Start these 10 steps at least one month in advance of your big swim meet so you can swim your best time ever!
1 – Pick Your Meet & Events
Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or an elite swimmer, we always recommend setting a goal to swim in an official meet, open water race, charity swim or fun swim! It’s the perfect opportunity to set a deadline for reaching your goals, meet other swimmers, and have fun!
- Masters Swim Meets – find your local swim club online to find a meet near you! Open to adults 18 years or older. If you’re in Canada, check out our partner Masters Swimming Canada.
- Open Water Swims – Global Swim Series swim in a lake, river or ocean and enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Check out our partner for their swims around the world!
- Swim Across America – join one of these charity swims around the U.S. and help raise money toward cancer research!
- And More – there are so many more great organized swims! Do some research online or ask someone at your pool.
Once you’ve committed to a championship swim meet, you’ll need to pick a couple events that you want to swim! We suggest a few individual events, plus relays. We recommend picking one event that is your favorite stroke, one event that is a “reach” for you and is more mentally or physically challenging, and then one new event that you’ve never tried! You’ll never know what events you love until you try them.
It’s important to select your events around the meet schedule. If the meet is a 3-day event, is at multiple pools, make sure that your schedule accommodates at least 1-hour for each event. This will give you enough time to travel, warm up, change into your tech suit, mentally prepare, race, then cool-down for your next event.
If you’re new to swim meets, read this helpful guide before you register, or watch this video!
2 – Set Smart Goals
When setting goals, it’s crucial that they be very defined and methodical in your approach. To help you succeed, use the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goal process. The five building blocks for reaching your goals are below:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Time-Bound
For each of your events, set a goal that follows these guidelines. Some examples are below:
Fluffy Goal: “My goal is to swim faster”
SMART Goal: “My goal is to drop 4 seconds in the 200 Long Course Meter Freestyle by the Regional Championships on May 31st by focusing on improving my turns and I’ll do this by taking 3 underwater dolphin kicks off every wall in workout.”
Fluffy Goal: “My goal is to just survive the 500 Freestyle ”
SMART Goal: “My goal is to enjoy competing in the 500 Short Course Yard Freestyle at Masters Nationals. I want to end the race feeling accomplished, happy and not too exhausted. I’m going to do this by swimming 5,000 yards per week, lifting weights 2 times per week, and focusing on elongating my stroke.
Fluffy Goal: “My goal is to lose weight”
SMART Goal: “My goal is to lose 10 lbs by July 31st by swimming 3x/week for 60 minutes, meal prepping twice a week, and weighing in once every week with my best friend.”
Read more about how to set SMART goals here.
3- Choose A Training Plan
Even if you’re intrinsically motivated, doing the same workouts over and over will make you plateau and eventually start to regress in your swimming ability. So why follow a structured training plan? Can’t you just pick out a workout at random, push yourself to the max, and call it good?
You could do the same thing over and over or do random workouts, but you wouldn’t be making the most of your time. Structured training plans have many advantages over random, undirected workouts. Below are a few of MySwimPro’s top training plans and a few ways they will help you reach your specific goals toward your swimming events.
- Beginner Freestyle Fundamentals (4 weeks)
- Get Fit – Freestyle (6 weeks)
- Enhance Speed (8 weeks)
- Improve Endurance (8 weeks)
- Get Fit – IM (8 weeks)
- IMX Pro Challenge (10 weeks)
- 10k Challenge (10 weeks)
- 5k Open Water Training Plan (12 weeks)
- Open Water Plan (12 weeks)
Just remember to reserve at least 1 week before your meet to taper!
4 – Strength Train
There are a number of great reasons swimmers should hit the weight room – even if your goal may not be to build arms like the Incredible Hulk. Strength training can improve swimming performance, body awareness, and keep things fresh.
Gaining strength also helps prevent injury. “You’ll increase bone density and strengthen the tendons and ligaments, so not only are you simply able to lift more weight, but you’re also building resistance to injury,” explains Michael Boyle, a strength and conditioning coach and functional training expert in Boston.
Here are some great exercises to try:
Push yourself in the weight room for the months leading up to a big swim meet. When it’s time to taper, make sure you’re still active but avoid heavy weights.
5 – Fine-Tune Starts & Turns
In the month leading up to your meet, you’ll want to focus on your starts (dives) and turns (flip turns). These fundamentals are so important and can make a huge difference in your race.
We recommend reserving 10 minutes every workout to dedicate to these skills. Here are some drills you can work on:
- Practice diving off of a diving block, including a backstroke start! Ask a friend or to whistle from the side of the pool to practice your reaction time. Bonus: place a hula hoop in the water and try to dive far enough to make it through the hole.
- Read our guide to perfect your underwater dolphin kick.
- Do not practice illegal turns and finishes. For example, always practice a 2-hand touch for breaststroke, and an open backstroke turn for I.M. If you do the wrong thing over and over again in practice, you’ll do it in meets and get disqualified! Read the official rules in your league to learn more.
- For freestyle, always practice pushing off the wall, and completing 3 full strokes before you breathe. If you breathe off the first stroke, you’ll slow down your momentum.
- Try these drills to improve your freestyle flip turn:
6 – Have A Taper Plan
If you’re following a MySwimPro Training Plan, we recommend training fully for 8 weeks, then reserving 1 week to taper before your competition.
It’s important to hit your highest volume of swimming during the 3-6 weeks before your competition.
On your last week before the meet, you should dramatically decrease your swimming distance, time and energy so that you can allow your body the proper time to rest.
7 – Pick A Tech Suit
If you are serious about competing and reaching your personal best times, we do recommend purchasing a technical racing suit. These suits are only for pool meets, and will reduce your drag in the water. Just be aware that they are very expensive, so do your research before purchasing!
If you are participating in an open water swim, check with the event organizer to see if a wetsuit is allowed or not.
8 – Visualize Your Race
Visualizing your race is an important mental skill you can always work on. In the weeks, days, hours and even seconds leading up to your race, you should always be thinking of the perfect swim that you’ll be doing. Do not focus on the “don’ts” or “shouldn’ts”. Practice visualizing each and every step of your race and remind yourself of all the good components of your swim that you’ll be swimming. When it comes to race time, all that practice of focusing on the positives will turn into muscle memory and you’ll avoid simple mistakes!
Visualize all the good things you’ll be doing through each phase of your swim:
- Walking into the pool with the right attitude
- Warming up
- Changing into your tech suit
- Finding your lane before your heat
- Pumping yourself up behind the blocks
- Diving off the blocks
- Perfect streamline
- Breathing pattern
- Perfect stroke
- Legal flip turns
- Perfect kicks
- Legal finishes
- Getting out of the pool, keeping composure if you’re upset and reminding yourself how well you did!
- Cooling down
9 – Practice Your Routine
Similar to visualizing your swim, you should be preparing for what your race-day routine will be like for weeks in advance. If you focus on how your daily mental and physical behaviors impact your performance in the pool, you’ll understand what it takes for you to do your best on race day. Every person is different, and we all have different habits or routines that we follow in order to swim our fastest.
What’s most important, is to NOT try anything new on race day.
Ask yourself these questions to prepare:
- How does your diet influence how you feel in the water? What about when you’re nervous?
- How much sleep do you need to perform your best?
- What do you pack in your bag that’s important? Lucky stuffed animal, 2 towels, extra goggles, and an iced coffee?
- What gets you pumped up? Listening to music, chatting with teammates, or dancing on the pool deck?
- How do you warm up best?
- What steps do you need to take to remember all your event heats and lanes? Maybe write it on your hand, set an alarm or take a photo of the heat sheet on your phone?
- How do you control your nerves or adrenalines?
- How many times should you breathe for each event, and when?
- How will you avoid getting disqualified?
- What do you do right after you finish your race? How will you react if you swim slower than you’d like?
- How do you cool down and prepare for your next event?
10 – Shave, Sleep Well & Have Fun!
Alright, it’s race time! On the night before your first big swim, you do your big shave-down! It’s time to put all that hard work and focus into action and swim fast!
Focus on the goals that you want to achieve, sleep well, stay hydrated, have fun with the other swimmers around you and swim fast!