I.A.S = Inhibitory Analytical Syndrome 

Sounds nasty doesn’t it?

You might even be sitting there reading this not know you are suffering from it. It is the scourge of the swimming world and left un-diagnosed it can lead to much suffering and mental anguish.

It’s a condition that only seems to be getting worse and worse, particularly in the world of triathlon and open water swim. It’s a condition that largely affects the mind, which then limits physical performance, progression & swimming enjoyment.

Many of the people who will suffer from this will come from backgrounds that require a high degree of thinking & analysis, such a computer science, I.T, accountancy, finance, law, science and engineering (although not solely limited to these). These jobs require an aptitude for precision & perfection, which is above the norm. This is precisely why these people are good at what they do, they have an analytical way of thinking that is totally suited to a world of data, information and numbers.

They also have a tremendous work ethic and thirst for more and more knowledge, but this is where the problem usually starts. They devour everything – books, articles, magazines, podcasts, they also spend unusually long amounts of time on forums and watching videos of swimmers on you tube. They seem to revel in this quest to find the next magic bullet that will give them that will take their swimming to the next level.

Unfortunately many don’t seem to find it and end up in a world of confusion. I feel for these athletes because they simply don’t know how to filter what’s good or bad advice or whether its applicable to them. The information age has done a lot to help athletes but it’s also doing a far better job of harming progress as athletes jump from training fad to the  next. They fill their minds with so much information they usually can’t tell their head from their toes once they are in the water. More often than not they focus on details that in the grander scheme of things will give them nothing in return.

Many analytical people seem to spend way too much time over thinking the technical elements of their stroke and not enough time ‘feeling’ what they are experiencing as they move through the water. Swimming is a sport that requires a high degree of sensory perception to be able to do it well. I think the great Bruce Lee summed it up best when he said:

“Don’t think. FEEL. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all of the heavenly glory.”  

I’ve been fortunate enough to coach thousands of swimmers over the years and what never ceases to amaze me is how many analytical people perceive themselves as swimmers. Often they will believe that several areas of their stroke are poor, inefficient or holding them back. Many have already self-diagnosed their stroke issues without ever seeing themselves swim.

What is even more amazing is what I see when I actually watch them swim, many are far better swimmers than they think they are. The disparity in their own thinking compared to what I see is sometimes scary, this is clearly where so much over-thinking, self-analysis and poor coaching advice has done so much damage. Their self-perception is often the greatest barrier inhibiting their progress.

Often its also these same athletes that talk a lot about swimming with the ‘perfect’ swim stroke, I usually roll my eyes when I hear this. Perfection is an illusion that will only set you up for failure because there is no such thing. Many of the world’s great swimmers have their own little quirks or imperfections in their stroke. We are imperfect as human beings and we are definitely imperfect as swimmers. The key is to find the best stroke that works for you based on your own unique physiology.

“Perfection doesn’t make you feel perfect. It makes you feel inadequate.” Maria Shriver

 So what can swimmers do if they are suffering from I.A.S?

1: Be prepared to change your mind-set & simplify your approach

You need to be open to change; you also need to be prepared to make a mental shift that requires you to think in a new way about your swimming. You have to find what works for you and let go of what doesn’t to help take steps in a new positive direction. You might also need to let go of some common beliefs that you’ve assumed are the norm.

2: Work with a reputable coach & get your stroke filmed 

Find a coach who has a really good reputation within the sport. They should have a strong triathlon/open water swimming background. You should also get your stroke filmed from all angles above and below the water so you can actually see what you are doing because rarely does the perception correlate with the reality. This will help you get to the very heart of what your issues are and what might be holding you back. On the flip side what you see might also surprise you in a positive way giving you the confidence to know what you are doing is right.

3: Realise that technique is highly individual & specific to you 

We are all unique as swimmers so what works for one definitely won’t work for another. Each swimmer will have his/her own personal characteristics that will determine what technique works best for them. Our bodies (and minds) are so different, some people have really long arms other have very short arms, some swimmers are tall other are really short, some swimmers have amazing flexibility other don’t. They key thing to realise is that this ALL impacts the way you swim and what style might work for you.

We all have certain things that make our stroke feel better; this could be a certain breathing pattern, technical drill or thought process. It’s all about finding the things that will enhance your stroke.

4: Unlock the enjoyment of swimming

Many swimmers feel like they are going through the motions each time they go to the pool. This is one of the biggest barriers that can hold swimmers back; it really doesn’t need to be like this. You need to enjoy swimming to get the most of it. Often when you find the right path for you as a swimmer it can have a transformative affect on your enjoyment of swimming.

5: Follow the right training prescription

The sessions you follow are hugely important; unfortunately I see too many swimmers not optimising their limited training time because they are following sub-optimal training sessions. I frequently see swimmers spending far too much time (and thought) doing technique-based sessions. They over do drill work and spend too much of their time swimming at a comfortable pace. Many also do drills that can be harmful to their stroke and will give them very little in return. It’s also worrying how many swimmers do drills but have  no idea why they are doing them in the first place. If you only have 2-3 swims sessions per week to train in the pool then you will gain far more focussing on your efforts fitness (unless you are a complete beginner).

6: Realise that doing drills doesn’t make you 10-20% faster!

But hard fast focussed progressive swimming can!

Unfortunately people still think this is possible, there is no easy win. To get fast and strong requires a balance to your training plan that accommodates speed sets, pace variation sets, endurance sets, strength sets and a small amount of technical work.

7: Accept that no two training sessions will feel the same 

If it doesn’t feel good during a swim session don’t automatically presume you are doing something wrong, swimming is very unforgiving.  You have to accept that swimming more than any other sport can be impacted by life, stress, fatigue, hydration, work hours, sleep hours and training hours. Some days will feel good, others wont and sometimes it can change within a session. Your stroke rarely ever changes (unless you constantly tinker with it) but what does frequently change is life around you, this then impacts how your body feels when you get in the water.

8: Let go of perfection

It doesn’t need to look pretty to be affective. Some of the best triathlon swimmers in the world have the least ‘pretty swim strokes’. That should tell you something. Aim for the best you can be with the unique characteristics you have available. It’s performance that counts.

9: It’s ok to think 

But don’t over do it.

There are moments when you need to think, like during a technical set. But there are also many more moments when you need to relax your mind so you increase the awareness of the sensations you are feeling as you move through the water. This links into what I believe are the 3 most important words in a swimmers swim vocabulary – rhythm, momentum & flow. All great swimmers strokes have these elements in abundance and are able to feel them, you too can develop this if you open your mind to it.

Read getting in tune with your swimming senses for more information on this.