6 Ways to Become a Stronger Fish Out of Water

fish out of water

TUCSON – Our logic often jumps to “the more we swim, the better we’ll be.” There are many people spending many hours logging many miles. But, in a sport where hundredths of seconds matter, it’s only reasonable that the little things in your training regimen matter. Becoming a stronger fish out of water is what the best swimmers in the world do to refine their swimming. The gross-motor thrashing will get you only so far in our sport.

1. Stretch.

Out of all athletes, swimmers may be the worst stretchers. There is some truth in “but every stroke is a stretch.” But when you’re shoveling heaps of water without the full force of gravity you forget you’re basically lifting loads of H2O with every stroke. The best swimmers do not allow tight muscles to bind up their stroke. They swim with grace. Look at ballerinas and take note. Their unmatched flexibility is what provides them their unmatched grace. If your lats are tight, you could be better. That’s a fact. Think of the extra inches of extension/extra gallons of water you could be reaching with lengthened lats. Stretch more. Grab more water. Recover faster. Sleep better. Ten minutes before bedtime is a great start.


2. Core work before practice.

The timing of this is significant. At clinics my husband and I ask kids, “Why do swimmers have great ab muscles?” The answer is seldom “because they engage their core constantly in the water!” But that is the correct answer. When you begin swimming you think of your arm and leg movements, but it’s only when you strengthen the glue in between your upper and lower extremities that the magic starts to happen. Strokes get more efficient when your arms and legs are working in concert. Rotation comes into play because of a strong core! To form muscle memory, we need to devote time to learning to persistently engage our abs. The lowest abdominals are the most important for a terrific bodyline. Core work before practice awakens those lowest abdominal muscles, which keep your back from arching and your tail from wagging in the water. Bring awareness to your center before plunging in and strive to keep that awareness in the water.


3. Balance Your Time.

Swimmers are overachievers. If you’re reading this as a supplement to your practice, I applaud your dedication. The law of diminishing returns is one economic term swimmers should learn. We tend to want to ace every test, go best times in every race, train at our best every day, dedicate time to our friends, and volunteer x hours every week. Oh, and get nine hours of sleep nightly. Is this formula of life possible? No. Is it ok to strive for? Sure, to a degree. When you push the envelope in all areas of life you may eventually have an anxiety attack and realize you’re barely keeping your head above water. If you know you could get an ‘A’ by studying for three hours, but you tend to study for nine hours to get that 100 plus some extra credit, maybe you could be rationing your time better. Please do not misinterpret this as saying “slack off a little, it’s fine.” Slacking is not fine. But managing your time wisely is something else entirely.


4. Take Care of Your Boat!

If your speedboat (your body) has sprung a few leaks, take the time to repair it. Do not just stare at the leak or throw duct tape over it. Do something about it. If your shoulder hurts, it’s telling you it needs some extra love. Do your physical therapy exercises religiously. So many of the best swimmers I’ve known have undergone injury, been hyper-disciplined because they’re dying to get back to racing, and ended up coming back stronger (mentally and physically) than ever. A shoulder injury may lead to a leg-numbing amount of kicking, which may catapult you to become the best kicker on the team. Zero in on what you can do when you’re injured, and try to make those parts of your boat really shine.


5. Study What the Best Do.

As competitors, we hate to lose. But when we get to race the best, we should cherish this opportunity to learn about race strategy. When your coach describes the perfect stroke, it’s sometimes hard to picture it and harder still to feel it out in the water. When you’re at a meet that could be really defeating due to the caliber of your competition, take the time to watch the very best race. Notice the little things. Where do they enter? Where do they change speeds within each stroke? How is their kick different? What does their starting position look like? Obviously we are not all the same proportions and may have distinct styles, but when you have a chance to watch the best and try out their methods, take advantage of the opportunity. Experimenting is risky, but necessary to make career-changing adjustments to our swimming.


6. Eat Right

This could be it’s own list. Sure, this girl chugs a Coke before she races and goes really fast. That does not mean it’s her X factor or that it will work for you. Basing your eating routine off someone else’s (who could be a freak of nature) is probably not going to work for you. Get something in your belly in the 30 minutes after your practice. Your body’s energy stores (glycogen) are depleted and you need to replenish with carbohydrates. A fruit and nut bar or a banana with peanut butter are great post workout options. Make sure you’re getting lean, easy-to-digest protein: almonds, cashews, chicken, turkey, and beef. Discover the world of vegetables! Find the oddest one in the produce section and find a fun recipe online. I bet mom and dad would be honored to help cook you up some premium fuel. A good rule of thumb is to stick to the borderlands (deli, produce) and veer clear of those shelves filled with sugar and preservatives, which make up the bulk of every grocery store. Swimmers burn a lot, which means you can consume a lot. But not a lot of junk! Be selective about the fuel you give your high performance vehicle. Your engine will purr with thanks.