Once the competitive season ends, many of us take a well-deserved break. But what happens when you want to start up again the following spring? With weaker muscles, a fitness base that has disappeared, and a few extra pounds of belly fat, it can be difficult to get back into a swimming training routine.
As with any other discipline, smart training is where it’s at. By gradually allowing your body to acclimatise to training again, you give yourself the best chance of avoiding early season injuries. Once you've found your stroke, you can gradually begin to ratchet up the intensity. Here we take you through what’s involved.
Swimming training regime after a long break
Don’t overdo it in the pool
Swimming is almost a meditation of sorts. It’s an exercise that the body becomes accustomed to over time. After a winter break however, it’s best to stick to short sessions in the pool.
Warm up slowly, firstly with a few gentle movements before entering the water. Get the joints warmed up and gently stretch. Once you’re swimming it won’t take long before you begin to feel the burn in those underused muscles.
The risk of injury is great if you try and do too much too soon. For now, it’s best to swim until you begin to notice your muscle fatigue. Don’t push past this point. Over the first few sessions, muscle memory will begin to kick in and you’ll start to find your stride once again.
However, it’s best to keep yourself eager. In the opening sessions try to stop before you would otherwise. Ease into it.
Work your swim technique
Any time you take away from the pool will leave you a little rusty. Muscle weakness and compensation for underdeveloped muscle groups may have you incorporating some bad habits into your stroke. Don’t let your lazy ways manifest into a suboptimal stroke. Stay patient and be mindful that your body is not yet back to the level it once was.
Carry out some drills in the pool. Work on certain key aspects while remaining present to the stroke and full body movement. Try and feel out any parts of your body that seem to suffer more than others. Don’t allow yourself to compensate for a weak back with another muscle group.
Most swimming training programs recommend 5-6 different drills during each session. Call it a day once you complete them and resist the temptation to push yourself more.
Swim little and often
Small steps taken often is the best way to ease yourself back into the swimming training world. Keep the body sharp by doing it often, while sending a clear signal to the muscles to begin adapting.
If you try and do too much too soon, you'll accumulate fatigue, where further pushing your muscles and joints will heighten the risk of injury.
Try swimming 3-4 times per week to begin with. Do less if you feel overly fatigued. In the early part of the season, the worst thing you can do is to come out of the blocks too fast. This will greatly increase your chances of picking up an injury, and if you’re a serious athlete, that’s the last thing you want at this early point in the season.
After one month of training, you can begin to start exercising on consecutive days as you begin pushing the body a little farther past its comfort zone to bring about the necessary adaptations.
Begin taxing the body in the pool
Most hardcore athletes are type “A”. It can get us into trouble sometimes, especially if we restart our swimming training regime with too much enthusiasm after a long break. But once you’ve put in a month of relatively easy training, you can begin to push yourself.
When training, the gains come once you’ve pushed your body past what’s comfortable and then allowed it time to recover and regenerate the muscles.
As is the case with most swimming training programs, it is recommended to keep a log of your activities. What gets measured, gets managed! Notice how your body feels the day after a hard workout. Do you require more recovery time? Could you intensify your workout and still recover?
Focus on intensity rather than clocking up large distances in the water. This is especially important if you’re training for a triathlon. Remember that a strong base will also come about through cycling and running, so always focus on staying sharp by ratcheting up the intensity when the body allows.
Easing back into it