By Dillon Virva (2016 Olympic Trials 50 Free Finalist, 22.06 lcm)
When talking with sprinters, you will hear them describe swimming and racing as if they were art enthusiasts speaking about the Mona Lisa. They can describe every nuance of their race, down to the smallest movement or detail.
The important thing to know about sprinting is that there is not just one way to sprint. However, the best sprinters in the world are able to hone in on that style, under extreme circumstances and pressure.
With so many variations in styles and approaches to the splash and dash, I wanted to share three key factors that help me achieve success under pressure:
- Hyper-focus: Top-level sprinters have the ability to become absolutely focused on the task in front of them. External distractions and stress can be the death of a race, so they enter a “zone” where they absorb everything going on around them without breaking focus. In the zone, the only thing that matters to them is the race: getting up and executing. When you achieve this level of focus, you can rely on your muscle memory to execute the race. In ideal conditions, this is how I like to race.
- Patience: Being patient in an event that is only 50-yards or meters long almost sounds hypocritical. However, it is important to not “over swim” a sprint. You have to patient enough to know when it is most opportune in your race to truly swim all out. I am not talking about waiting seconds at a time to break out from your dive, but waiting a tenth of a second before you start your underwater kicks can lead to a much faster race in the long run.
I try to be patient in my 50-freestyle by swimming the first 35 meters of the race at 95 percent of my maximum effort. By doing so, I am able to focus on having a powerful and connected stroke so that all of my strength and effort is converted directly into power. It also allows me to shift into another gear in the last 15 meters of the race. Having this second gear allows me to accelerate into the wall, which is absolutely crucial when the race can come down to hundredths of a second.
- Preparation in practice: I have found that having a routine when I’m getting on the block helps me know when it’s time to race. In other words, I have psychologically conditioned myself to prepare my body to swim fast. When I am preparing for a fast effort off of the blocks in practice, I go through the same steps that I would if I were stepping up for a race. I do the same stretches, activation techniques, and breathing exercises. This process has helped me become more consistent in my races during hard training cycles and remain calm before my races at championship meets.
Focusing on these three aspects of my sprinting – hyper-focus, patience, and preparation in training – has made a drastic difference in my training and racing. Although it’s difficult to attain a state of hyper-focus and strategically remain patient in a race, it’s even more difficult to execute both of these on the same race day. But like everything in swimming, consistently practicing the right things in training will help you achieve your goals.
Athlete Bio: Dillon Virva is a professional swimmer and one of the top up and coming 50 freestylers in the country. He is a graduate of the University of Las Vegas Nevada and currently lives and trains in Seattle, WA with KING Aquatic Club, under coach Doug Djang. During his college years, Dillon improved his 50 meter freestyle from a :24 down to a :22.06 and making the elite 8 at 2016 Olympic Trials. Virva will be competing at the US World Championship Trials June 26 to July 1, in Indianapolis, IN.
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