The hardest workout of all

What to do when you fatigue…

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This morning was the first time I was able to get to the pool in two weeks. Before this, I had a good swim streak going. Then the pool shut down for repairs and left me stuck on dryland. Fortunately, I was able to swim on the Vasa SwimErg.  So I was able to keep my “feel” for the “water” and keep in touch with my form.  However, it is still not exactly like swimming in the water and not a 100% replacement. So, when I got in the pool this morning, I was expecting some slow times.

While it felt great to dive in and swim again, about half way through the main set, I started to fatigue as you would expect after two, chlorine-free weeks.

Arms grew heavy.

Legs sank.

Breathing went from every 5 breaths to 3 to every other, and I felt like I was gasping for air more.

And my splits became slower and slower.

Sound familiar?

It’s times like these that we have two choices:

  1. We can try harder to fight the fatigue.
  2. We can relax, mentally step back, and focus on our form.

If we go with option one, I can tell you that you are not going to get faster (unless you are an experienced swimmer). In fact you will go slower and waste more energy. By fighting the water to eek out an extra second on your set, your form will deteriorate more.
If we go with option two though, a couple things can happen. And you might even go faster. Since swimming is so form based, it is impossible to go fast with bad form. Fast times are only possible with a solid form foundation. As we fatigue, our form begins to break down. To slow this slow down, focus on your form again. While it might be tempting to gut it out and muscle through each set with tired arms, you are fighting a losing battle.

Instead let go of that temptation and bring your focus back to your form. Here are several focal points that you can think about when you feel fatigue setting in:

  1. Breathing and relaxing: just focus on controlling your breath and timing it with your stroke to the beat of 1-2-3 breath, 1-2-3 breath…..
  2. Hand entry: Focus on fingertips entering and pointing towards the corner of the lane.
  3. High elbow catch: Focus on letting the elbow “float up” after the catch and then holding that through the pull.
  4. Accelerating harder through the pull: This is particularly helpful in the middle of an interval. Instead of trying harder, try pulling faster while keeping your recovery exactly that: recovery. You will go faster  because of it.
  5. Pull through the hip: Many swimmers leave the water too early especially when they fatigue.  Instead focus on pulling all the way through.

So next time you fatigue: Let go of chasing those splits and focus on your form to actually hit those splits.