Should You Be Aiming For 80% Perfection - Not 100%?

Are you one of those competitive types who wants to be 100% perfect all the time? Perform every drill perfectly? Swim every session to your absolute maximum?

If so, it's really quite like that this total 100% focus may actually be holding you back. It tends to make you swim quite rigidly, and mechanically, removing any sense of fluidity in your movements. In a nutshell you swim with "tension" in your body.

Swimming this way is not only awkward but it makes it hard to feel the water and so develop an effective catch and pull. It can also make you feel like you are out of breath a lot of the time - even when performing steady paced drills. Some swimmers say this tension in the body makes them feel "pumped" in their arms and shoulders and "gassed" with their breathing.

Arnies (and particularly the Arnie-Overglider cross-breed) are particularly prone to this and are nearly always very driven focused people. Overgliders can also suffer from being very tense when they swim - which is caused by over-thinking what they are doing - a major problem for this Swim Type.

(As an aside, on the opposite end of the spectrum the Bambino Swim Type tends to swim without any sense of purpose or "tension" in their stroke at all and could certainly do with a little more "oomph" in their movements.)

An alternative strategy is to fight that instinct to be 100% perfect, loosen off a bit and try and swim with 80% perfection instead. Hold back some focus to maintain relaxed fluid movements, moving smoothly through your stroke.

Elite swimmers are extremely good at this - they can keep tone in their body where they need it (e.g. stretching tall through their core, and holding their hands lightly like paddles during the catch and pull). But at the same time they can swim with a relaxed arm recovery, loose shoulders and a light relaxed fluid leg kick. They can even do this whilst racing at maximum effort.

Legendary sprinter Alexander Popov referred to this skill as "relaxation at top speed" and saw it as central to his success as a swimmer.

So try swimming with 80% focus for the next few swim sessions and see how you feel. A good first goal is to simply feel more relaxed, less tense and "gassed" when swimming.

Extreme drive and focus can be a good thing in some sports but when it comes to developing your swimming it may actually be holding you back.

Swim Smooth!

This is a revisit of our 2010 blog post: here

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Chris said...

Paul - this is so true!
I've been having some problems with shoulder-forearm-wrist pain on my right hand side. Really concentrating on having a loose hand on the recovery, and swimming with relaxed shoulders, has made a huge difference. It feels so much easier!

Adam Young said...

Great work Chris - this is a remarkably common problem!


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