In the swimming world we all know what the closing of the holidays mean, and until I got to college my thoughts on this period were very skewed. Like most people, I thought to myself: it’s crunch time. For collegiate athletes the end of December and into January really is the first step into championship season, Christmas time for athletes and coaches. You know if you’ve been naughty or if you’ve been nice and that medal, plaque, or team championship will be the present under your tree.
However, the end of Holiday Training and into the second semester of school is just one more door into the season. Fear not friends! It is NOT too late! Who would’ve guessed it that this period is not just to work tremendous amounts of calories off after savoring in plate after plate of ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, and bread on bread on bread? Instead I have learned it is a time to relish in all of the hard work you have already put in, and sharpen the skills and habits that you have acquired over the season.
Focusing on a few specific points in getting back into training at your respective training locations are important to continuing the success found thus far in the season. To me, the most important points are to go back and dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ on nutrition, weight training, and most importantly, various elements in my technique.
Changing eating habits
We all do it. For one week (or maybe two) we throw away all of the nutritional, and let’s face it, just plain smart, habits that we work so hard to obtain in order to keep our bodies fueled correctly. We substitute proportional and healthy meals for two or three servings extra during every dinner, leaving us with full bellies and smiles on our faces. And who would blame you? How could anyone say no to one more plate of Mom’s chili or Dad’s chicken parmesan? Add in the boxes of holiday cookies and chocolate, and well you get the picture.
However, after getting back to school it is crucial as we head into the last couple weeks before conference meets to get onto a healthy and smart nutrition regimen.
As you get into this last part of training volume will begin to come down, being substituted for more power based and race pace sets. As volume comes down so should the size of your meals. You may still need that full plate of spaghetti and meatballs after a long day of school and practice, but those two breadsticks and that extra side of mozzarella sticks are not necessary. It’s important, especially for athletes in college, to utilize the resources available to them in order to start a nutrition program right for them (nutritionists, health specialists, coaches, etc.). What might be a good diet plan for one person probably won’t be the same for another, so it’s important to figure out what is best for your needs and your body while finding balance in having a treat or two every now and again.
Eating habits greatly affect how your body reacts in the water; and taking in too much or too little food can be the difference in your body having the fuel to push you through the water at top speeds. While it’s important to create healthy eating plans during changing periods in training, don’t just start at the end of the season! Create a nutrition plan in the beginning of the season to create healthy habits that you will be able to curb and change easily as training increases or decreases.
Moving into the magical taper time period, athletes and coaches need to refine and redesign dryland and lifting workouts. Pumping as much iron as possible looks cool in front of the ladies, but your muscles need time to replenish and rebuild themselves. We usually take about four weeks, or 28 days, to let our bodies heal themselves and get a full recovery. But, don’t just quit! Use these couple of weeks as a period to redesign your lifting and dryland program. Create workouts that can coincide even more with what you do in the water: speed based training. Taking off weight and not maxing out on every rep will not only help your body to rebuild those muscles, but using lighter weight and intertwining that with fast movements and good skill can be helpful in the water too.
Practicing powerful movements in reps translate easily into swimming. Using power and pushing out of squats or practicing fast hang cleans help not only off of walls, but in starts and other elements of racing. Being competitive in lifting and finishing rep ranges focusing on power and speed when your body becomes tired is exactly how we are taught to finish a race. By practicing elements of a race on land where you may not normally think to only makes you sharper in the water, and thus faster.
Fine tuning technique
The most important point of focus, however, is further sharpening techniques practiced throughout the year in the water. The idea of swimming being a technical sport is becoming more and more relevant today with the advancement of individual strokes, and other technical aspects. It’s evident now that swimming is no longer a brute force sport; powering your way through the water will get you nowhere anymore. This is where the “It’s NOT too late part” comes in… It’s not too late to redefine your technique. It’s not too late to implement those tidbits of advice and information that you may have let slip to the back of your head when you got tired from so many dual meets and hours training.
We all know that “holding your breath in and out of every wall” sounds really easy when you say it out loud, but when you get to actually doing it…it’s really hard. We also all know that putting your head down into the wall can be scary, but it does make you go faster. And most of all we all know that breathing into the wall is the death of any race, but so is oxygen deprivation, but that is where practice comes into play. Will not doing these things make you faster? No. And you know it too.
So why do we do these things? Take risks that make us uncomfortable? Because they work. That’s why our coaches teach them to us, and even if you push those (at times) nagging little details to the side, in the end they are going to be the difference in coming first or last; opening the presents or receiving the coal.
Looking at the end of Holiday Training as a “crunch time” into Championship Season may work for others…but for me, looking at it as a time to refine aspects of nutrition, lifting, and most importantly specific aspects of technique help me to see it as an open door into the next part of the season. So redefine your season: as a coach or an athlete. Take chances and reevaluate yourself honestly: will you be naughty or nice? Come in first or last? I think we can all agree that opening presents and coming in first is more fun than staring at a lump of coal in your stocking.