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Integrity in Training

For as many years as I’ve been involved in this sport, it never ceases to amaze me how people approach their training. Over the years, I’ve been privileged to watch many world-class athletes train. Heck, a long time ago, I was even one of them, but the coolest part about being one of them was that I could witness — at extremely close range — how my training partners approached THEIR training.

Swimmer pushing off Before we get too far into that, I want you to ask yourself a question about your own training, and you have to be completely honest: During a set, do you focus more on HOW you’re accomplishing the set…or on what Coach is going to ask you to do NEXT?

The real question is: Do you swim in the present, or the future?

As athletes, we have to have goals, both short term and long term. So when I say DON’T live in the future, take it with a grain of salt. This article is about making sure you accomplish those long-term goals, by taking care of business TODAY!

The title of this article is "Integrity in Training," and a big part of "integrity" is being honest with yourself. There are SO MANY swimming-related habits and behaviors that I could use to illustrate this point, but I’ll use just a couple. Do you do two-handed turns on EVERY breaststroke and/or butterfly turn? Don’t bother answering, cause I already KNOW the answer. And how about when you’re wearing fins or doing breast/fly drills? Still two-handed? Here’s another one: Have you ever pulled on the lane-line in backstroke? All it takes is a quick move with the tip of your middle finger and you can shoot past Frankie in the next lane. Or…have you ever yanked on the lane line heading into the wall during a kick set? How about single-arm butterfly, and I DON’T MEAN THE DRILL? Didn’t streamline off a wall? Didn’t start from the wall? Didn’t finish at the wall? And these are the OBVIOUS ones!!! There are about 1 MILLION MORE!

Swimmer pulling As an athlete, you HAVE to be aware that any sport is ALL about the effort you put into it. Training is NOT about simply doing what your coach says. It’s about taking the opportunity to figure things out while you’ve got the chance. When you do the little things wrong in practice…and don’t laugh when you read this…you’re only cheating yourself! For those of you who are young and wonder why I sound like your parent, it’s because we’ve experienced everything you’re going to experience, and we want you to be happy.

When you pull on the lane line to gain a little advantage over the person next to you, or to make the interval, you may feel like you’ve gotten away with something. You may feel like you’ve accomplished something, like you’ve gone a little faster and made the interval. In reality, you could be lulling yourself into a false sense of security that all is going just fine. You could be fooling yourself into thinking that you’ve actually done something good. You also can be influencing how your coach trains you. If Coach feels that you can accomplish something, and you’ve started to figure out ways to cut a corner or two, then the intervals may continue to decrease. This is only going to FORCE you to continue to cut those corners, and you’ll start to really think you’re doing something good. The trouble is, if you’re NOT applying the same rules to practice that you have to abide by in a race, you’re kidding yourself.

Compare the following ways to accomplish a set:

Two swimmers with exactly the same best time, and with similar talent and physiology (trying to compare exact people is impossible)
8 x 100 breaststroke on 1:20

Athlete A uses two-handed turns on every wall while Athlete B uses one-handed turns
Athlete A reaches a specific point on every underwater pull while Athlete B comes up short and starts to sprint
Athlete A holds perfect streamline through the entire underwater pull while Athlete B uses a dolphin kick during the underwater pull
Athlete A attempts to hold the same stroke count through the entire set while Athlete B (if he counted) would watch the stroke count rise on every couple 100s as he continued to get tired

Swimmer one handed turn With those few little things going on, what could happen is that Athlete B would have no problem making the set, while Athlete A could appear to be struggling just to get by. The coach could then (if she weren’t watching closely enough), think Athlete B is progressing faster, and lower his interval to 1:15 while keeping Athlete A on the 1:20.

Now, common sense here, who is getting a better workout? Who is learning more about how to race and swim? If you said athlete "B" just because he lowered his interval, then THIS IS THE WRONG SITE FOR YOU!

Athlete "B" (we’ll call him Goofus for you fans of Highlights magazine growing up), is really cheating. He’s adding subtle things that people tend to get away with, yet he wouldn’t be allowed to use any of that in a meet. While Goofus has been going on a faster interval, Galant (athlete "A"), has been practicing GOOD technique and race prep. All of the sudden, the SLOWER swimmer in practice is suddenly FASTER in the meets. Now who’s smiling?

Swimmers have to stop trying to impress their friends, coaches, family, observers in practice. Swimmers have to realize that practice is about practice and that the corners that you cut in practice can ultimately lead you to swim SLOWER in meets. If you think you’re getting away with something in practice, you’re not. You’re just kidding yourself. This sport is NOT about who can accomplish a set, it’s about who can swim as correctly as possible, and do that as FAST as possible.

In the real world of elite-level, competitive swimmers, most of the athletes do just about everything right, all the time. They know the importance of perfection and practicing with purpose. They never just go back and forth. Why not start that practice as soon as possible? It makes no sense to wait until you get good to start acting like a good swimmer.

All you have to do is continue to ask yourself questions like: Is this allowed in a meet? When you’re using a kick board, or pull buoy, ask yourself questions like: How can I best emulate my swimming stroke, or practice my turns properly using these tools?

Cutting corners in practice is simply cheating. Swimming is a sport in which it’s easy to hide things, or to show effort when you’re not really putting it in. Integrity in training, and honestly in training has NOTHING to do with how the outside world sees you, but rather with how you see yourself. By asking yourself if you’re honestly done everything as perfect as you can, you’ll know the answer, and if the answer is a positive response, you’ll do better than you thought you could.

When can you stop thinking about all the little things? When doing something wrong just feels bad. After 35+ years of swimming, I find it very difficult to push off in a non-streamline position, whether I’m swimming fast, or easy. It’s just habit and instinct for me now and, hey, it only took me 30-some years to get to this point. The sooner you start, the younger you’ll be when it all takes effect. The longer you wait, the less likely you’ll EVER be to pull it all together.

Don’t forget, this sport is about YOU, YOUR effort, YOUR dedication, YOUR commitment, and — YOUR integrity in your training.