Why Morning Workouts Are the Secret Pride of Swimmers

Kylie Masse
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sport

Why Morning Workouts Are the Secret Pride of Swimmers

It’s 5:57 a.m. and yet again, you find yourself standing at the edge of the pool, cap and goggles on, about to take the plunge. You’re cold, not quite willing to dive into an even colder pool and you’re tired; definitely not keen on raising your heart rate above 60 beats per minute. And yet, here you are.

And as the designated top arrives on the glaringly bright clock, you take a last, sleepy breath and launch yourself from the nice, dry deck. The last remnants of warmth, lingering from your bed, vanish as soon as your body slices through the water, disturbing the perfect placidity of the pool. The sounds of your teammates diving in resonate beneath the surface and your body begins to wake up. Your senses sharpen–it’s time to work.

A Complicated Relationship

Swimmers of all ages can identify with the scenario above, connect with the reluctance to get into a cold pool before the sun has even risen, and understand, on an intimate level, the unique feeling of alertness that only diving into a pool can produce in a person’s body. Morning workouts are simultaneously the bane of and the reason for a swimmer’s existence.

No one outside of the sport can even begin to understand the dichotomy because swimmers themselves don’t even fully understand the complicated relationship with morning workouts. We love them and we hate them and we don’t really know why.

morning-steam

We, as swimmers, dread the sound of the alarm in the morning. No swimmer actually enjoys throwing off the covers as 5:15 in the morning, knowing that the rest of the world is still snug in their beds and will be for at least another hour and a half. The prospect of a heavy lift or an intense threshold set at 6:00 a.m. isn’t known for creating warm and fuzzy feelings.

We also sacrifice a lot for these workouts–how many times have we all been asked if we were going to go out on a Friday night, only to hear the fateful words, “I can’t, I have practice tomorrow morning” leave our mouths? We give up sleep, we give up a “normal” social life, and we give up at least a portion of our sanity for these workouts.

Why We Persist

So why, then, do we do it? What’s the appeal of pushing our bodies to their limits before most other people have even contemplated putting their feet on the floor? It’s not a straightforward answer, but there are two key components that can begin to solve the mystery: the physical aspect and the psychological aspect.

The age-old adage “Why fix something if it’s not broken?” is at the heart of the physical argument. While this might seem cliche, there’s a fundamental truth behind it. Getting up early to train has served an important purpose for the most decorated athletes in the sport, professional and amateur alike.

Apr 25, 2014; Mesa, AZ, USA; Ryan Lochte in the starting block before the 200m backstroke prelims during the Arena Grand Prix at Skyline Aquatic Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Performance in the pool, especially a swimmer’s ability to get up and race in prelims, benefits directly from morning workouts. Just like a coach telling swimmers to practice good turns in workouts so their body can do it effortlessly in a race, being able to get up and go in a morning swim requires the same kind of repetition–your body needs to be used to it in order to do it in a meet.

Good morning workouts almost always equal fast morning swims and fast morning swims are the the necessary step to swims at finals. It also allows swimmers to get in two workouts a day on a regular basis — an aspect that is almost wholly unique to swimming. Essentially, earlier practices in the morning allow for another practice in the afternoon with optimal recovery in between, allowing the athletes to perform well at both training sessions.

The Morning Rush

While the physical benefits are important and offer many answers as to why swimmers put themselves through grueling workouts at ungodly hours, there’s more to the story. Psychologically, morning workouts can have a very positive impact on an athlete’s mental state, especially on the rest of their day. As Elle Woods from Legally Blonde reminds us: “Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”

So when a swimmer completes a workout in the morning, they are actually starting the rest of their school or work day off with an endorphin rush. And while an endorphin rush could be considered a physical reaction of the body, these endorphins dramatically affect an athlete’s mood, making it a psychological advantage as well.

(140818) -- Nanjing,Aug 18,2014 (Xinhua) -- An athlete warms up ahead of match during Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, on Aug. 18, 2014. (Xinhua/Fei Maohua)(zc)

Photo Courtesy: Xinhua/Fei Maohua

If you have the opportunity to start the day off with a scientifically-proven good mood, why wouldn’t you take it? There is also the added bonus of realizing at the end of the workout that you have accomplished more athletically than most people will do today and you did it before they even thought about waking up. It’s an accomplished feeling. If you’ve already cranked out 6,000 yards by the time you go to your first class of the day, what can’t you do?

Swimmers everywhere will complain about morning workouts–it’s what we do. But I think there really is a deep-rooted understanding amongst swimmers that the sport would just not be the same without 6 a.m.s. It’s a love-hate relationship; we love to hate it, but we also kind of hate that we love it. And besides, post-practices naps are legend–wait for it–dary.

–Sarah Lloyd

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Anonymous

    Great article . I definitely could relate
    —-former SPY swimmer myself 🙂

    • avatar
      Jean

      I was a water babe, to me being immersed in chlorine was as necessary as food, oxygen and water. I crossed over to springboard diving but the early mornings and chlorine were still there. I left school, went to work, got married, had 2 kids, enrolled them in the local club, history repeated itself. Meanwhile I squeezed in my own chorine fix whenever I could. Now aged 71,retired for the last 11 years, 4 grandchildren. My retirement present to myself was membership of a local gym with outdoor pool. This is where I swam 2k x5 days each week until the pandemic locked us down. Four months out of the pool,I can return on 27th July for my chlorine fix but at 71 can I make up for lost time? Make the most of it, you never know when it will be snatched from you.

  2. avatar
    Delon

    Every morning from April to mid-December I get up, have my coffee, walk 5,000 steps, swim 3km in the Aegean sea, even when the sea is rough, and then run back home. There’s no better feeling than swimming in the sea first thing in the morning. The energy you receive from the sea coupled with the endorphin release from swimming makes you feel so good throughout the day. And as you said accomplishing something physical when most people are still sleeping or just trying to get up is also very satisfying.