Swimming is a sport where you don’t need super fast reflexes or big muscles. The biggest improvements typically occur with stroke technique refinements.
When you practice, hopefully you spend some of the time trying to improve your stroke technique, but there are so many things to think about! In the “olden days”, swim teachers would concentrate on rote drills and detailed descriptions of each phase of a stroke and kick. But when we are in motion, as Lee Stroker illustrates above, it can be daunting to remember what the “correct way” is and apply it as you swim.
Here is my suggestion: Before a workout, think about 2-3 things that you want to concentrate on. Let’s call this your “mental game plan.” For example, in freestyle:
1. Kick from the hips
2. Exhale smoothly, not in a burst
3. Keep one eye submerged when you breathe by rolling slightly and looking back toward your armpit.
As you swim, pick one thing and concentrate on it for several laps. Then move on to another item and be aware of it for several laps. Swim some laps “mindlessly” and others concentrating on 1 or 2 things that are in your mental game plan. Over time, your effort will pay off–improvements will become “wired” into your muscle memory, and you can move on to even more refinement in your technique.