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by Bo Hickey

January 21, 2019

Think outside the box to unlock new levels of performance

It’s a new year, a blank slate. What are you going to do with your blank canvas?

As you plot your course for the year, I challenge you to think about a few forgotten keys to lifelong performance—your purpose, sleep, stress, hormones, and sunlight. All of these factors added up far outweigh your training stimulus.


What are you training for? Yes, I know you want a new personal best or another U.S. Masters Swimming record, but I want you to dig deeper. For example, maybe you want a personal best but you also want to set a strong example of a healthy lifestyle for your kids. Delve past your surface-level goals and find some roots for your training. Establishing a deeper purpose will help you navigate the lows of training, especially when life gets tough, time gets short, or you want five more minutes in bed.


Do you want a supplement that helps with recovery, memory, aging, regeneration, and more? Would you be interested if I told you this supplement is free?

Great news, this supplement is sleep! I watch athletes spend a ridiculous amount of money on supplements that claim to do things that quality sleep would do for free. Take a little time to optimize your sleep routine, and you’ll capitalize on an abundance of performance enhancers. One of my favorite sleep optimization tactics is to do a light mobility session right before bed (here’s my nightly mobility routine). This helps me turn off my mind and ease into a more peaceful state before calling it a night.


This affects almost all of the other keys of performance. There are all types of stress that occur in and outside of our training plans. Managing stress is a critical step to getting to your ultimate goals in swimming. During a training session, I focus on volume management for an athlete. In other words, I aim to manage the amount of stress applied to the athlete to stimulate a positive response.

I challenge you to manage the volume of stress outside of training to the best of your abilities. Establish a few stress release tactics when life gets intense. My favorite stress release tactic is a nice walk with my dogs.


Here’s the deal: Hormones signal your body to respond with some form of action. Think of them as regulators of a multitude of bodily processes. From muscle growth to dreaded long-term energy storage in the form of fat, hormones play a major role in your development as a swimmer. There are many hormones you can look into, but remember that you should always consult with your physician before trying them.

Do you want three inexpensive steps to hormone regulation? Look no further than sleep, nutrition, and your training schedule.


Sunlight is right up there with sleep as the best free supplement available. I’m not talking about getting burnt to a crisp. I’m talking about a 20-minute exposure to sunlight almost daily. Missing out on sunlight doesn’t just lead to Vitamin D deficiency. It can also lead to inefficient recovery from training and poor sleep. Sunlight plays a role in maintaining healthy circadian rhythms, which can optimize or jeopardize all of the hard work you are completing in the water. With technological advances, geography doesn’t have to limit your sun exposure. You can get exposure to simulated sunlight through UV lighting.

One of my influencers, John Welbourn, put it best when he said, “No amount of supplements, macronutrient timing, or stretching will replace sleep and sunlight when it comes to performance.”

One Last Challenge

Don’t get me wrong, I love to get after it in the gym and in the water. However, lifelong performance comes from a holistic approach. I challenge you to pick one or two of the categories above and start from there. Even the smallest changes can lead to improved swimming performance. Taking a look outside of your normal training routine can help you power through plateaus and reach a new level of performance.


  • Technique and Training


  • Mental Training