bit. As motivation builds you’ll strive to accomplish more. Sooner than later, you’re back to your old self.
There’s another aspect to this process. There are some days and even weeks where you’re just tired. It could be from swimming, or it could be from life. It doesn’t really matter. However, lowering your expectations gives you permission to back off a little bit and get some rest. That alone can help get the process moving in the right direction. This is particular true if it’s been several days of sluggish swimming. More than anything, you’re likely experiencing fatigue. Lowered expectation is a great way to back off and re-boot.
If this sounds like voodoo to you, I’m sure you’ve had an experience that illustrates this concept. Recall a practice where you were really tired, just wanted to go home, or even considered not going at all. Your expectations were minimal. And then you had the best practice of your life. You started slow, built some momentum, and then crushed it. This didn’t happen in spite of your low expectations. It happened BECAUSE of those expectations. It works, and it works best when you are really struggling.
However, that’s not it. The beauty of lowering your expectations is that it works perfectly in conjunction with the next strategy, which we’ll explore shortly.
Just do the warm-up.
This is an extension of ‘lower your expectations’. There will be times when you really don’t want to practice. In these situations, simply set the goal of completing the warm up, giving yourself permission to leave once you’re done. In most cases, simply doing the warm up with low expectations improves your mood, increases your engagement, and gets you ready to train. Rather than having to meet the high standard of completing an entire training session and completely it well, you make the challenge manageable. Once you do this, you’ll find that you complete training sessions that you never thought you would, and often complete them at a high standard. Just do the warm-up. If all goes well, just do the next set. If all goes well again, just do the next set. Before you know it, it will all be over.
Get SLIGHTLY better.
Having lowered your expectations to a level you know you can achieve, get SLIGHTLY better. If you’re counting strokes, can you take one less stroke over the course of the entire repetition? If you’re getting your times, can you go one tenth of a second faster? If you’re focusing on your skills, can they feel SLIGHTLY better. If the answer is no, keep trying again until the answer is yes. Once the answer is yes, do it again. Be a little bit better in some way. Then do it again. Then do it again. Then do it again until you find yourself swimming longer, faster, and better than when you started. The get there is getting slightly better.
Why does this work? As with lowering your expectations, it can be overwhelming when there is a big gap between where you are and where you want to be. That sense of overwhelm can lead to inaction when it seems like there is so far to go to be successful. Rather than relying on brute will power to blast through those feelings, it makes a lot more sense to break the daunting task into a series of much more manageable tasks. ANY progress is progress. Find a way to achieve to ANY progress and then get better and better.
If you were concerned that lowering your expectations was going to result in accomplishing nothing, this strategy is your antidote. In the face of lowered expectations, you have to improve. And you have to continue to aim to improve with each and every repetition. Sooner or later, you’ll get to where you originally wanted to go, even though you had to lower your expectations to get there. You’re building MOMENTUM. In this case, doing the opposite of what your instincts are telling you is best is the way to get what you want.
One at a time.
On occasion, there are just bad days. What should be easy is difficult, and what should be difficult seems impossible. The biggest challenge facing every swimmer in practice is taking each repetition as a unique opportunity. You can’t control the reps you just performed, and you can’t control the reps you still have to perform. All that’s possible is working with what’s right in front of you. This is a real challenge for just about every swimmer. Here is where you put all of the strategies described above into practice.
On this one next rep, lower your expectations. Set a goal that you can accomplish, and then do it. Rather than expecting the best, simply find some success on one repetition. When you accomplish that goal, acknowledge that success. Then move on to the next repetition. On the next rep, either set the same goal, or set a slightly more aggressive one. If you’re successful again, acknowledge that success and decide how to approach the coming repetition. You can either set the same goal or incrementally increase the challenge. Keep repeating this process, once swim at a time. Before you know it, the practice will be over, and you’ll probably be more successful than you expect.
Control Your Fate
While it may seem like you are at the mercy of poor training sessions, this is rarely the case. Turning it around is a skill, and it's a skill you can learn. Give these strategies a shot, and you'll find that you can get frustrating practices turned around much faster than you'd expect.
Stay tuned for next time, where we'll explore what to do when you're KILLING it.
FASTER. EASIER. BETTER.