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by Jim Miller MD

July 30, 2009

Five keys to keeping Masters in the water

That’s right … no pain, or no show. Contrary to the usual mantra of no pain, no gain, Masters coaches know the truth: many athletes will not show up to your practice if they are hurting from the prior practice. They do not realize their growth as an athlete and back off from training. So, as a coach, how do you keep your athletes in the water? How do you keep up their excitement for more and harder challenges? One of many keys is to be attentive to the soreness that can come from changes in training more, different, or faster. This soreness comes from changes greater than athletes’ muscles ability to accommodate them.

There are several principles that feed into this conversation, which link to prior medical briefs available online at Articles & Publications.

• Hydration is key. All of your athletes need to show up with a water bottle (greater than 18 ounces) for a one-hour practice. They should start drinking their water during the warm-up set. This is most important for morning practice, since most of them have gotten out of bed dehydrated and not had a chance to catch up yet.

• In-practice nutrition is key #2. If your practice is greater than one hour, your swimmers should have a carbohydrate source available to them early in the practice. This could be a gel pack at 40 minutes into the workout and every 30 minutes afterward or a mixture of gel pack or other energy source mixed into their water. If they choose an energy drink, it should be at least half strength. Diluting the drink will help with hydration and provide their muscles with an easily utilized fuel during the workout.

Please note that I am not referring to the high caffeine energy boosting products. These products will place your athlete in danger of cardiac irregularities and will promote dehydration.

• Post-practice nutrition is key #3. Encourage your athlete to take in a carbohydrate source, not a fat source, within 20 minutes of completing a workout. This does not have to be a complex product. A piece of fruit, juice or another gel will work just fine. If you take in a carbohydrate source within 20 minutes, your muscles will remain “open” to receive nutrition for another two hours. Refueling is critical to ongoing performance success.

• Sleep is key #4. As you get to know your athletes, pick up on when they just look beat. Family, illness, work stresses, studying and writing medical briefs are just a few of hundreds of reasons that we do not get the sleep that we need. If your athlete is dragging, slow the intervals down a tad or increase the easy cruising time between sets to compensate.

• Training regularity is key #5 and is unique to Masters. Age group clubs, college teams, and national teams all have required practice schedules. If you do not show up, consequences are clearly spelled out. The Masters world is very different. Uniformity in training is the exception, not the rule. Vacations, work, and family commitments all get in the way of training schedules. It is frustrating to the coach and the athlete, but it is life and we have to know how to compensate. If you have athletes who have missed practices and then show up, let them warm up in their usual lane, but watch them carefully when the main sets get started. Have them watch heart rate, while you watch stroke production. If they are working harder than expected back them down a lane, put fins on them, or vary their distances per interval to get them back into the routine. Talk to them during practice, encouraging their performance and letting them know that it will come back quickly once their training is reestablished. Do not let them break down, get discouraged and sore. This is not a fun way to return and technique suffers, which increases the likelihood of injury.

Please note that I have just addressed the topic of muscle soreness. Joint soreness is a completely different topic and will be taken up later.

Keep this fun. This is swimming for LIFE!



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