Getting Ready For a Swim Meet
OK, firstly I could bombard you with information about this, as there are so many opinions, articles and theories on it. Lots of the things I will say are actually what you should be focusing on all year round in order to give yourself the best chance of developing into the swimmer you want to be. So just bear that in mind when on poolside you are heard saying: “I didn’t get in the water at all in January so I am just going to swim three times a week in February till the meet in Amsterdam to make up for it”. I love the new-found focus…but that is not the best way to achieve those performances and improvements, that if you are being honest, I know you crave!
So as we are in the final week before the Amsterdam meet, let’s look at what you should be doing.
This is all-important. Generally most of us do not get enough sleep. If you can find a way to bend your schedule to get some more sleep then do it. Even turning the phone off an hour before you switch the lights out will help improve the quality of your sleep. I will not pretend that a change in sleep pattern for a few days will translate into huge gains in your PB but it is certainly a step in the right direction. A good quality sleep pattern, which will deliver true rest, is something that will take time to establish. The benefits of doing this will extend not only to your swimming but also your general physical health and mental health. No matter how many swim sessions you attend they will only be beneficial if you allow yourself to get the rest your body needs. Your body needs rest to rebuild all those muscle fibres and to positively adapt to the training. So make it a key aim in your training to rest well as that is when you get stronger. (Now please don’t twist this into “Nathan said rest, rest, rest”…you do have to actually train first!)
Sessions the week before a Swim Meet
It is important to make sure your coach knows you are racing at the end of the week. So tell them at the start of the session so they can bear this in mind and make adjustments as they see fit. Equally educate yourself about what is good to do…have a Google, but read broadly and never just seize on that one article you found or beat your coach around the head with it! Coaches are there to impart their knowledge and experience but I doubt any of our coaches will claim to know everything, I certainly don’t.
As it turns out not everything is right for everyone when it comes to race preparation. A lot of it is about trial and error and learning from that for next time. So jot some things down in your diary about what you did this time and if the meet goes brilliantly – replicate and perhaps add new things you have discovered to your prep for the next meet, jot them down too and so the cycle goes on.
Lots of swimmers throw the “T” word around (for those who are new to this the word in question is “Taper”) in the lead up to a swim meet but sadly few really know how to truly execute one. The same can be said for many coaches. I know that I am stumped to give you a truly definitive answer! The reason being it is very individual and also can depend on what events you are swimming. One person might need to swim hard up to only a week out from their big meet and then reduce their workload by half. Someone else might need two weeks to taper. I can, however, say with certainty it is absolutely not about going from some swimming to NONE!
Also in my opinion it is not about cutting out all the ‘fast stuff’ and swimming slowly for a week before race day. I actually think this has a negative effect. The body is always adapting so put it in cruise mode for too long and it is likely you will feel rather flat on race day. So don’t be afraid to keep sharp leading up to the big weekend for example do some HVOs or perhaps a one off 50m blast three or so days out. On the other hand do not do countless 100m time trials two days before the meet. Heavy kick sets in that last week is also a big no no. The reason being it is very, very unlikely your body will recover in time for you to be any where near your best come race day (legs especially take a while to recover). To this end…all you gym lovers. Scale back your workouts. Gains come from the rest and recovery after the workout. Hard as it can be to do, you will benefit if you can take a step back.
Stretching and Warming up
Out of the water - Before every pool session each of you would ideally do a dryland dynamic/active warm up. So it only makes sense this is what you should be doing before your pool warm up on the big day. Some of you might have a routine already. Some of you may have started doing this following an injury. It seems the older we get, or the more injuries we have accrued, the more preparation our muscles need before any sort of exercise. So be good to yourself and build good habits now!
Here is an article, with examples, on stretching from the US Masters website:
This is just one example and there are dozens out there. Some will be great for you and perhaps others will not. You are an individual make your dryland warm-up bespoke to you. The most important thing is to be careful with your body. Try and be very aware of your body when you are stretching. You alone know how your body works, so if it doesn’t feel right DON’T FORCE IT! Only ever go to the point of that first sense of stretch and not past it. The more often you do it that ‘stretch point’ will change and you will feel the benefit each day and every length.
In the water - Now you are ready for your pool warm up. One of the big reasons I set the same warm up for my sessions is that I want it to be a trigger to your body and mind to realise it is about to do a volume of work that will stretch it physically and mentally. This familiar wake-up call should help you adapt more easily. I also designed the warm up so that you can use it as a competition warm up – with perhaps a tweak or two depending on what you are racing.
e.g. 2 x 200m FC followed by 50m as 25scull to 25kick
1 x 200m BK followed by 50m as 25scull to 25kick
The above example is a pretty good base for any warm up. The backstroke element will allow you to gain that alternate rotation and so really help you stretch out. The scull should help your feel for the water and the kick will makes sure your legs are ready for action, but don’t stress them too much. If you were racing Breaststroke you could then follow the above example with some Breaststroke swim following the format of the FC or BK sections depending how you felt or what you were racing. After that you could do some HVOs just like we do in most sessions. You would then be ready to get on the blocks once they open the diving lanes. This normally happens in the last 10-15min of a warm up session at a meet depending on how the organisers have set up. Make sure you get the time you need on the blocks. People can get pushy. Don’t let it bother you. Just make sure you get what you need! Once on the blocks you can then do some half-length sprints, perhaps even a full 25 if you felt that was beneficial.
Again what works ‘best’ is different for everybody. So try things!
An important thing to note here is that for the vast majority of your warm up you should be operating at 50% of your maximum effort. It should be smooth, it should be about stretching, it should be technique driven, it should be about allowing yourself to get a good feel for the water.....it is not about just keeping up with person in front. If that’s how it feels, then drop back or move down a lane. Rushing the warm up will tire and stress you. Ultimately jeopardising your chance to race well. In the majority of our sessions I see people panting and red faced after a few lengths of the warm up. It is not that you are unfit (ok maybe in some cases). It is about you NOT being fair to YOURSELF. Allow yourself to improve by doing the correct things your body needs. For one thing your technique will come on leaps and bounds if you do.
What to do in between the warm up and your race
I have done a lot of ‘talking’ so take a look at this:
Aside from what the article covers:
- don’t stay in a humid, oppressive, stuffy, loud pool hall for hours on end. Get outside and get some fresh air.
- don’t let yourself get bogged down worrying about your race, seek out a teammate or coach you trust and talk about it. Share a joke. Any thing. But keep it light and you will race faster!
- don’t eat rubbish food or any thing too heavy just before a race. Plan when you eat and what you eat.
- don’t drink lots of ‘isotonic’ drinks. They are rarely ‘isotonic’. If you want to benefit from this type of drink try dividing the 500ml contents of said drink equally into two empty 500ml bottles and then dilute the contents of both bottles (250ml) with the same volume of water. Apparently, according to a course I was on, that will make them truly isotonic.
Why you need to cool down afterwards and not just say, “oh it doesn’t matter, I’ll be alright. I’ll just have a stretch in the shower!”
One – that “stretch” NEVER happens and TWO – you are talking nonsense and are not doing your body, or your next race, any favours. Stop ignoring your coach, and ultimately what is best for you, and instead take a peek at this article and perhaps smarten up in the process:
RACE FAST, ENJOY IT and know that if you work at it next time you can be even FASTER!
That’s got to be enough chatter from me. There is so much more I could say but you must be bored by now. However if you do only one thing, try visualising your race the night before and in a quiet moment after your warm up – let yourself see in your mind’s eye how you walk to the blocks, to see and feel your dive, to experience the feeling on your skin as you pierce through the water all the way to that brilliant high when you touch the end of the pool, then turn around and see your time and realise you have never swam faster!
I hope and want you all to do brilliantly! See you in the pool soon.
Other useful information: