By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Time plateaus are like quicksand. The harder you try to fight, flee, and escape, the more it takes hold.
Growing up, I didn’t drop time in my “best event” for three years. The first year was frustrating. The second year was maddening. The third year, I thought there was no escape: No matter how hard I practiced, raced, visualized, strengthened, or worked, I couldn’t drop time. The quicksand took hold.
So, at a big mid-season meet, I switched events.
And a funny thing happened.
I swam faster in that off-event than I ever did in my “best event,” relatively speaking. The swim came from nowhere. It felt as though I had saved up all that frustrated energy and took it out on this off-event, where there was no pressure, no expectations, and no chance for failure. I went for it. And it worked. And that “off event” became my best event.
While plateaus can feel like dead-ends, sometimes, with the right perspective, they can be beginnings of a path leading to other peaks.
If you’re feeling stuck, consider for a while swimming an “off-event” — here are some recommendations…
1. If you’re a breaststroker, try the IMs.
Breaststroke and IMs are the peanut-butter-and-jelly of the swim world. They go together, mostly because of the breaststroke’s order in the IM. If you’re a good breaststroker, there’s a decent chance you can also be good at the IM events. That was my experience, at least. My best event was the 100 breaststroke growing up. But when I wasn’t dropping time, I began competing in the 200 and 400 IMs. Eventually, those IMs became my best events.
2. If you’re a backstroker, try a freestyle event.
Backstroke and freestyle are similar long-axis strokes, with importance placed on turns, reach, and flutter kick. So, if you’re having trouble with one, try its sibling stroke. Many backstrokers I knew were also freestylers, and many freestylers I knew could do a decent backstroke. If you’re considering switching longer term, work on that flutter kick — that’s the secret to either.
3. If you’re a distance swimmer, sprint!
Nothing rejuvenates the soul quite like swimming and spinning fast, fast, fast. Distance swimming is awesome, don’t get me wrong. But when distance swimming feels like a Police Academy movie marathon you can’t escape, try a 50 freestyle, all-out, in a swim meet. It just makes swimming feel fun again.
4. If you’re a sprinter, try butterfly.
Sprint free and sprint butterfly share similar mindsets: Need for speed, power, and agility. So, if you’re stuck with one, try the other.
…And, if all else fails, follow this rule…
5. Swim the event you’ve competed the least in.
Tackle that mile. Do that 400 IM. Have fun in that 50 breaststroke. Get outside your head and swim something you normally don’t — that’s the entire point of swimming an off-event. Have fun with it. Get as fired-up as humanly possible for it. Take out all your frustrations about being stuck in a “best event plateau” and swim like you’ve got nothing to lose.
Swimming an off-event might not put you to the top of the podium, but it can make swimming feel fun again. The next time
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