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Break Through Your Plateau

How to get over a training hump

Chris Ritter | April 2, 2014

When you train and swim long enough, usually more than a month, you may see your performance improvements decline or stop altogether. This is a normal part of the training process. Once you’re past the beginner phase in any skill or sport, improvement stops being linear and becomes nonlinear or even cyclical.

But just knowing that plateauing at times is normal doesn’t make it any easier to handle. As an athlete you always want to improve and there’s always hope that there’s a better swim ahead of you. So it’s really frustrating when you experience a dry season with little or no improvement.

The human body is one of the most adaptable organisms. Whatever stimulus you expose it to—be it training or bad diet—it will adapt. The more you train, the less novel the training stimulus is to the body, and this is when plateaus can occur.

But there is something you can do about it. Follow these quick tips and approaches to help break through your next plateau.

Back Up

Many times, plateaus happen because you are training too much or with too little recovery. Look at your training schedule to see if you’re overcommitting yourself and not allowing for restoration. Remember, the older you get, the more important recovering from training becomes as opposed to how hard or how often you train. Even taking a break from swimming can be beneficial. When you allow your body to fully recover, you give yourself a running start to break through your plateau when you return. It takes a little faith to cut back your workload, but many times that’s just what you need to keep improving.

Go Around

When you're up against a plateau and you aren’t making improvements with your current approach, it's a great time to change up your plan or methods to get new results. “Same is same and different is different,” I overheard a Masters coach say once. It makes sense: If you want different results from the ones you’re currently experiencing, then you need to do something different. Breaking through a plateau involves that same type of thinking: You have to change the stimulus in order to get a new response. Consider switching for another type of training such as strength training, biking, or running. 

Go Up and Over

It’s always tough to continue to train and see little or no reward for your efforts. When following the tips above, you also need to keep your chin up throughout the process. If you get too down on yourself, it’s easy for the negative thoughts to result in negative training and then you’re in a much deeper hole with no glimmer of improvement in sight. Keep a positive attitude and you'll break through and experience what getting better feels like once again.

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About the Author—Chris Ritter

Chris Ritter is the founder of RITTER Sports Performance online training programs and the author of the e-book, SURGE STRENGTH, which details how to strength train specifically for swimming performance. Ritter, a swimmer himself, has a degree in kinesiology and exercise science and he specializes in training athletes of diverse abilities, ranging from beginners to Olympians. Follow him on Twitter @RITTERSP or like his Facebook page for updates and training tips.

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