Six years ago, I wrote a very controversial piece for Swimming World suggesting that age-group and developing swimmers should take a 2-month break every year from swimming. In this article, I discussed how a two-month break would benefit swimmers physically and psychologically. I also hypothesized on a few reasons why a two-month break is unlikely in the sport.
While typing this article years ago, I couldn't have imagined this would come to actualization for all swimmers, across all levels, across the World due to a viral pandemic, Covid-19. Nonetheless, this period of “detraining” as Dr. Zacca has mentioned in his recent research will certainly impair swimming performance (as his study found a 3.8% decrease in performance after a 4-week break). However, this research purely looks at acute changes in performance, not the long-term consequences, positive and negative.
When I first wrote this article, I did not get a chance to detail the benefits of a two-month break. In hopes to stay positive during this time and make lemonade with the current lemon situation, here are 5 reasons why this break from swimming is the best thing for swimmers.
5 Reasons Why the Covid-19 Break is GOOD for Swimmers
- Recovery/Prevent from Injuries: Over the years, swimmers have gained notoriety for their arduous training. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, many swimmers did 15,000-20,000 yards of training during practice. Recently, Glenn Mills speaks of doing 8,000-10,000 yard breaststroke sets! As a sport, swimming has moved away from this form of training, but still training a lot of volume compared to other sports. This training undoubtedly creates muscular imbalances. These imbalances can lead to overuse injuries. This period is a great opportunity to offset the imbalances that have occurred over years of training through...simply not swimming and with properly balanced dryland exercises.
- Provide a Psychological Break: The physical demands of the training in the sport of swimming is demanding on the body, but the mind always takes a toll. Over the past few years, mental health has garnered it’s rightful attention, led by Olympian Allison Schmitt. Despite hearing about this most with elite swimmers, mental burnout can happen at any age and may build over years. This break can be a great opportunity to reset the mental stress button with a psychological break, similar to Michael Jordan taking a break from basketball or Michael Phelps retiring after the 2012 Olympics. On a side note, this break may put a different mental stress on swimmers, isolation and loneliness. Therefore, being able to look out for these signs is key.
- Time to Reflection: In my opinion, reflection and analysis are not done nearly enough in swimming. Think of other sports, studying game film and technique. Now swimming, the sport where technique is most crucial and cameras and filming are still not common enough on deck. Nonetheless, at least everyone (more or less) has a video of themselves swimming. Now is a great time to reflect on your technique and set-up a plan to improve your technique. This time also extends to training philosophy and much more.
- Opportunity to Learn: Multiple months of time at home...sounds like a great opportunity for coaches to learn! Many minds in the sport of swimming are providing free courses or lectures online. In the Swimmer’s Corner, we are offering coaches challenges, giving them tools to challenge their current knowledge base and improve.
- Coaching Creativity: Zoom meetings, workouts, cooking shows (yes, I hold the camera for my wife who coaches 13-14), and knitting are just a few ways coaches are being creative during this time. Like all professions, it is easy to get in a routine and not think outside the box. Covid-19 is forcing coaches to think out of the box! Obviously, various training sets and practices are how most believe coaches can be creative, but this is forcing true creativity. Whether coaches are learning how to connect with “the current generation” to how easy it is to involve technology (video calls, remote dryland, etc.), it is forcing everyone to be creative and learn.
Summary of 5 Reasons Why the Covid-19 Break is GOOD for Swimmers
Obviously, there are numerous drawbacks due to Covid-19, which are well documented on every news resource. However, there are some great benefits to come from this break-in swimming, especially if you or your team can make the most of it. Stay positive, look for the light at the end of the tunnel, and focus on improving each day, good luck and be safe!