Of course it's important to work on areas of your stroke that are holding you back - preferably in a targeted way using coach feedback or video analysis. However, obsessively thinking about the same areas of your technique over and over again soon leads to you hitting a plateau. If you've experienced this you'll know that this 'analysis paralysis' is extremely frustrating!
An important part of developing your swimming is the ability to simply switch off sometimes and feel your stroke rhythm. Over-thinking adds a noticeable pause within your stroke as you analyse you previous stroke and plan your next which kills your natural rhythm and timing. Also, all that mental pressure makes you tense and rigid as you try to be perfect, which only gets worse as you become more frustrated!
Faced with the prospect of 10hr+ English Channel crossings, SS Head Coach Paul Newsome and the rest of the Channel Dare Team know all about the dangers of thinking too much, which would be to the detriment of that key ingredient for distance swimming: rhythm. It's hard to explain what a channel swimmer really focuses on for ultra-endurance swim sessions, other than simply getting into a good groove and holding a nice rhythm for a prolonged period.
When you get into this zone you enjoy the experience and feel the natural rhythm of your stroke. In doing so you'll often find an area of your stroke starts to click or you become aware of something that was holding you back. Interestingly, Swingers like to switch off like this and are very good at it, so much so that they dislike technique sets for the disruption to the rhythm and momentum of the session.
Example 'Brain-Off' Set
Try this neat little set and see what happens, repeat it anywhere between three and five times through in your next session:
4x 50m drill with 10 seconds rest between each 50m. Choose a single drill for each set of four 50s which you know will target a specific aspect of your stroke, for example you might choose sculling, kicking on your side or unco. Restrict yourself to only thinking about that one aspect as you drill for each 50m but then:
200m continuous steady freestyle with the brain switched off - just feel the rhythm! Let the previous drill just do it's work and naturally filter into your stroke.
What If I Can't Switch Off? - The Split Screen View
At Monday morning's technique session here in Perth we tried this set with our squad and it was very well received by the swimmers. However, not everyone managed to find that rhythmical place in their stroke straight away, the place where they felt they were on auto-pilot.
One swimmer was struggling to find his flow during the 200m swims so we asked him to simply look at (and enjoy) the image of the water rushing past his face as he breathed. His goal was to see if he could keep one eye looking above the water and one eye under in a sort of "split-screen" view:
By giving this swimmer a visualisation which wasn't a direct technique focus (but still emphasised good breathing technique), he was able to improve the single biggest thing holding him back: sinky leg syndrome. He improved his efficiency in the water without having to think overly hard about anything, which normally makes him tense and rigid especially when he's frustrated and feels he's "not getting it".
If you struggle to switch off, try using the visualisation above and enjoy the motion of the water around you which will make it much easier to find that flow and rhythm. Before you know it you've crossed the Channel and are standing on the beach in France... well, nearly! ;-)