Focus: Always a Work in Progress
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on April 8th, 2014

In my most recent post Change Your Swimming in Three Minutes, I suggested doing a 3-minute exercise in nose-breathing and mind-clearing prior to entering the pool for practice.

I wrote that post after several days of doing that exercise as I prepared to start a session of writing. It did help center me for somewhat less distracted writing.

I must however confess that I neglected to take my own advice before swimming this morning at Bard College. Even so, I got into a pleasantly focused and relaxed state as soon as I began swimming.

In part I credit that to mental/emotional conditioning. I start every practice with at least five minutes of super relaxed swimming. But, as today’s practice showed, maintaining peak focus is always a work in progress.

For my tuneup, I swam this Pyramid set:
50+100+150+200+150+100+50.
My goal was to feel silky smooth while holding 13SPL; and maintaining my 50 pace as distance increased to 200 . . . then slightly quicken my pace—without sacrificing my consummate ease—as distances decreased again. I did just that, but felt a slight bit of strain holding 13SPL on the 200 and the 2nd 150. The extra effort was as much mental as physical—as it should be.

For my main task I did:
5 rounds of [3 x 50 + 1 x 200]
My goal was to swim quite relaxed on the 50s at 14-15 SPL, then swim ‘quick but quiet’ on the 200s at 15-16SPL and try to match the pace I swam on the 50s. The 50s were 42 sec, so I’d be aiming for 2:48.

I was sharing the lane with someone using a hurried, splashy stroke. Nothing unusual in that. But, besides the distraction, it created extra turbulence. On my first 200, I just missed the wall on a couple of my flip turns and my stroke count was a bit erratic. I could feel myself starting to struggle just a bit. My time on the first 200 was 2:55.

Though the time was 7 seconds slower than I’d been aiming for, I recalled exercise scientist Dr. Mike Joyner’s advice to focus on making a current time feel easier, rather than trying to swim faster.

I was aware of many small errors in that first 200 and knew I could correc them with better focus. As each round passed, the strength and consistency of my focus increased . . . and my times came down, even as I focused on swimming easier. On the final round I swam the 200 in 2:47 and left the pool feeling Mission Accomplished.

Friday I’ll swim again at Bard. I’ll spend 3 minutes nose-breathing and mind-clearing before I start.

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One Response to “Focus: Always a Work in Progress”

  1. Marwan says:

    This is a good way to increase your endurance and your swimming technique at the same time. I’ve been a swimmer for the past 12 years and I’ve found the pyramid set extremely helpful as it helps you maintain your speed and it gives you the ability to control it. Unfortunately I found that out too late before I increased two seconds on my 200 butterfly in the fina World Cup in Dubai. You are right about focus. A swimmer must have a plan ahead of time on how he or she is going to swim the race. During the competiition, focusing is essential whether you are aiming to achieve a new PB or to win. I recommend you to start swimming with a team as it helps to raise the competitive swimming spirit within.

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