How Difficult Can It Be To Spend A Little Time In Your Own Head?

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Do you ever swim for more than 10 minutes without stopping? Or even 5 minutes? Even if you feel you train pretty hard, it's easy to get into the habit of swimming sessions where all your sets are repetitions over short distances. Why is that?

The thing is, for most swimmers the further you swim the more the mental pressure builds:

If you set off on a long continuous swim, by 600m you'll probably be thinking 'This is stupid', 'Why am I doing this' or 'I can't do this, my stroke is falling apart'.

And yet... if you are a runner you wouldn't dream of stopping after 8 minutes and triathletes ride their bikes for hours on end... So what's the difference?

There's certainly not much to look at when you swim and you are very much "alone in your own head" during long sets. But the real reason it's so hard to swim continuously is simply that you never do it in the first place and stopping becomes a habit. By only swimming short distances you never develop the mental state to maintain a strong effort over longer distances - "getting comfortable with uncomfortable".

How can you expect to reach your potential as a distance swimmer if you find it such a mental challenge to swim beyond 400m? Swimming long sets at race pace is perfect mental and physical training for distance swimming, triathlon and open water swimming where you have to perform over distances of 1500m and beyond.

SS Coach Emma Brunning about to swim a 10km race (in a speedy 2:30).
Mentally phased by what's to come? Not at all!

The irony is, once you train over longer distances regularly (in the pool or open water) it actually becomes a pleasure rather than stressful. You learn the ability to zone out and simply focus on the effort and the rhythm of your movements. Just like you would cycling or running.

So perhaps a key goal for your swimming over the next few months should be to establish a session once a week where you do swim some sets containing longer swims such as 800, 1000 or 1500m. Your swimming will take large steps forward as a result.

To really develop your aerobic swimming base the perfect weekly swim is a Red Mist session (there's 75 to choose from in the Swim Smooth Coaching System!). You might swim these sessions at 4-8 seconds slower per 100m than your normal training sets - and on paper that pace might look plain slow. But come to terms with that and you'll find over distances of 4km or longer that's strong swimming.

Mentally Red Mist sessions are some of the toughest you can do - but that's exactly the point! Get your head around them, overcome the Red Mist and a whole world of faster and more enjoyable swimming opens up before you.

Swim Smooth!


JamesBoH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JamesBoH said...

The most stressful part of a long swim is counting the lengths!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. Bizarre coincidence as I'd just come to the same realization in the last couple of days - I swim to destress (partly), so have been very reluctant to "become comfortable with bring uncomfortable", as you put it. It's strange because I can run for an hour no problem - swimming is just not as natural to me yet, I suppose.

Kate Sullivan said...

I am new to swimming and just started swimming in the open water, so this article is perfect and it certainly articulates what goes on in my head. Thanks!

Jim said...

I find it easier to double my pool lengths(down & then back is 1)
in counting....seems to be an easier way to keep focused & stay on

I also have the luxury of close-by ocean training, but it's easy to
get distracted by approaching swells, marine life, & the beach in general.
I want swim steadily & not stop......but I do.

Yes, the mental is a funny thing!

Anonymous said...

Cheers...Just swam my first continuous 1500 metres, started lessons three years ago at 47, just wanted to be able to swim for fitness and health.
Being able to head to the pool a few times a week and swim 1500 is going to be perfect for me.

woody said...

I don't count lengths any more I let the garmin do it. Press go swim for an hour and don't look at again till I stop. Same for the 10x 300 Red mist sets But I do set it to buzz every 4th length

Anonymous said...

The best part of swimming for me is time in my own head... I always refer to my swim sessions as "my aqua yoga"... Obviously some sessions are spent focussing on my swimming, but some are just for the pure joy of meditating in the water!

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