3 Tricks to Overcoming Performance Plateaus

(140817) -- Nanjing,Aug 17,2014 (Xinhua) -- Gold medalist Vien Nguyen Thi Anh of Vietnam rests after the final of Women's 200m Individual Medley of Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of east China?s Jiangsu Province, on Aug. 17, 2014. (Xinhua/Yang Lei) (txt)
Photo Courtesy: Xinhua/Yang Lei

By SuSu Almousa, Swimming World College Intern

There are moments in life in which we feel like we’ve hit a wall—as if nothing is changing and no matter how hard you work, nothing seems to be yielding the results you desire. When you study all week for a test to the point where you live eat and breathe chemistry and still only manage to scrape past with a B. The classic example of runner’s wall or writer’s block.

Of course, we have all had to struggle through this same state of stagnancy after intense training during a swim season—or even a few seasons. And as much as we attempt to keep our heads straight, it’s in our blood to strive to be better so the frustration and self-doubt becomes paralyzing during performance plateaus.

Firstly, it is of utmost importance to realize that this is normal. There are times when our bodies simply cannot perform to the standards in which we expect, but this does not mean that they never will. All of the sets, laps, and mileage you put in and out of the water is sure to pay off, unfortunately, it is not always at the time we want. It is common knowledge that our bodies prefer to maintain equilibrium, and typically when we work our bodies and minds to the tip of overexertion, the outcome is a performance plateau: our bodies defense mechanism to maintain its preferred equilibrium. Our minds and bodies scream to us, attempting to resist any change that stresses our bodies—but this is only temporary.

After realizing that performance plateaus are normal—even biologically defended states—we must take steps to overcome the plateaus. First and foremost, (as said by all coaches and parents) half of the battle is won mentally. When you have reached a plateau you cannot allow yourself to think of it as defeat. Rather, embrace the stagnancy as a sign you have worked hard and you have pushed your body to a limit. From this, you allow yourself the opportunity for success; whereas, if you were stuck in mental defeat it would seem as if there was no point in continuing. By telling yourself that the plateau you’re in will eventually end – that all of your hard work and determination will translate in the water – transforms a seemingly bleak situation into one with optimism and never-ending opportunities.

Although you have told yourself the plateau isn’t forever, by nature swimmers are impatient people– we like to see results. You should take three steps in your program to overcome your performance plateau: variety, rest, and nutrition. They may seem like odd pairings, but when given attention, they may just catalyze to the breakthrough point.

1. Variety


Photo Courtesy: Greg Alrich

Introduce something new to your schedule. Start dryland practices. Yes, I know: we are water people, but the change in type of exercise and the introduction to new routine will shock your body and break the redundancy of your typical regimen. Ease into some strength training in order to help reinforce your power in the pool. Finally, try some new sets. Intervals, block sprints, and alternating distance swims can definitely break up routine if they are not in typical practice sets. Help your coach out by suggesting some fun, yet challenging sets.

2. Rest


Photo Courtesy: Mark Mitchell

As I said before, performance plateaus are your bodies defense to overexertion so you should recognize this and take your fair share of rest. This doesn’t mean you should take two weeks off or stop training, but it does mean you need to give yourself time to recover and feel excited to jump back in the pool.

3. Nutrition


Photo Courtesy: Tasija Karosas

Believe it or not, diet has a huge part in our performance. I am not suggesting you cut your calorie intake but I am suggesting that you take particular watch over what you are eating and swap out the “bad foods” for healthier options. There was a reason our coaches didn’t allow pizza on the deck: “eat like garbage, swim like garbage.” Be conscientious and eat healthier.

It seems like a lot. I know when I reach a performance plateau I become overcome with frustration and self-doubt and I find it hard to relate to anything. Luckily, I have a friend that seems to speak in analogy which I understand: “all you need to do is just need to get off the starting block and then you’ll power through it.” So, when that performance plateau is reached and you see nothing but the unchanging times on the board remember: just get off the starting block – believe you can do better – and power through it. 

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