The following article is a compilation of thought and ideas gleaned from experiences and associations with many fine coaches over the course of my career. I would like to thank Coach Dick Hannula for his influence in my career and life. Most of the ideas contained in this article I have borrowed and learn from him.
Peak Performance to Transition Period Newsletter
As we are 8 days out from the first individual events at Conference here are a few things I want to remind each of you about. Hopefully, these things are not new ideas for you and so this will be a little reminder. I call these things “hidden training”. “Hidden Training” is those things that you must take care of and do. No coach can do them for you, you must do them. The first aspects of hidden training I want to remind you about are the three R’s of Peak Performance. The three R’s are Rest, Relaxation and Rehearsal.
Rest. As you have been gradually reducing the amount of your total yardage it is important that you get the appropriate amount rest so that your body can recover quickly and replenish its energy reserves. You should try to go to bed at an hour that will allow you to get a comfortable and restful nights sleep-preferably eight hours. If you have time during the day find a quiet place and take a brief nap-“power nap”. I must caution you about excessive napping. Taking a long nap can be detrimental to your normal nights rest so be careful. Too much of a good thing can be bad.
Relaxation. During the peak performance period you should begin to feel more energy. This is both a good and bad thing. For some it means more energy and thus more time to play. However, you should conserve your new found energy and do those things that are less strenuous, like read a book, play a board game, watch a DVD or go to a movie, attend the temple, instead of playing night games, basketball, tennis and so on. Make time during the day to just sit back and relax. Let your mind focus on your goals and what you want to achieve at Conference. Just kick back and take life a little easier.
Rehearsal, the final “R”. This means that you should take the time, perhaps during your relaxation to try and visualize how you want to swim your races. I love the story of how Michael Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman wrote down the splits Michael needed to do in the 400 IM in order to break the world record in Beijing. Michael had the splits and he took the time to go over in his head BEFORE the race as to how he was going to do those splits. We all know how it turned out. He won the gold medal, breaking the world record and being right on every split and a little under one of them. You too can do this. Take some time to write down your goal splits and then close your eyes and go through your race seeing yourself do everything you must do in order to achieve your goals. Rehearse and visualize your start, your first (and every) stroke, every turn, your kick and your finish. See in yourself in your mind’s eye looking up at the scoreboard to see your time, and then your celebration at having hit your goal time.
Nutrition and hydration. In this phase of the season it is very important that you maintain proper nutrition and fluid intake. You need to make sure that the nutrients you take in are balanced and of a high quality. If you have questions you can consult with the people in the Nutrition Center. I would also recommend that you begin to carry some healthy snacks with you that can replace nutrients that you have lost during our practice sessions. The sooner you can replace lost nutrients the better. I would recommend chocolate milk after practice to go with some type of energy bar. Your energy bar should have protein in it, as well as the carbohydrates. Then when you get home eat a good meal that is balanced and will help you replenish and build energy stores. Water is extremely important as it is at all times. Make sure you are carrying a water bottle with you. At the meet make sure you do these same things. You want your body to always be ready to compete at the highest levels, and having the energy necessary is imperative to this preparation.
Focus-“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” Alexander Graham Bell
As we get ready to compete your focus should be on doing everything just right. As Bell stated in his quote above, “concentrate on the work at hand”. This means that you need to put your energy into doing everything right. No coach can focus for you; you have to be the one to place your focus on performing the right things all the time. Many times competitors worry about winning and they fail to focus on the process. The “process” is all those little things that become big things over the course of a race. Things like head and body position, hip and shoulder rotation, early vertical forearm (in freestyle), building into each wall, knowing when to kick in the legs a little more, the turns with streamline and dolphin kick off walls, finishes-no breathing flags to walls. These are all things that we have worked daily on over the course of the season and if you will focus on working the process you will be successful if that focus is maintained. The process, when properly fulfilled will lead to achievement. Stay focused on processes of the task which you undertake to perform and you be successful.
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” Coach Vince Lombardi
Warming up and Cooling down-for top performances
As we get ready to compete next week these two topics need to be addressed. The “pre-competition” warm-up is necessary for the following six reasons:
1. To increase blood flow and temperature in tissues and muscles.
2. To help nerve impulses traveling more rapidly through tissues and muscles
3. To improve the rate of muscle contraction and reaction time
4. To prepare the muscles and joints to function through their full range of motion
5. To decrease stiffness and assist with injury prevention
6. Finally a well performed and completed warm-up may serve to give the athlete
an increased sense of confidence prior to the first event.
It is very important to understand that the warm-up must be event specific and prepare you for competition. If there is a long period of time from your primary warm-up to your first event you should get in and do a short warm-up prior to competing. The best case scenario is that you have as little time as possible prior to your event. You want to compete when your tissues and muscles are at their optimum in warmth and readiness. If you are not able to go fairly soon to the blocks it is wise to stretch between the secondary warm-up and the event. Stretching before, after and during your warm-up routines may also be helpful if you are not able to get an appropriate warm-up.
A huge question that is often asked is how much warm-up does a person need to be ready for competition? Most research indicates that the amount of warm-up, and even loosen down which an individual needs may be based on several factors. One of these factors is the events that they compete, yet another is the body size and age. While at the 2008 Olympic Trials I observed Dara Torres and other “elite” level athletes and what they did for warm-up and loosen down. Dara Torres and Michael Phelps were highly disciplined in their pre-event and post-event swims. Both did a lot of easy swimming and drilling before and after their events. Dara Torres also added a massage and some yoga stretching in the middle of her warm-up and loosen down routines. Both of these great swimmers also would go back in the pool if they didn’t feel right, or they wanted to focus on some part of their recovery process. I also observed that swimmers like Cullen Jones and other sprinters took a long time to get warm-up and loosen down.
After each race you should also loosen down. Loosening down after and between events should be active recovery. The purpose of active recovery is to get the body to begin the “filtering process”. The filtering process helps the body to “filter” out waste byproducts from the body. You can also help your body recover quickly by stretching, like Dara Torres and Michael Phelps do. The amount of time you spend in warming up and loosening down will be reflected by your performances. A general rule is that if you are an older athlete you need more than a younger athlete. If you are a distance swimmer you typically need a little less than an athlete who is a sprinter. Distance athletes need to do some builds and pace work, whereas those who swim shorter events need to do some push-bursts and dive bursts. All swimmers need to do stroke work during their warm-up and even the loosen down.
Finally it is important to re-hydrate and re-fuel after the warm-up and your event and then during the loosen down. You do not need to eat a three course meal, but some type of high quality energy bar, or carbohydrate with water is always the best way to help maintain your energy levels and to be ready for your next event. If you want to compete at a high level in multiple events over the course of a two, three, four or five day meet you must hydrate, fuel, and warm-up and loosen down properly to give your body the best possible chance to swim at high levels when needed. Good luck as we finish our preparation for Conference and get ready to swim fast.