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by Scott Bay

May 24, 2019

Use trial and error on your journey to become your best racing self

Swimmers sometimes borrow training ideas from others to gain an edge, but what works for one swimmer might not work for you. Swimmers need training plans designed specifically for them because everyone is different.

If you have a good coach who knows you well, then great—you’re well on your way to getting a training plan right for you. But if you’re self-coached, it takes more than a little time and some pretty good record-keeping to build your training plan.

The Metrics

Previous articles have addressed the importance of racing to know how to train and  season planning. I recommend reading them.

But remember: You are you. You’ll respond physiologically to stimuli differently. You’ll have a specific nutrition plan that’ll make you as fast and as healthy as you can be. You’ll have an optimum amount of sleep. You’ll have a taper plan that works for you.

All of these variables come together on race day to help you produce a result. Knowing what they are and adjusting is the key to a great race.

Here are some guidelines to help you on your journey to your best racing self.

  • Response to stimuli: Many swimmers keep a log of their workouts (U.S. Masters Swimming has one available online) to chart how far they swam, the conditions, and how they felt. Once they compete in a meet, they can review their log and make adjustments that seem to make sense based on how they raced.
  • Fuel: There are tons of sports drinks and supplements out there. Which ones are best? The ones that work for you. The smart swimmer pays attention to what their race performance is like while following a specific nutritional plan. There are a number of different articles that discuss the idea of optimum nutrition, but the bottom line is on race day, what is working for you?
  • Rest: The older we get, the more rest we need to recover, which also goes back to the previous two points. Being well rested is a key factor in optimal performance. Just like you keep track of nutrition and workouts, record the quantity and quality of your sleep. Peak performance hinges on being well rested and so does your ability to respond to stimuli and take advantage of a good nutrition plan.
  • Taper: This is a mysterious thing. Many swimmers who come from a competitive swimming background were exposed to a one-size-fits-all taper. For some it worked and for others they “missed their taper.” This may mean that the taper was not what worked best for them.


Once you’ve collected all this data, how do you interpret it?

Optimal performance is the confluence of all these factors being done exactly right for you. So how do you know which one to adjust?

Quite simply, you’ll never know without racing. We can get close to race-pace intensity in practice, but the reason we swim the race rather than comparing best times in practice is because it’s different. Many races are won and lost long before the horn goes off.

Adjusting one of these variables has an impact on another, and its impact is different for everyone. The key is to just try things. It’s a matter of trial and error.

This requires patience. In the world of age-group, college, and elite swimming, your ability to experiment is bound by the time you have with that program. Masters swimmers, however, can literally spend a lifetime trying new things to find out what delivers the performance they’re looking for.


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