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Open Water / Technique and Training

Gimme a Break!

Techniques for recovering without stopping

Terry Heggy | April 17, 2015

Everybody knows that rest and recovery are essential components of an effective training program. But have you ever thought about how to rest and recover during a workout, or even a race? You should—it will definitely help your training and race performance.

Triggers that might require recovery swimming include:

  • Cramps, nausea, inhaling water, etc.
  • Poor race pacing (aka “Oh no! I totally took it out too fast!”)
  • Mental anguish or physical distress (aka, “Ouch! I got beat up during that mass start frenzy!”)
  • Designed workout interludes (i.e. “easy” swims) among intense workout sets

Let’s examine a few techniques for actively getting yourself back in the groove. Adding specific recovery drills to your practice will ensure that you’ll instinctively have the techniques available when you need them.

Serenity Now!

If you get trapped in the anarchy of a mass start and can’t immediately escape, take a moment to channel your inner monk for some helpful tranquility. Instead of getting angry about the situation, your best strategy is to conserve energy by taking long, relaxed strokes in the draft while actively looking for an escape route. Smile to yourself because you realize that when the opening comes, you’ll have the reserve energy to blast your way past the fighters who have burnt themselves up.

  • Drill: Practice this scenario with three other workout buddies; one in front and one on each side. While the three “escorts” swim as frenetically as possible, the person “in the pocket” works on staying smooth and relaxed. Switch positions so that each swimmer has a chance to practice inside the trap.

Access to Air

If you become overly stressed or panicked, it’s essential to quickly reestablish a regular breathing pattern, with equal emphasis on inhaling AND exhaling. Switching to backstroke or breaststroke can make it easier to get the oxygen you need, but remember to keep moving forward with proper stroke technique as you regain your rhythm.

  • Drill: Practice an all-out sprint for a short distance, then immediately switch to recovery stroke while emphasizing regular breathing. Hold form and body position (backstroke or breaststroke), and keep moving. Then after about 15 seconds of deep breathing, resume your freestyle at race pace. Repeat 4 x 200.

Stretch it Out

When the person in the next lane takes it out fast, it’s really hard to resist the urge to go with them. If this happens and you suddenly realize that your pace is overly enthusiastic, don’t give up. Just switch your focus from turnover rate to DPS (distance per stroke.) Count your strokes, making sure you get a full extension into the catch and good early forearm engagement. Some people benefit from developing a mantra to repeat silently as a reminder. “Long, strong, smooth, groove,” etc.

  • Drill: Repeat 5 x 200s with the first 100 at a high effort, and the second 100 relaxed—but still holding a good pace with excellent DPS. Try to hold the time for the second 100 within 5 seconds of the first. Rest 10-15 seconds.

Active Recovery

Interval workouts include designated rest and recovery times. Make sure you make the most of them by remembering these key points:

  • Perform “easy” or “cool down” swims with the same focus on proper technique as you would do during any other drill. Hold your posture, get a good catch, breathe smoothly, etc. Practice the habit of perfection with every stroke you take, even if it’s not part of a work set.
  • Take advantage of downtime between repeats with mild stretching, deep breathing, and visualization of the next repeat. Stand up straight to allow your diaphragm to fully inflate your lungs, and shake out any stiff muscles. Quickly review your muscle tension from head to toe to ensure that you are fully relaxed (especially in the neck and shoulders) before you begin the next repeat.

Approach your active rest and recovery techniques with the same diligence you put into your exercise effort and you’ll soon see improvements in your races.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Terry Heggy

Terry "Speed" Heggy has been swimming for more than 50 years. He won his age group in the 10K Open Water Championship in 2006, competed in the National Championship Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2014, and qualified again for USAT Nationals in 2015. He's the head coach of Team Sopris Masters in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and is a USMS-certified Level 3 Masters coach and an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

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