Little Steps Adding Up


I’m a big fan of swim blogger Olivier Poirier-Leroy’s bi-weekly newsletter (sign up via the link found on the bottom of his YourSwimBook page: Foremost, I like his focus—his main message is that to become a better swimmer one needs to work hard, with goals and positive attitude in place. Of course, he breaks down the various fine points, and thus workable approaches, to goal setting and creating a positive attitude.

My favorite Olivier-ism that I’ve been applying this past year is, “small steps add up.” Absolutely, starring down a HUGE goal can be intimidating, so breaking it into a series of small habits to make automatic which will ultimately add up to achieving the HUGE goal is much more user-friendly.

I didn’t have a HUGE goal this past year. But the small-step approach did keep me focused, and thus working towards seeing improvement at my “big meet of year” Long Course Nationals this past summer, especially while training through a lot of turbulence.

Here’s a summary of my small steps this summer:

After stress eating my way through the final months of my dad’s life this past spring, I needed to get back on the nutrition track. Luckily, I didn’t balloon up, but I still felt sluggish and gross, and was carrying a few extra pounds. Going cold-turkey with a major overhaul was daunting, especially when still leaning on food as an emotional crutch, so I applied small steps. I’ve included just a few examples so you can see how easy it is to devise personalized “small steps” nutritional goals:

1) Eat slightly less food. I decided not always having a “full” meal was O.K., which for me might be just a turkey burger and some veggie sticks instead of a burger, large salad, and baked sweet potato fries. Or, simply place one or two less spoonfuls of everything on my plate.

2) Stop eating when my tummy a little rumbly to stop over-stuffing myself.

3) Return to two squares of dark chocolate/serving for the majority of meals.

4) Replace chips, crackers, etc. “sides” with veggie dishes or veggie soup.

5) Switch from rice milk to hemp milk to reduce sugar-y carbs a bit more.

In the pool, I was still re-adapting to team practices. Here are just a few things I did to help me remained focus on my training goals while not disrupting (hopefully!) sets for others:

1) Go last in the lane and use the last few repeats as warm down when the final set was running long and cut into warm down time.

2) Personalized some of the longer free sets by swimming IM and stroke patterns to work more on the 200 fly and 400 IM.

3) Drilling the first set if I still didn’t feel warmed up.

It wasn’t until my post-Nationals break that I realized how much I had been holding it together this past spring/summer. Sure, I wished I had done several things better at Nats this past summer, but I also know I really did the best I could have while training through a lot of stress. Since returning from Oregon, a bit of the fog has begun to lift, and I’ve been identifying areas to tweak. As such, here’s my “small steps” list for fall:

1) Get back to lifting weights three times/week instead of one or two. Going to the gym on M/W/F is my tried and true pattern, and it really makes a difference for me in terms of second-gear availability during the last quarter of races.

2) Do more meets. I am rusty per competition, and it’s always invaluable feedback. My aim is “one event a month” even if it’s a self-challenge of going off the blocks for timed race-pace.

3) Review and apply more technique work and knowledge. Easiest way for me at the moment is to read up, watch clips on line, and pester my coaches.

4) After listening to the recent Ritter Sports Performance Nutrition Summit, I learned that “proprietary” blends may not offer actual nutrient amounts listed on labels. I’ve since switched brands.

5) I’m working on reducing carb-y-sugary foods—can you tell I’m totally shell shocked about potential genetic markers for inflammation-related diseases my dad suffered from (heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure)? As such, am sticking with dark chocolate that’s 10g or less of sugar, reducing high, empty carbs snacking (e.g. eat one row of rice crackers, not the entire packet in one sitting) and am back to salad, smoothie, or “quinoa bowl” (quinoa, eggs, steamed veggies, avocado, flax seeds) for most breakfasts instead of toast, eggs and jam.

6) I’m focused in kick sets: No board; work the streamline position and dolphin kicks off each wall.

7) Am assessing (trial/error via timed repeats) various styles of breaststroke to discover my best version. Once I’ve done that, practice, practice, practice to make it automatic by the 400 IM at spring Nationals.

Based on the success I saw at LC Nats, (two PRs, decent placements in all events) and my desire to continue to improve, I’m sticking with the “small steps” approach this fall-winter. And, I’ll continue to regularly log and assess to see how I’m doing, also essential “steps” in the process…

Little Steps Adding Up

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