Fitness Makeover: Battle swim-workout burnout by changing your routine

Credit: Al Bello/Allsport
Our August makeover subject is triathlete and part-time swimmer Willie Zimberoff of Chicago. Willie is a dedicated sports enthusiast, competing in a few half-Ironman races this summer while staying in swimming shape by open-water training in Lake Michigan.

Willies interest in a makeover was perplexing because his primary issue was dealing with boredom while swimming! Obviously I couldnt pass up this opportunity to analyze what it was that he was missing, because I could not understand why someone would find the sport boring, especially if they were training in the great outdoors.

In all fairness, lately I have encountered a few letters from readers complaining about boredom in some form or another, whether it was staying motivated, or growing tired from swimming laps or losing interest.

Having swum most of my life and faced the tiled black line at the bottom of pool day in and day out, I can understand how staying focused can be a challenge. But chances are that if you are bored by the sport, you arent training to your capabilities and you are in need of a makeover yourself!

Willie says he swims about eight minutes and then gets fidgety with his goggles and begins seeking excuses to throw in the towel. Given that hes in open water, he cant just climb out of the pool, so he does some side-stroke and then continues his eight-minute increments of swimming until he covers a mile or so.

First, Willie needs to change his routine. The easiest way to spark a newfound enthusiasm in an everyday activity is to make it different somehow. Therefore, given that Willie constantly trains in open water, an interesting change of pace for him might be to begin training in a pool, or join a masters team.

Conversely, those of you who may feel burnt out swimming laps in a controlled environment might enjoy occasional training in open water. For Willie, the advantage of swimming in a pool is that he can easily gage the distance he covers and come up with creative ways to swim longer distances, without getting bored every eight minutes.

For instance, he can challenge himself with sets like:

  • 4 x 8:00 minutes with 30 seconds' rest, with increasing effort.

    In doing so, he can monitor how many laps he can do in his comfortable eight-minute interval, and work to cover more distance on the next eight-minute segment.

    This will help develop endurance by forcing Willie to descend his time and condition his body to "negative split." In time, he can alter the set to 4 x 10:00, or 6 x 8:00, or any other variation that will put his endurance to the test while breaking up the monotony of the same daily drill.

    Willie also seems to have trouble with fatigue, getting tired and experiencing shoulder aches. Given that he dedicates two to three times a week to swimming, I am going to suggest that he focus more on covering distance as outlined above, as the exhaustion and discomfort he is experiencing are probably due to a lack of swimming endurance.

    As any athlete who changes, or increases, the intensity of their routine must know, Willie should be cautious not to do too much too soon. If his shoulder pain persists, the problem could be more than just a lack of endurance and he should take measures to avoid injury. Icing and heating sore shoulders can help alleviate aches and pains associated with activity, and certain exercises in the weight room or with surgical bands can help strengthen non-swimming shoulders.

    If sets dont sound motivating or if Willie finds that they are getting dull after a while, he can always change their degree of difficulty and length. Joining a masters program is another solution: Benefits include monitored workouts designed by a coach, on-deck supervision from qualified instructors, and the motivational aspects of training with a team.

    Other ways to avoid swimming boredom is to train with a partner of equal or better proficiency, or to try training in the morning if you are more of an evening swimmer (or vice versa). Sometimes the change in light and time of day is enough to make the activity seem fresh. Alternate swimming venues if you have that luxury, and focus on a different element of your stroke (that needs improvement) each day.

    In addition, since Willie normally trains in open water, he is probably not using any swimming equipment that can make a workout more interesting. Buoys, paddles, and tubes all work to strengthen the shoulders and upper body, while kickboards allow you to work your legs while keeping your head above water (ideal time for talking with a workout partner or admiring your surroundings). These tools serve to break up the monotony of a long workout and add some variety to the proceedings.

    When people complain about finding swimming boring," I ask them what they find more interesting." Answers have ranged from running around a track to using cardio equipment at the gym. To each his own, I say, although I find running circles around a track not much different than swimming laps up and down a pool (I would not classify either activity as boring, but I understand the need for variety and the likelihood of burnout when training every day).

    In most cases, people just arent familiar with the different elements they can include in a well-rounded workout routine. Imagine eating the same meal each day; not only would you grow tired of it, but youd also miss out on various essential nutrients that youd get from a diverse diet.

    The same goes for training; with a diverse regimen, you avoid boredom and provide your body with something different to do every day, whether in the pool or on the track or in the gym. Variety allows for certain muscle groups to recover while others are put to use, and the threat of losing interest becomes a lot less likely.

    If you are interested in being the subject of a Fitness Makeover, please e-mail your questions to Alex, and include a phone number where you can be reached upon your selection.

    Get advice for getting back on track with Alex's Fitness Makeover column

    Find and register online for a swim event in your area!

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