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Technique and Training

Ease off the Gas to Avoid a Training Rut

Use training cycles for happier, healthier swimming

Scott Bay | April 10, 2017

As the saying goes, keeping your nose to the grindstone will leave you without a nose.

As with any physical activity, swimming offers you both good and bad days. Some days you’ll have great workouts, others you’ll slog through mediocre workouts, and some days you’ll have bad workouts. This is normal, but when you experience more bad workouts than good ones, it might be time to look at what you’re doing in and out of the pool and make some changes. A bunch of bad days in a row tends to lead to frustration, a lack of motivation, and, of course, the dreaded burnout.

A Look at the Whole Picture

Many of us tend to look back to our younger days as a guideline for how we should approach our training now. Working out hard every day used to work, so it should work just as well now, right? Nope.

There’s a complex set of variables that influences performance and how you feel. But what are those extra things to consider that you didn’t have to think about when you were younger?

  • Stress. In addition to physical stress, such as you’d experience from a hard workout, many of us also deal with a good bit of psychological stress every day. Studies have shown that your body will respond to psychological and emotional stress in a similar way to how it reacts to physical stress. Being grilled by your boss or struggling through a difficult project at work tends to cause your heart rate to rise, along with cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, and it can be just as physically exhausting as tackling a tough workout. The good news is that studies also show that aerobic exercise helps reduce the harmful effects of psychological stress.
  • Recovery. As we age, our ability to recover from a tough workout slows down and we need more time between workouts. Make sure you’re not showing up for practice still exhausted from your last one.
  • Time. Much like recovery and stress, the demands on your time are likely more pressing now than they were when you were younger. The desire to fit it all in can lead to more psychological stress. Exercise helps with all of this, even if you don’t feel like you have enough time to fit it all in.
  • Overall health. Your overall health—including illness, injury, or just general wellness—can affect what you’re able to do in the pool. Although it’s true that exercise is good for you, avoid the temptation to do too much. Try not to adopt the mindset that some is good, more is better, and much more is much better. This approach can have serious health consequences.

Look at your training and workouts as having peaks and valleys. Although many of us were brought up on things like hard work and the more-is-better philosophy, it’s probably a better idea to plan some breaks throughout the year. At least back off the volume or intensity once in a while to give your body and mind a chance to recover from all the demands you place on yourself.

Humans grow in response to being stimulated, but it works best when that stimulation is cycled with appropriate rest to absorb the training that’s been concluded. This will help you achieve the next level, and the next level after that.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Scott Bay

Scott Bay is a USMS-certified Masters coach and an ASCA Level 5 coach and has been actively coaching and teaching swimming since 1986 to swimmers of all ages. The Masters swimmers he currently coaches include national champions, All Americans, and world record holders, who have swum to more than 300 Top 10 swims and 30 world records in just the past 5 years. Throughout his career Bay has taught thousands how to swim or how to swim better. He’s also written numerous articles on technique and coaching and contributed to USMS’s coach certification curriculum. Bay presents at clinics across the country and has written an instructional book, “Swimming Steps to Success.” (Human Kinetics, 2015). Bay is the past chair of the USMS Coaches Committee, and the Head Coach of YCF Masters.

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