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by Laura Smith

December 1, 2005

Training cycles for different seasons

I’m looking out my window.  It’s grey, rainy, and downright cold.  I’ve switched out my Crocs for slippers and my tank top for a fleece.  As much as I’m trying to hang on to Summer, it has slipped through my fingers and Fall has leapt into it’s place with full force.  There’s really nothing we can do about the changing seasons…and to be honest, life would be boring with the same weather day in and day out forever.  So, if you can’t beat it, join it. 

For those of you who compete in sports, you are very familiar with changing your workout routine according to seasons.  In swimming, for example, competitors have a short course season and a long course season.  After training for the big end- of -season short course meet (and afterwards taking a long, well-deserved vacation that consists of nothing aquatic save a Jacuzzi and a lot of ice in your mixed drink), swimmers start their summer with base building by engaging in longer distance sets.  After they create their aerobic foundation, they target their training more for their particular events (ie, backstrokers opt to work this stroke to replace all freestyle sets; I.M. er’s try to insert all four strokes into each workout, etc).  Sets tend to be a little shorter, more specialized.  More sets are done with fast intervals.  Then, as the season is reaching it’s end, and the big long course meet of the season is within sight, the taper begins.  This is absolute heaven for the sprinters in workout….and complete hell for the distance swimmers!  Intervals are long.  Sets are short.  Quality race pace swims replace repetition and yardage.  Competitors are fine tuning everything they have poured into their swimming for the past season, to shine at the meet.  It’s a cycle. It happens every season.  In the world of competitive athletics, it’s just a part of the nature of being. 

If you’re a lap swimmer who is  not looking to compete, and just enjoys the fitness benefits of swimming….trying to include some of these cycles into your annual routine will not only spice up your pool time, but will also give your fitness level a nudge.  You never have to sign up for meet, stuff yourself into an undersized Speedo, or hurl your body off a starting block---creating cycles in your training just increases the benefits of what you’re already doing.  Our bodies are resilient.  If you do the same thing, the same way, with the same amount of energy expended, your body is going to adapt to it over time.  You’re definitely not wasting your time by swimming X number of laps every day in the same time frame---you could just be getting so much more out of it.  An analogy:  let’s say I’m going to start my career as a construction worker.  The first day I pick up that hammer and pound nails for 8 hours, I come home with hands that are achey, sore, and tender.  I wake up the next day and do it again. I come home, and notice that blisters are starting to appear.  I wake up the next day, and repeat the same routine. That night, the blisters have popped.  Okay, okay….I’ll stop getting graphic!  My point is, that eventually your body builds calluses on the areas that have been used; your hand has adapted to stress you have been putting on it.   Over time, I can do the same thing, for the same amount of time, and not have that ‘tearing down’ effect.  Great, huh?  Not so fast.  It’s the tearing down process that creates the rebuilding process, that makes you faster, stronger, better!  Yep, you need to stress your body in different ways to make strides in your fitness level.  Cycling your routine seasonally is a great way to achieve this. 

Changing with the seasons could also include making quarterly goals.  Personal goals that can realistically be achieved in four months, that require some kind of an effort beyond what you’re currently giving.  “My winter goal is to swim 8 laps faster than I can now”.  This would involving timing yourself for the distance to get a baseline of what you are trying to improve upon, adding some speedier laps to your daily routine, and occasionally re-timing yourself to gauge progress.  Then, at the end of winter, go for it!  Time yourself for the swim, giving it 100%.  I bet you’ll be faster!  And proud of yourself for doing it!! The swim doesn’t have to be a new World Record.  The goal just needs to be something that is currently beyond your reach, but definitely attainable with a little bit of commitment and imagination.

Maybe it’s my short attention span, but I personally can’t imagine motivating myself to go to the pool without some kind of change in the routine.  A faster day, a slower longer day, a pull day….some kind of variation from the monotony!  Again, it could be me.  But I really think it would be like having the same weather every day.  And where’s the fun in that?

This month's article is by Colorado Masters swimmer Laura Smith, a nationally certified fitness trainer.