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Train Smarter: Tips from coaches around South East Asia to enhance your mental muscle in swimming training

For the age-group swimmer who has to balance study, swimming, and make improvements in the pool, it is essential that you know how to train hard, but more importantly, how to train smart.

In a recent post by, Ryan Lochte describes his commitment to training smarter in this Olympic quad., “I’m not just doing a bunch of garbage, I have to actually think when I’m training, and everything I do has a purpose.”

If you are a swimmer who has the desire to compete at SEA Games in the near future or beyond, then you have to learn how to make the most of your time each day in the pool.

In this article I will share the perspective of swimming coaches around South East Asia on what it means to train smart, what you should focus on during training, and how best to evaluate your sessions.

What does it mean to train smart? 

Head Coach Barry Prime from Singapore Sports School Swimming Academy says that focusing on technique and swimming skills such as starts, turns and finishes is a huge part of training smart.

Training smart is not just about hitting target times, but also paying attention to the finer details of your swimming skills set.

Head Coach Taylor Smith from UWSEA East Dragons says training smart means understanding the objective of the session and or sets, “Threshold means Threshold not V02 or A2”.

From a psychological perspective, it is imperative that you know the type of training session you are swimming so that you can anticipate how you should feel during training and what to focus on.  If the focus is VO2, then you must be prepared to push, accept the pain, and focus on holding your technique when you start to fatigue.

On the flip side, if you are swimming a recovery session then a focus on body position, stroke correction, and feel of the water should be a priority focus.  Most swimmers don’t think much at all during recovery sessions, and if they do it’s distracting thoughts about dinner or homework later.  You may not have to focus intensely on hitting the times during a recovery session, but you still must focus on what you are doing and executing this task to the best of your ability.

If you don’t know what type of training you are doing today, then ask your coach.  This will help to direct your focus in training so you can work smart in all types of sessions.

Training smart includes the ability to listen to your coach’s instructions and apply it to your swimming technique.

In Delano Ducheck’s May Swim article, Dave Johnson, Head Coach of Cascade swimming in Canada points out that the ability to effectively correct your stroke when instructed will give you the edge.  He poses two important questions, “Can you take what the coach says about your hand entry and make that adjustment during the training session?” and “Can you watch a YouTube clip on streamlines and use what you’ve learnt in the pool?”

Training smart includes sensible evaluation of your training sets. 

If you are the type of swimmer who judges your training solely on whether you are beating the swimmer in the lane next to you, then your training performance depends on how well your team mates train.  If your training partner is slacking most of the time, then you might be holding yourself back.

Simon Jones, Head Coach of the BISP High Performance Swim Academy, emphasises the need to recall your heart rate as a true gauge of how hard you are working throughout the session.

If you haven’t hit your target heart rate on a main set – then you know you have more to give; regardless of whether you beat your teammates to the wall.  We definitely encourage you to compete in training, but don’t cheat yourself.

If you are the type of swimmer who harshly judges your training sessions solely on whether or you are hitting the times, then you may have a tendency to under-rate your performance particularly in tough training sessions, which can lower your confidence over time.  Many diligent swimmers I work with judge a missed time in training as a fail.  However, if you are hitting your target heart rate, but are just off your times in a challenging set, then this is deemed a good effort, and nowhere near a failed attempt.

In order to train smart, ask yourself, “Was I working at the correct intensity? How do I know this?” Check your heart hate NOT just the time.

Key questions to ask following every training session:

  • What was the goal of that session?
  • Did I train like I compete today
  • Did I push off the wall (every time) the way I will in a race?
  • Was I working at the correct intensity?  How do I know this?

Dr Jay-Lee Longbottom PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment to further develop your positive training habits with Dr Jay-Lee at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre.