There’s nothing quite like the last few weeks leading into your end-season focus meet: many months of hard training and dedication, possibly trying out some new training strategies. Perhaps you’ve been out of competition for a while and are eager to get your feet wet again. Maybe you’ve been preparing for a race or two you’ve never tried.
Whatever you may be getting ready for, there are many things you need to be doing to give yourself the best chance of reaching your goals. I could go on for days about getting proper rest and nutrition, but chances are you’ve heard them ad nauseum, so this article will be about what you should be doing in the pool.
First, if you want to swim fast in your races, you need to swim fast in training. A good rule of thumb is to break up the length of a race (for longer events, you have more options) and aim to hit your goal pace. For example, race pace training for 100s would be 25s, 200s would be 50s, but 25s can be used, as well. While in the midst of hard training, doing many repeats is a great way to get your body prepped to maintain it, but during taper, you need to make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of rest and not going to excessive fatigue, especially as the meet draws closer.
For 50s, short burst work (distances less than 25 yards) of absolute maximum effort is a must. You can apply this to turns and finishes, as well. Using cords or parachutes with lots of rest is a great way to train this.
In addition to your race pace and effort level prep, doing sets in practice that reflect how you want to attack each event is equally essential. Raw speed work will only take you so far – you must teach your body how to manage and maintain that speed. The longer the race, the more complicated this becomes. For 50s and 100s, getting your ideal stroke count, number of underwater dolphins, etc. and knowing what it should be come race day will set you up for success. For sprints, you need to make this a habit and done with minimal thought during the race. I like to tell my swimmers that for sprints, any time you spend thinking during your race will show up on the board.
Race-specific training is absolutely essential. One of my biggest pet peeves as a coach is when I’m at a big end-season meet and a swimmer comes up to me asking what their race strategy should be. After a full season of training and the meets and races leading up to the big one, they should have a good plan in mind. The weeks leading up to the main event should reflect your race strategies in several ways.
Distance races involve pacing and proper “shifting of gears” in order to achieve success. Descending and negative split work helps greatly. If you want to be able to pick up your effort and intensity level and maintain your goal pace deep into a long race, you have to train this. Obviously, you’re probably not going to be able to do repeat 1650s in training (certainly not during taper), but what you can do is break those events up into smaller chunks and attack them like you want to be able to do in competition.
I will re-emphasize the importance of staying fresh and giving yourself proper rest and recovery during your taper. If you’ve been doing your due diligence over the course of the season, further conditioning won’t help you; it will only wear you out. Michael Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, use the bank analogy: when you train hard, you are making deposits into your account. The better and more consistent your training, the higher your balance. Come taper and meet day, it’s time to make withdrawals.
I hope you are excited for Associations, Nationals, or whatever big meet you have in your near future, and wish you all the best of luck!