Fundamentals of Improvement from Swimming

This isn’t about swimming – it’s about the underlying approach and disciplines. I think about some of the fundamentals of improvement from swimming realised over the last few weeks.

Around a month ago, I started swimming again for the first time in almost a year. I incurred an injury which prevented me from undertaking physical exercise for a while, and then spent six months travelling the world. I was able to swim in some lakes and in the sea a few times on that trip, but it was far from the disciplined, structured training I was used to when preparing to undertake a triathlon.

When I first got back in the pool, I was taking it easy, and seemed to be averaging a few seconds over 2:00/100m. Yesterday, after one month of swimming three times per week, I swam a personal best of 1:32/100m, and can easily average somewhere between 1:45-1:50/100m over 400m.

fundamentals of improvement from swimming

I’m not writing this article to brag about my swim times. To non-swimmers these times will mean little. I’m writing this because I’m really impressed with the progress made in such a short space of time, and I wanted to dive into the underlying reasons that I think contributed to the improvement. These are basic themes which can be applied to many other areas, not just swimming.

  1. Regularity and Routine – I started going to the pool every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. No exceptions. It became a solid block on my schedule.
  2. Removing Time Constrains – in the past, I’d swim before having to be at work, which meant my time in the pool was limited to around 40 minutes. Now I make sure to leave myself a two hour block to allow me to stay in the pool as long as I want to train for.
  3. Taking it Easy – I realised I wasn’t going to swim the times I used to hit straight away. I needed to go slow and build-up my technique one step at a time.
  4. Discipline –  it was important to have the discipline to first of all turn up every day, and to also swim as I needed to.
  5. Calling it a Day – sometimes, I felt as though I just wasn’t making progress. I’d be tight, or the timing of my technique would be off. Rather than pushing through and ingraining bad technique, I told myself I’d be her again in a couple of days and would more than likely have a good session.
  6. Education and Guidance – there was not point in me employing a coach having just got back in the pool, but I used the wealth of knowledge on Youtube to get pointers on my technique. Each day, I’d head to the pool and practice one thing that a video had explained. Maybe a high elbow on the catch, the timing of the breath, hand entry etc.
  7. Cumulation of Marginal Gains – I worked on one thing at once, ingrained it in my technique then moved on to the next thing. Each thing maybe saved me a second, but combined, they added up to big time savings, and there was ultimately a synergy effect. All the small things slowly combined into one efficient stroke.
  8. Having Fun – I wasn’t at the pool to hit any particular time. I wasn’t upset if I was going slow. I was simply there to enjoy swimming and with an intention of swimming as well as I could. Swimming for the sake of swimming.
  9. Maintaining Presence – in order to monitor and implement improvements to my own technique, there was a need to stay in the present moment, and focus on every movement my body was making through the water. No thinking about what I was doing tomorrow, no mental drifting. Just being there, swimming.
  10. Feeling the Water – quite swimming specific, but I started learning how to feel the water. How to relax and not try and force my way forward, but instead to work with the water, pushing and pulling as the water would allow, no more and no less. Suddenly, things felt easy while at the same time I got faster.

So there you have it – some fundamentals of improvement from swimming. Those of you who swim can probably relate in some way. However, as I said earlier, the article isn’t about swimming specifically. The point is to identify the fundamental human characteristics and disciplines in order to approach the activity in a way that yields improvements while maintain an ideal state of mind.