Swimming is a great way to get fit and healthy, and can be enjoyed recreationally or competitively at any ability. You may be a seasoned swimmer or this may be the first time you’ve challenged yourself to a competitive swim. Either way, here are my hints and tips to help you as you train for the event!
- Practice your breathing: Breathing is the key to a successful stroke. Poor breathing technique will significantly affect the efficiency of your stroke, so spend as much time as possible, perfecting your breathing technique.
- Choose the correct swimming gear: Carefully choose your swimsuit, based on practicality rather than looks. Suits from specialist swimming companies will generally hold their shape, be more comfortable, and last longer than high-street equivalents. Remember – the tighter fitting, the less resistance through the water, so wear the special Legendairy swimming cap you’ll get free at my event!
- Goggles: There are a large range of goggles available. Choose a size and style which are comfortable for you, with demisting lenses. If you find your goggles fogging up, buy some demisting fluid and use it before each swim.
- Acclimatise to cold water: A pre-event practice in cold water is good preparation. Don't plunge straight into the water, walk in slowly, dangle your hands, splash some water on your face and then swim breaststroke, avoiding total submersion of your head until breathing is regulated. When you are ready, switch to front crawl.
Diet and nutrition
- Importance of nutrition: When exercising it is important to stay hydrated and eat a diet which reflects your body’s energy requirements to give yourself the best chance and ensure optimal performance.
- Food: The evening before, and on the day of a long swim, try to eat complex carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, potatoes, lentils and beans or flavoured yogurt as this charges your muscles with glycogen stores, which can be readily converted to energy once swimming. Dairy foods like yogurt or fruit and milk smoothies are a great combination of protein and carbohydrates, and a good source of slowly released energy. Other foods suppplying slow release energy like apples, oranges, bananas or cereals are recommended as pre-exercise snacks. Try to avoid crisps and chocolate as these give you a sugar high, followed by a low.
- Drink: Water is the most important nutrient to our bodies, making up approximately 70 percent of our muscle and brain tissue. Remember – when swimming you may not realise you are hot or sweating as the water cools you down and removes sweat.
- Post-exercise: I choose milk or flavoured milk after exercise as their combination of carbohydrate, protein and fliud makes them some of the best drinks for rehydration and refuelling. Milk’s unique combination of whey and casein proteins is also important for muscle growth and repair.
- Begin with the end in mind: Swimming is very much about mental preparation. When training for a distance, view it as a long term goal to be worked at in stages. Don't feel that you need to be reaching your target from day one.
- You're not alone: Slow, fast, young, old; swimmers come in all shapes and sizes so always remember there are people out there just like you. Practising at a swimming club before a big race will allow you to measure your ability against other swimmers, and gain an idea of what level you are at.
- Inspiration - the driving force behind it all: When the going gets tough you might hit something called 'the wall'. Swimming can be gruelling and you may reach the point where you’re struggling to carry on. When this happens think of something which really motivates you. Keep yourself inspired and be proud of yourself, as completing a race is an amazing feat!
- Stretch those muscles: Stretching makes muscles more flexible, increases mobility, allowing for more efficient strokes and reduces the chances of injury. The best time to stretch your muscles is after a swim when your muscles are already warmed-up and elongated. However ideally you should also take 10 minutes before each swim to warm up. Gliding in the water, allows your body to prepare for exercise by increasing blood circulation to the muscles and gently loosening them up. After a few gentle lengths, you should stretch out your arms, chest and legs.
- Cool down - be kind to your body: The cool down helps keep the blood flowing to the muscles and allows your body to work its way down from a state of high exertion to the eventual resting condition. Keep gently moving for a few minutes after every swim until your pulse has dropped and you have cooled down.
- Rest: Do not be a slave to your schedule! A rest from training is the key to any swimmer’s success. One rest-day a week is essential and the minimum required, but if you are a beginner, two or three days off a week are recommended. If you still feel like exercising then go for a walk or gentle bike ride, as these stress different muscles.
- Cross-training: You can improve your fitness through other activities besides swimming, so for variety, try another form of exercise each week (running, cycling, rowing) as this will help to keep you inspired with your training and is a great way to maintain motivation.