Here are 5 tips for getting back in the water after a long break:
1. Take it day by day
Generally when we jump back into the pool (or other training) after a long break the expectation is that we swim a kilometre, shake the cobwebs loose, and then we’re back! This is rarely the case. Depending on what and where we were up to during the break – i.e. did we stay in shape – the bounce back can be slow going.
With this in mind forget comparing yourself to where you were, or rather how far you are from where you were, and focus on the day-to-day process of being an athlete again, and what that entails.
2. Train for volume before training for effort
Over those first few weeks, focus on completing your workouts with good technique, and then begin to ramp up the intensity.
Consistently training to failure when you’re out of shape is the quickest way to exhaust yourself completely, mentally and physically. This can be the hardest thing in the world for an athlete to do; to take their foot off of the intensity pedal when they first get back into the pool. They want to swim fast, and they want to swim fast now, but resist this urge.
3. Build good habits from the get-go
One of the nice things about taking a long break from swimming is that when you come back you’re given a veritable clean slate. Use this fresh start as an opportunity to build good habits into your swimming from day one. Think about good form. Work on your flexibility and mobility. Include drills and skills rather than just ploughing up and down.
4. Be patient
Those first few weeks (and months if it’s been a really long break) can be trying, not only physically but mentally. You’ll wonder to yourself if you will ever swim as fast as you once did, why the pain of training is so much worse this time around, or that you don’t have the same confidence and mental toughness that you had before. It will come back; your feel for the water, the physical endurance, just not all at once as we hope it would!
5. Track and celebrate your progress
Measuring and recording your workouts not only gives you a record of what you’re doing, it brings together the points mentioned above as well; it allows you incrementally adjust volume, both in-session and over the course of a week.
It also provides you a place from which to see how you’re keeping up with your new habits, and also displays your ‘small wins’ in front of you to give you that reassuring push that you’re moving in the right direction.
What should we think about when we return to swimming?
Think about form, because you’re going to be physically taking it easy and you have all the time in the world. The more efficient you can make your swim and the smoother you can make it, the quicker you’ll be in a shorter space of time.
I often talk about building up a foundation of swim skills, and only moving up the ladder of skills when you can do the most important things. People like to work on the pull because they don’t like kicking or doing the slow stuff. Problem is that if you only focus on the ‘sexy’ bits, it really won’t make a massive amount of difference. Generating more power with your pull will make very little difference if you’re still wasting energy with your kick or creating more resistance to overcome.
Body position is most important. Get this right and everything else becomes easier – both reduced resistance and easier positioning to kick and pull better.
With good body position, focus on a decent kick. It doesn’t have to be powerful, it doesn’t have to be hard. It just has to create more propulsion than it causes resistance.
If you can manage this then using that improved body position means that you can create better body roll. This will put you in a better place to think about your underwater stroke. You can also recover over the water easier, and breathing will be simple.
You can see how building a strong foundation will improve the rest of your stroke so much more quickly than just working on the more fun parts or the parts you think are more interesting. Because you’re taking your time getting back in the water, use the time wisely.