For some swimmers, spring marks the start of the offseason. After several months of practices and meets, you may be feeling mentally and physically drained.
There are plenty of opportunities beyond repetitive laps, however, to improve on last season. Here are a few suggestions for offseason swimmers on how to recharge your swimming batteries and get a head start on next year's goals.
Give Your Mind a Rest
Practicing in a single lane day after day can have as much of an affect on the mind as it can on the muscles. In addition, early-morning sessions combined with after-school practices can leave little time for a well-rounded life outside the pool.
"By giving both your mind and your body a rest, it will give you a chance to recharge and refocus for when you begin training again," says Dr. Andrew Jacobs, a sports psychologist who has previously consulted with USA Swimming.
Finding other ways to stay in shape besides lap swimming can benefit both your body and the competitive muscles of your mind. By devoting extra time in your day to personal activities and spending less time focused on swimming, you'll increase the chances of avoiding burnout.
"In the offseason, I have found that most competitive swimmers like to get away from the pool, catch up on their rest and spend time doing activities they don't usually have time to do," says Dr. Jacobs.
Outside the Lane Lines
Open water swimming is an excellent way to swim without having to worry about counting laps or flip turns. Organized events in lakes, rivers or along the ocean shore usually range in distance from one to several miles. Open water races can be slightly chaotic, but many competitors enjoy immersing themselves in swimming's adventurous side.
Not surprisingly, a lot of swimmers have found that triathlons provide excellent cross-training benefits while maintaining swimming fitness. Integrating cycling and running into your workout strengthens endurance capacity, leg power and core muscles. A great way to start is to find partners for the bike and run legs and compete as a relay. The swim leg of a sprint triathlon is usually between 500 to 800 yards, while an Olympic-distance triathlon will have a swim leg around 1.5 kilometers long.
Another way to challenge yourself in open water—while doing something rewarding—is to participate in a charity swim. One opportunity is Swim Across America, which involve nearly 2,000 people raising money to fight cancer each year in over a dozen events across the country.
"The event is a wonderful opportunity for our student-athletes to contribute to a great cause while doing something that they love at the same time," says Kristen Noone, head swim coach at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
After participating in 2005, Trinity urged six other teams in the NESCAC conference to join them in the 2006 campaign.
"Getting other teams involved was a natural progression after the experience Trinity had," Noone says. "While there is an atmosphere of competition present, the focus of fundraising makes the competition fun."
Another great addition to cross-training, dry-land workouts strengthen muscles and improve your chances of avoiding an injury next season. Stretch cord exercises mimic stroke motions with added resistance while maintaining muscle flexibility. Their portability allows you to use them almost anywhere, without having to join an expensive gym. They can also be integrated into a warm-up routine when in season.
Strength and conditioning coach Jon Doyle suggests using static-hold exercises to strengthen core muscles such as the abs and lower back. Below are a few examples:
- Planks: Raise your body off the ground using your forearms and toes. Keep a straight back and hold.
- Side plank: Lay on the ground on one side. Raise your body using one forearm and support it in this raised position. Keep your spine straight. Hold, then repeat on the other side.
- Horse pose: Get on your hands and knees. Extend opposite arm and leg, both parallel to the ground. Hold, then switch arm and leg position.
- Superman: Lay flat on your stomach with arms stretched out overhead. Palms should be facing towards each other. Lift your feet and arms off the ground, keeping both limbs perfectly straight. Eyes should remain on the ground. Contract the glutes and get as much arch in the lower back as possible.
Learn From the Best
Just because your season is over doesn't mean your swimming education needs to stop. In meets across the country, you can watch the world's top swimmers compete throughout the summer. This is an excellent opportunity to observe how Olympic swimmers warm up, cool down and get themselves ready for their individual races.
Take advantage of some opportunities to make the most of your swimming skills. Remain committed to new and different ways to stay in shape and focused, and you'll see a greater improvement in your fitness and motivation at the start of next season.
Exercise photos courtesy of Jon Doyle.