Arousal Control

 In Blog, W.O.D.


Arousal can be best understood as having both a somatic (physical) and a cognitive (mental) component. This means that arousal has a physical effect on the athlete such as increased heart rate, increased muscle activation, increased sweating, high adrenaline, and so on. Arousal also has an effect on the athlete’s cognitive functioning (self-talk, concentration, images). Although these two components are often discussed separately, it should be noted that they are inextricably linked such that change in one typically affects the other.



An emphasis on fun and enjoyment (both in practice and competition) goes a long way towards preventing over-arousal. Keeping the emphasis on fun can help alleviate the pressure the athlete feels to perform well and the expectations he or she perceives from others.


It has been found that prior to competition athletes have a specific level of arousal at which they tend to perform their best (called the individual zone of optimal functioning or IZOF). The level of arousal related to best performances is highly individualized; meaning the athletes on the swim team will vary greatly in terms of their optimal arousal.


Here are the steps athletes need to take to manage arousal:

  • Be aware of the optimal arousal level and the factors that increase and decrease arousal.
  • Be prepared by developing strategies to increase and decrease arousal as needed.
  • Practice using arousal management skills in a variety of situations.


Athletes need to develop an awareness of the arousal level at which they tend to perform best. They should be aware of how they need to feel physically and mentally to practice and perform well. This awareness can be achieved by evaluating past races to identify trends in how they tend to think and feel prior to good performances versus poor performances. Athletes do not necessarily want to rid themselves of increases in physical and mental functioning. Instead, they need to know the level of arousal that is best for them and specific strategies to enable them to attain the appropriate level.


To appropriately manage arousal, it is important to differentiate between things athletes can control and things they cannot control. Athlete must learn to control and manage their reaction to a situation or event that is out of their control (an uncontrollable, or UC.) As shown on the previous page, athletes can employ a variety of strategies to manage their arousal and attain the appropriate arousal level.


Athletes should prepare themselves with an arsenal of strategies to both increase and decrease their physical and mental arousal to attain a level that will be beneficial to performance. Having such an arsenal can provide athletes with a sense of control over their preparation and performance.



USA Swimming, Arousal Control: 





Performance & Fitness

A) 4 Sets
10 DB Bench Press
rest 60 seconds
10 DB Rows
rest 60 seconds


Performance & Fitness

B) For Time

100 Double Unders/200 Single Unders


-rest until the clock reaches 5 minutes-


C) 3 Rounds for Time
12 DB Renegade Rows 55/35
20 Box Jumps 24/20

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