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by Terry Heggy

November 16, 2015

Thriving Through Winter

Strategies for overcoming the hibernation instinct

It seems that as days get shorter and colder, our bodies want to slow down, store up fat, and take a long winter’s nap. Holidays offer temptations to consume copious calories—and year-end visits from snowstorms, relatives, and Santa Claus can disrupt our exercise routines. With these factors working against us, how do we maintain swimming momentum throughout the season?

Well, the first step is to embrace the season and acknowledge its challenges. Create a winter training and health plan that recognizes and prepares for the coming disruptions while maintaining focus on your fitness and competitive goals.

Make a List (and Check It Twice)

Start by writing down your targets for the coming year. These may include specific race performances, strength challenges, fun trips with your family, or even dropping a few pounds before your high school reunion next summer. Be creative to ensure you won’t forget about your list when the season gets busy:

  • Post your list on your bathroom mirror, as your computer desktop wallpaper, or on a 3 x 5 card wrapped around your favorite credit card.
  • Laminate your list and hire your kid to move it around to different places in your home each week. Offer a bonus for extra cleverness (curled around your coffee cup, laced to your loafers, etc.)
  • Use your smartphone or computer alarm to remind you to check your list.

Preface each of your decisions with this question: “Is what I’m about to do going to help me accomplish the things on my list?”

Manage Your Menu

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional cookie or candy cane (and I’m pretty sure a moderate amount of holiday fudge is essential to good mental health), but a little bit of planning can help you stay on top of your nutrition when temptations abound.

  • Plan your meals in advance. By establishing your menu for the week (and doing as much pre-prep as you can), you’ll avoid the temptation to stop for fast food or just nuke something nasty. If you know you have a healthy dinner queued up, you’re far less likely to make poor food choices.
  • Understand how snacking fits into your fueling plan. Know what (if any) indulgences are consistent with your goals and stick to those amounts.

Swim More

Allocate the hours you were spending outdoors during the summer toward maximizing your indoor training. Attend additional Masters swim team workouts, and focus on specific improvements.

Technique

Many people only think about winter swimming as a way to burn calories. But huge gains come from small improvements in posture/balance, distance per stroke, and streamlining. This is a good time to incorporate snorkel and efficiency work. Take your drills and technique work seriously, and be patient with yourself. Get feedback from your coach to ensure you’re practicing correctly.

Strength

In addition to increasing swim yardage and drill time, look for ways to build strength. There are lots of options for dryland training, but you can also build muscle in the pool by using drag suits or bungee cords, and with pushups and deep-end wall dips. Don’t forget your core!

Competition

USMS and your local LMSC provide abundant opportunities for competition throughout the winter. Even if you’re not in your prime competitive season, several fun events provide an excellent workout just by completing them. You don’t even have to travel if you decide to tackle any of USMS’s ePostal National Championships, which are swum in your home pool. Many clubs feature a New Year’s 100 x 100s workout, which is a great way to kick off the Go the Distance challenge! Competing keeps you sharp, and keeps you in contact with your network of Masters Swimming friends.

Maintain Perspective

The main thing is to keep pointed (mostly) in the right direction even if the winter darkness and holiday frenzy force you into some minor detours. Don’t beat yourself up over the occasional indulgence, setback, or downtime. Just ride it out, remember your priorities, and keep swimming—knowing that you’ll be ahead of the game when springtime finally arrives.