Mental Training for Swimmers: Does It Work?

Michael Butler
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The Research on Mental Training for Swimmers

A large number of swimmers rely on mental training to improve their performance. This is especially the case with competitive swimmers, whose top competitors often invest in mental training strategies to score an edge over other swimmers.

While the world of sports psychology may seem new to swimmers (and athletes in general), mental training strategies have been around since the late nineteenth century.

As a result, there have been a number of studies on mental training for swimmers or specifically ear-other swimmers’ ability to increase performance. One of these is a 2007 study, titled “A review of mental training techniques in elite swimming”, that analyzed mental training studies that involved competitors in sports such as swimming, rowing, and canoe striving.

This review found that 75 percent of the mental training strategies met the criteria for efficacy. For swimmers specifically, 78 percent of the mentally training strategies met the criterion for efficacy.

Even more encouraging, however, is that highly trained swimmers were found to be less susceptible to the negative effects of mental training strategies than less trained swimmers. The message of this finding is that mental training strategies are great, but you have to use them correctly.

How Much Mental Training Is Enough?

Before London and before Beijing, if you had asked Michael Phelps or any other elite swimmer whether mental training helped them, they would have probably said no. If you offered Phelps a million dollars to change his mind, he wouldn’t have taken it.

A belief that mental training has only a small effect has been dominant since scientific studies on the subject in the 1990s. However, there are some studies that the conclusion of the previous studies is no longer valid and that mental training has a consistent and substantial effect.

So how much mental training is enough?

According to experts, you need to put in at least five to 15 hours of mental training in order to realize tangible performance benefits.

That means that it’s probable that Phelps didn’t spend enough time with his mental coach. By the time London came around, he was already an Olympic champion and he thought that he didn’t need any more mental training to do well.

Even if you have enough time in your schedule for meaningful mental training, you need to put the time in and work hard at it. It’s not enough to do it for just a few days in the swim camp and then go back to your old ways. You have to follow through with your training.

The Takeaway

As anyone who has spent any time in the pool with a swimmer knows, there is a fair amount of mental training that goes along with their physical training.

To be effective, physical training strategies can be taken further by incorporating the mental process into them. This can take the form of visualizations, affirmations, and goal setting.

While the jury is still out on the benefits of mental training for swimmers, there is some positive evidence that suggests it is helpful. Therefore, it’s definitely something worth doing.

It will be interesting to see how mental training for swimmers progresses in time, especially as it becomes more mainstream.

As long as swimmers are able to monitor whether it’s having a positive effect on them, it can become a secret weapon for their training arsenal.

See Also:

Mental Training for Swimmers: Does It Work?

Psychological support and training for swimmers is a hot topic. While some athletes claim that the support and techniques that a mental coach can provide is invaluable, others view the entire practice as pure BS.

It does not help that some of the mental training techniques and guidelines that popular coaches put forth can be hard to apply, at least for non-elite swimmers. And some techniques that are effective for new swimmers may not work for more advanced ones.

So, is mental training for swimmers as effective as many coaches believe?

Here, we take a look at some of the most persuasive studies to see how rigorous and reliable the science behind this practice is. We will also examine some of the generalized guidelines put forth by some well-known (and not-so-well-known) coaches and experts. These rules of thumb may help you pick the right mental training method for your needs.