In the midst of winter, motivation deteriorated. Cold days, dark nights, little hope of knowing when a lockdown may end, and even less idea about when pools might open. BUT, having crested the hill the light is on the horizon. Slowly longer days, brighter mornings, and a provisional date – A MONTH! – until pools reopen.
Whilst it may seem a futile dream to some, those of us with the drive to get back in to training as efficiently, and effectively as possible, can start to implement the below strategies to help us on our way…
With 2+ months of not training in the water, or lifting weights, tightness can have crept in without us even realising. This tightness adds instant resistance and if we aren’t considerate in our return, risks injury before we’ve even built up fitness again!
Our shoulders are the most obvious joint to worry about in freestyle and should be tended to as such. Strengthening of the rotator cuff muscles, and ensuring full range of motion will help stabilise the shoulder as apply stress once again. However, we shouldn’t neglect our other joints, for example our ankles. In freestyle our feet are in full plantarflexion, and so ensuring you routinely stretch the anterior and lateral muscle compartments of the shin is important to prevent any flare ups or limitations from tightness.
But beyond this, when we stretch 2 things occur: lengthening of the tiny subunits that make up our muscles, and pressure application to tendons and ligaments to increase our range of motion. These 2 factors in effect mean increased overall recruitment of muscle fibres as ROM increases, and a greater blood flow compared to a tight, inflexible muscle.
Thinking about these factors, implementing 1-2 specific stretching sessions at the end of harder workouts will help minimise injury risk and improve on endurance, efficiency and power in the pool.
For some quality swim-focussed stretching examples check here:
I always feel I must sound like a broken record when it comes to strength and conditioning, but the benefits are plain to see. Maintaining strength in swim-specific muscles, as well as focussing on the core and trunk will allow us to come back strong to the pool.
Maintaining strength is no easy task, but for those committed to swim bands, pull ups and circuits sessions the results will show, and it’s not too late to pick up the slack with a month to go! Having the strength there will mean getting back to race-paces won’t feel like a maximum effort, and after several weeks focussing on technique and co-ordination we’ll be right back to where we left off 2 months ago!
For those interested in a circuits based session I run them every weekend off of @jakekeast_tri for FREE, utilising only bodyweight / equipment found at home.
Beyond this though, an effective conditioning program would see 2-3 swim-focussed sessions a week whilst we can’t get to the pool split around a plyometric session (be careful and always think control of movement), a leg based session and 1-2 swim band circuits in rotation! If you’re stuck for ideas then let me know and I can try to help out!
A little known, and even less understood method used by the pros. Visualisation can seem quite a silly idea, but the evidence to back it compounds year on year. It allows us to reproduce the physical experience of swimming and the motions that our bodies go through during it. It can’t replace training, but it can certainly maximise the work we’re doing and empower a return to the pool.
But how can you start visualisation?
Consider yourself in the pool, imagine the environment, the smells, people, the tiles at the bottom of the pool, the lane ropes, it all. Taking only 1 or 2 minutes per day you can start to sharpen your mental acuity to the situation in hand, and imagine the performance or movements that you plan to execute. Whether it be a race day, or the first 100m reps back!
Further relaying this to your strength and conditioning can make sessions all the more satisfying whilst we can’t get to the pool. Being able to imagine yourself pulling on the water as you move your swim bands, or pushing off the wall with a squat jump, all of these can compound movements we do in the pool and allow a smoother transition to the water.
Whilst going out to replicate swim sessions in the sea at this time of the year is far from advisable, blue health revolves around being near or in water sources for our mental wellbeing. With proven benefits by giving our minds the time to relax, unwind and destress.
If you’re able to safely get in the water (heed all local advice, legalities and do so safely with the correct equipment and buddies), it can provide a real buzz – firing off the sympathetic nervous system and resetting the body. Doing a few swim strokes can remind us of what we love, but again be careful with any wild swimming you attempt. Instead, blue health in a performance sense is a way to help us get our minds off of everyday stressors, and help visualisation, wellness and relaxation amongst the pressure of lockdown.
So whether you’re by a stream, river, lake or the ocean, soak up all that the elixir of life – water – has to offer!
consider what we can control – weight? Nutrition? An effective return to the pool
As a final note, it’s important to cut ourselves some slack. Returning to the pool is out of our control and will take several weeks of training to get back to the position we want to be in. Focussing on the things that we can do still empowers and motivates us to control the situation we’re in.
If you’re hoping to lose some weight for race season, why not look into the habits or strategies required to start that process (check out my other blog posts on this!). If you’re still struggling with nutrition then start to look at meal prepping and how you can eat to maximise recovery after each of those tough sessions back. Or consider planning how you’re going to ease yourself back in to training.
Talk to coaches, friends, experts, about what is sensible and safe for you to do – I assure you that jumping straight back in to a 20km week (unless a professional swimmer) is not the right thing to do! And even then the focus would be on gently loading volume before adding any intensity. Applying these principles to ourselves means a safe and effective return to life as a triathlete or swimmer.
And as usual, I'm here if you've any questions or enquiries!