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Plan Your Season Backwards

posted September 10, 2007 @ 8:35 PM  |  Technique, Tips, and Drills category

~By Dave Samuelsohn and Jack Geoghegan

Imagine! You just swam your best races, defeated your archrival, collected your hardware, and are riding off into the sunset with the girl (or the boy)!

If this is your dream, stop dreaming! Instead, make it your goal and start planning.

If you’re going to build something, it’s usually a good idea to know what it’s supposed to look like before you start digging the foundation. So, when you plan your season, start at the end with your goals – the times you want to do in the big meet. Then work backward to figure out where you need to be and what you need to be doing at key points during your season.

As an overview, the “mind” component of your preparation needs to be a continuing theme throughout your season. That means you start and end with your focus on your goal. Remember, you can train yourself to have more confidence (and being in great shape helps do that).

Begin by grouping your season into three chunks of time and plan each one backward, starting with where you want to be. Remember the mind component will be prevalent throughout, with a focus on your goals and a concentration on the fine points needed for your best race. Here’s what we mean:


In the pre-season, say from September to October or November, you want to go from being out of shape – from all the rest you took during the last taper and from taking a couple or more weeks off to gain back all that unwanted fat – to swimming some tough interval workouts.

Your mind component will have a real-time concentration on stroke and efficiency while keeping a long-range focus on your end-of-season goals. If you’re going to hit those goals, you’re not only going to have to be in shape, your going to have to swim a perfect race. Start now with stroke-work. Only, don’t just try to perfect your stroke, try to prohibit stroke errors.

You know how to swim; you just have to concentrate – all the time. That may be the toughest thing you have to do in workout, especially when you’re tired. But do it. Don’t let yourself slip into bad habits, or you’ll never nail down those correct habits, and you’ll be worried about your stroke all season.

Physically, you want to concentrate on whole-body workouts, longer swims, shorter rest intervals. Work on all four strokes to strengthen yourself all over – 6-8x200 IM, for instance. Pick a few areas to concentrate on, then rotate them around over a week or two: pull 20x200, swim 1500 backstroke, kick 4x400 breaststroke. Of course, legs are all too often neglected or they are worked only cursorily. We like long, hypoxic fin sets to also tax cardio, lower back, and stomach (10x200 underwater fly kick, for example). More long swims early in this phase: more interval stuff later.


Now you’re in pretty good shape. Your strokes are good, you’re strong, but you’re swimming like a slug and you’ve got a meet in January.

Don’t panic. You’re on the right track. By the end of this phase you’ll be swimming faster and feeling like you’re in great shape. That’s our goal for this phase and the real starting point. You’ll be one tough hombre.

The watchword for this phase of your season is toughness – both mental and physical. You will come to understand that both aspects feed off each other to create an even stronger whole.

Now we’re into challenging interval training – high yardage in December and January, slightly less in February. We’re doing timed swims (remember those?) regularly of all strokes and distances, including kicking. And we’re going out to breakfast.

But take care. There’ll be days when your body quits on you, such as after you’ve had one or two particularly good workouts. Expect it and don’t be frustrated. Often you can work on another stroke, but if not, that’s okay too. Do a stretch-out type of swim and get out. Go take a tub… and make sure you have a good breakfast tomorrow.

As you head into early March, you should be doing some really hot times in workout. The more important meets are coming up and you’re going to be sure to rest a day or two to ensure better performances here. Meets are important. You’ve got to get those races under your belt. Remember, in order to swim fast, you’ve got to swim fast!


Now it’s early March, and there are only about six or eight weeks to go before the big meet. Now is when everything changes. Depending on how you’ve done, how you feel, what kind of races you specialize in, and what kind of swimmer you are, your taper will vary.

But we’re still going to plan it backwards, starting with the week of the meet. We like to map out a loose grid of the upcoming weeks, to define what type of work and rest we’ll need and stick to that in a fashion that allows some day-to-day adjustment (in case we feel we’ve worked too hard or not hard enough the day before, or in case the car won’t start or the filters backed up).

The mind component plays a much more significant role here, as we rehearse the perfect race, nail those split times, and focus more and more on the positive image of achieving our goals. A good time to mentally rehearse that perfect race is just before you drift off to sleep (at night in bed, not driving to morning workout). This is called imaging. It helps to sleep on that positive image. “I can do it!” “I’m going to do it!” “I feel fast!”

Here are some things to think about and do during this important taper phase.

A good time to mentally rehearse that perfect race is just before you drift off to sleep.


Dave Samuelsohn has been swimming and competing in Masters for many years. He also coaches and works out with Jack Geoghegan who continues to win national titles in assorted strokes and distances, seemingly at will.


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