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Managing Practice Sessions Part I

To be successful over time, it becomes critical to be effective with managing your training sessions. While it would be wonderful to just show up every day, do what’s expected, and then go home, it rarely plays out that way. Every practice is going to go 1 of 3 ways. In the first case, it’s going to go exactly as planned and as expected. You feel about as what you would expect and you’re performing about as you would expect. What’s great about these situations is that there isn’t much to manage. You simply do what you have to do and be on your way. Unfortunately, this is pretty rare.

What’s even rarer is when you are absolutely lighting it up. Every day is fast and it’s a lot of fun. You feel great from the minute you start swimming until the minute you finish training. What’s most difficult about these situations is how fleeting it can be however. The magic seems to fade as abruptly as it arises. However, there are strategies that you can use to ensure that once you do have a breakthrough, you’re much more able to continue to make progress. We’ll explore those below.

What’s most common is that you don’t feel particularly good, training is a bit of a struggle, or it’s simply bad. This is obviously frustrating. The good news is that the vast majority of ‘bad’ training situations don’t have to be that way. There is something you can do about it, and it works the majority of the time. The challenge is that what you have to do is the exact opposite of what you’ll want to do. As this situation is most common, as well as provides the most opportunity to create positive change, we’ll look at those strategies first.

Training is Going Poorly

There are days, there are weeks, and occasionally even months were it’s just not clicking. Training is not going well. At all. Your fatigued, your performances are lower than expected, or your skills just feel off. It happens to everyone. However, this is does not mean we’re at the mercy of happenstance. Getting out of a funk, regardless of how long it’s lasted, is a circumstance that you DO have control over. Reversing this circumstance is a skill, and it’s a skill you can learn.

The more quickly you learn to recognize the situation for what it is, and the more quickly you learn to implement the strategies below, the faster you’ll be able to reverse any difficult stretches of progress. Remember, it’s a skill and skills can be learned. The strategies below are counter-intuitive for most. Most athletes will push harder when confronted with a challenge. As you’ll see, this is exactly the opposite of the approach you’ll want to take if you’re hoping to accomplish your goals.

Control the momentum.

This is the essence of the overall strategy to get back on track. You must control the training momentum. Training and performance are all about momentum. When training is moving in the right direction, it tends to keep going that way. When training is moving in the wrong direction, it tends to keep going that way as well. If you’re moving in the wrong direction, you have two tasks. You need to stop the negative momentum and start the positive momentum.

Stopping the negative momentum is all about preventing failure and removing yourself from situations where you’re likely to experience failure. If you’re failing, it’s almost certainly because of the short-term accumulation of fatigue. If you’re swimming is significantly worse than it was three days ago, regardless of how you’re measuring it, it’s not because you’ve suddenly become a worse swimmer. You’re just tired, and continuing to push through it is not going to make the problem better. It’s going to make it worse!

Beyond the physical, continuing to push up against failure, is simply reinforcing failure. You’re learning to fail. If that sounds pretty dumb to you, that’s because it is dumb. STOP! Yet we all do it all the time. Recognize what’s happening and break the cycle. The first step to stopping a downward spiral is to simple refuse to engage in it. Rather than pushing through, step back and re-group. We’ll explore how below.

Starting to build positive momentum is a continuation of stopping the momentum. Once you’ve stopped the process of poor results, it’s time to start moving in the opposite direction. Starting the momentum is all about beginning to expose yourself to small wins, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Your goal is to accumulate as many insignificant accomplishments as you can preferably breaking potential larger accomplishments into multiple small accomplishments. This creates the impression that you’ve accomplished more. While that might seem like a cheap trick, a win is a win. As importantly, it slows down the process. That’s valuable because it allows you to rest.

As a concrete example, let’s say you were swimming 20,000 meters a week and you decided you need to take a break and back down to 10,000 meters. Rather than jumping back up to 15,000 and then 20,000, take your time, and go up 1,000 or 2,000 meters a week. That will give a more prolonged sense of progress AND it will require you take the necessary rest. When you take this approach, you’ll find you’re handling 20,000 meters with no problems and you’re performing much better.

Do the bare minimum.

Most athletes are motivated to do as much as possible. They’re motivated to do everything they can to be successful. They want to know they’ve done ‘everything they can’. While this can be useful in some respects, it’s counterproductive once you’ve begun to struggle. Struggling harder by trying to do more is not going to work. Take the opposite approach. Do the bare minimum you need to stay in the same place. This is a lot less than you think.

The minimum is not simply in the context of volume. It’s everything. Any aspect of performance, the difficulty of the drills you’re performing, the time you’re committing, how fast you’re swimming, and everything else. Simply do less. Every instinct will tell you that this is wrong. Remember, it was your instinct that put you in this position in the first place! When you begin to struggle, take a step back and do less. Don’t do nothing, just to the minimum you need to do and be done with it.

What’s the minimum? Probably about ‘half’ of what you’re doing. The specifics don’t matter as much as you’d think. Simply take a significant step backwards. If there is not a significant change, do less.

DON'T Trust Your Instincts

Whenever you're pushing hard and you're not seeing the results, you'll WANT to push for more.

Unfortunately, this is not the strategy that will prove most effective.

Give these two strategies a shot, and stay tuned for next time where I'll provide 4 more ideas for turning around poor training sessions.



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