Eat right. Move. Sleep. And don’t be obsessed.

It’s become really difficult to organise our preseason swimming prep. When it comes to Covid-19, we thought we were through the worst. Wave one. Wave two. And now we are in the grips of wave three, with the stay-at-home orders to prove it. But the swimming scene forges on as the worlds’ eyes get set to cast their gaze on the Tokyo Aquatics Centre for the “2020” Olympic Games, while 16-year-olds are setting junior world records, clocking 47.30 for 100m freestyle. Despite the closures, the curfews and the chaos, you’ll be back in the water before you know it, racing the rival who seemingly never left the water. By following the guidelines below, we’ll have you prepped and ready to return to in-water training and the racing that’s sure to follow.

Whether you’re an age-group swimming champ, an up-and-coming senior, a masters swimmer keen on competition or a triathlete looking to best prepare for the water leg, it is highly likely that you have been left waterless with the recent lockdowns. Access to the familiar environments you have possibly taken for granted in the past have been restricted, and you’d do anything to swim that extra 100m butterfly or push up that final hill in the local spinning class.

Despite your despondency, the temptation of the couch, Netflix and that bag of darn Doritos offers, you have decided to push that aside and rather pursue your preseason swimming prep. The plan may not be as comprehensive as what you’re used to, but sometimes it’s all about doing the basics right – eating well, moving, sleeping and avoiding obsession (here is something I wrote on the same four elements when it comes to overcoming anxiety).

Now we think about the facility-less sportsman yearning to train – here is a revised edition of those four elements focused on preseason swimming prep.

Although not immediately obvious, the same four elements can help guide our out-of-the-water preseason swimming prep during lockdowns or whenever you find it difficult to make your way to your training facility of choice. Below, we’ve given you some guidance on how to implement these very straightforward, yet life-changing elements to keep you fit, healthy and ready to return to the pool.

1. Eat right

Deep down, we all sort of know what this means, even though dieticians seem to struggle to agree on the right answer. Ditch the refined carbs. Increase your intake of healthy fruits and veggies. Ensure lots of good (vegan or non-vegan) protein enters your oesophagus.  And lots of water to wash it all down.

Think that burger will go down well? Ditch the buns. Would you like a salad or fries with that? Tricky question (not really though). You should totally go with the salad. Would you like your chicken grilled or fried? We all love that glorious coating of golden crisp deliciousness, but we know, deep down, that it’s probably the wrong decision. I don’t have much more to add here. Nothing scientific, just gut instincts (pun totally intended).

Ultimately, be aware of cause and effect:

  • Feeling nice and light – what did you eat?
  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious and lacking motivation – what did you eat?
  • Have the most amazing workout of your life – what did you eat?
  • Eager to get back to training – what did you eat?

Keep reworking your diet until you find a good balance of nutrients that aid the good vibes all around.

For legal reasons, I should probably mention that I’m not a qualified dietician, health practitioner or foodie necessarily, so this is based on my own life experience as it were – not only dabbling in the good stuff but also the bad, instantly gratifying stuff too.

2. Move

This is the part we struggle with, mostly because our routines have been disrupted. Or we have struggled to find a facility to accommodate us. This is where the real creativity needs to fly free – and luckily for us, it isn’t as tricky as one would think.

My saving grace was some of the online workout apps, which made it so easy to develop workouts targeting all muscle groups, integrating work targeting speed, flexibility, agility and power all from the comfort of my lounge, with no equipment requirements (although there were ones that use equipment, should you be lucky enough to boast your own at-home gym).

What I loved most about the app I used, Nike Training Club, was the time it saved me not having to think of a workout to complete. Also, linking my device to my soundbar allowed me to control the playlist, while the soothing robotic tones of that lovely lady narrating each of the workouts motivated me along, defining form expectations and pushing me through the sweat and tears.

A pair of running shoes and cycling cleats present an awesome opportunity to ditch the cramped lounge environment while you hit the roads to work out your sweat in a different way. Vary those cardio workouts balancing some longer aerobic sessions, with some shorter, anaerobic high-intensity interval training.

3. Sleep

The Sleep Foundation emphasises just how important sleep is for athletes:

Evidence shows that more sleep, or extended sleep, can benefit athletes, their recovery, and their performance. Recommendations for athletes range between seven and nine hours nightly. Elite athletes are encouraged to get at least nine hours of sleep nightly and to treat sleep with as much importance as athletic training and diet. In contrast, people who exercise moderately likely do not need as much sleep as elite performers. Standard sleep guidelines are appropriate.

I only truly appreciated the importance of sleep when I neglected it. I would often get home from work sometime between 3 am and 6 am, after an 18-20 hour workday. I knew this was problematic due to a couple of the things I was experiencing during the day:

  • That time I partially blacked out, falling forward into my cupboard while choosing the socks that matched my outfit least (as one does)
  • That time I almost fell asleep driving home from a client – luckily my manager was driving shotgun and noticed my head drooping down
  • That time I went for my check-up and, for the first time, showed signs of borderline high blood pressure (along with a greatly extended waistline)

The mind fog was also real, as well as the out-of-body experiences, which I can only liken to the body defaulting into autopilot – similar to the remote control in the movie Click, automatically fast-forwarding through the activities Adam Sandler has previously fast-forwarded through (the dangers of machine learning, I suppose).

It’s tough when your mind slows down or you can’t truly immerse yourself in moments shared with friends, family and colleagues (being present, in other words). Ultimately, this leads to lowered levels of performance for the athlete, which leads to tricky conversations with coaches and/or sponsors and then, ironically, to heightened anxiety and an inability to sleep. Do you see the unhealthy cycle developing here?

A few tips to get the best night’s sleep (all anecdotal)

I have noticed a couple of things that aid to an easier journey to sound sleep (I should probably use them a little more regularly).

  • Meditate– focusing on the breath, on the counteracting forces of gravity pulling you down, and your bed pushing you up, on areas of tension in your body. Forcing yourself to simply acknowledge your thoughts, but not react to them. Before you know it, your stilled mind will have you enjoying some well-deserved REMs. Some great mindfulness apps can walk you through this process. Before you spend any money though, there is so much great content on YouTube freely available. I’ve also come across some great podcasts like Drift Off and Get Sleepy, both of which focus on guiding you to sleep through relaxing bedtime stories.
  • Eat earlier and cut the carbs– I’ve started moving my main meal towards lunchtime (in which I have upped the protein, lowered the carbs and become less stressed about fats). Eat something light for dinner, a little earlier than usual to avoid your body activating its digestive process. I’m still working on this, but avoid refined carbs at all costs (especially before bed) – these spike your energy levels and get the mind racing.
  • Ditch the tech– another thing I’m not very good at. Try and avoid the blue light before bedtime.
  • Count your blessings (be grateful) – through prayer or by integrating a gratitude theme into your mindfulness practice, you will be amazed at how powerful gratitude is in releasing some of the feel-good hormones, easing the mind and helping you sleep.

4. Don’t be obsessed

You’re probably a little curious about this one.

I like to think of this element as a continuum. At one end (let’s call it the good side), you have passion. At the other end (let’s call it the bad side), you have obsession. Put simply, the goal is to edge to the side of passion and stay away from the side of obsession. Seems pretty simple, but most things are when typed out in words – it’s the practical application that’s the tricky part.

This pillar is intimately related to the first three and can often determine your success or failure to uphold them. Obsession contributes to meals missed, or easy on-the-go snacks, with lowered nutritional value. Obsession contributes to that forgone run or workout, as whatever is consuming your mind, has left little space for anything else. Obsession leads to nights spent behind the laptop or replaying an event (past or present) without an ending, or with a reimagined one each time. This means sleep is set aside.

In short, to have any success in living up to the first three pillars, learn to identify when your passion turns into obsession. More importantly, learn how to transform your obsession back into passion. Preseason swimming prep starts here – ensure your energy is directed towards the good side of the continuum.

We know this kind of preseason prep for swimmers is not the perfect fit.

There is no perfect replacement for the joy of moving through the silky smooth medium we all love so much. But in the absence of access to our swimming facilities (our second home), this is the best we can do to keep active, fit and ready for your return to the pool and competition.

Remember, Spurt, your ultimate training partner is here to help when you make your move back into the water.