Breakthrough:  Swim Outside Your Comfort Zone

By Jim Izzi
• USMS Certified Swim Coach – Levels 1, 2 & 3
• Red Cross Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR/AED
• Certified Primary Personal Trainer
• Certified Core & Functional Fitness Instructor

We are creatures of habit. As we go through our days, weeks, years, and lives, we fall into habits of comfort in repetition.  We wake up at the same time, eat the same breakfast, stop at Starbucks and order the same drink. At work, we perform our tasks in the same order and our day has begun its familiar pattern.

Being such creatures of habit can also manifest itself in our swimming.  We continually swim the same practice, the same familiar stroke at the same level of intensity, not wanting to push ourselves outside our comfort zone. Also, we have a favorite stroke and event, and choose these without consideration. As a coach I see this in swimmers all the time. When presented with a choice, swimmers will choose what feels familiar. At swim meets we sign up for our familiar events, which are our most comfortable strokes and distances. We do this year after year, and want to improve, but become disappointed when we don’t see any time improvement. The key to your breakthrough is; swim outside your comfort zone!

The Premise
The breakthrough comes when we push ourselves to swim outside of our comfort zone.  In order to make the break through, you need to push the intensity.  Our bodies only adapt to change. In swimming, if we continue to swim at a comfortable moderate pace, our performance will not improve.  But, if we swim sets and continually push the intensity, we are essentially breaking down our muscles. Because of the stress being applied throughout the higher intensity workout, during rest and recovery, our bodies will repair and become stronger and faster. If you adopt this mindset during at every practice, your body will continually be forced to adapt to the higher intensity level, therefore the end result will be overall improved fitness and better swim performance. 

Another way we swim in a comfort zone is to always swim the same strokes and events. To break through your comfort zone you need to swim strokes and event distances you are not comfortable swimming. The best way to do this is to commit to learning one stroke you don’t like. Choose this one stroke, when you have a choice, and swim it.  As a MAC swimmer you have great coaches available on deck to help you improve in every aspect of that stroke. Stay motivated.  It might take some time, but in the end, you will improve, and you might even discover a new favorite stroke and event.  Some benefits of focusing on a new stroke are giving your muscles a rest from your favorite stroke, building different muscles, and reducing overuse injuries. 

This season MAC has a great program in place to help you achieve this goal – the MAC Olympics.   The MAC Olympics are designed to help you swim outside your comfort zone by swimming all the different events offered at a swim meet.

On A Personal Note
I started swimming as a triathlete.  I only swam distance freestyle at the same intensity level for years and years.  My swim times were always the same, and I only choose freestyle at any swim meet.  Breaststroke was always a mystery to me.  My timing was terrible, I had no kick, and whenever we swam a breaststroke set at practice, I always told my lane mates I needed to go last. Does that sound familiar? I decided to do something about it.  I started paying attention to all of the breast instruction from the coaches and committed to learning everything there was about breaststroke. My workouts included many breaststroke sets and drills.  I signed up for all the breast events at meets, kept track of my times, and talked to the coaches for tips and improvements along the way. It took some time, but slowly and surely, I felt like I was actually swimming the stroke!  Although I’m still working towards improvement, I now consider myself a breaststroke swimmer. I pushed myself outside my comfort zone, discovered a whole new stroke that I now love, and the 200 breast is my favorite event.  The best part is that all of my other strokes have improved because of it.

Make the breakthrough and push yourself outside your swimming comfort level.  Who knows what you might find?