Richard Garza, USMS

November 18, 2019

Here’s how you can take days off from swimming but still feel good when you come back

Anyone who has swam for several years knows the feeling of coming back to the pool after an extended break. It might take only one week, but it probably leads you to think, “I’m never taking a break again,” “I didn’t realize how much I had gained until now,” “I can’t believe I lost my fitness that quickly,” or “I feel like it’s day one all over again.”

Travel is a part of life as an adult. Whether it’s for business or pleasure, we are going to encounter a period of time where we just can’t get to a pool. How can you maintain what you’ve worked so hard to gain? The answer: concentrated loading.

It All Starts With Your Routine

Your body attempts to stay in homeostasis, which means your body likes to stay a certain way. Becoming more physically fit pushes your body away from this familiar state, which is commonly known as your “comfort zone.”

This push outside your body’s comfort zone is necessary to make any sort of change in performance, whether it’s performing a new technique consistently or maintaining a faster pace. As your body adapts to the new workload or technique, it creates a new homeostatic state that is stronger or faster than before.

But to keep it there, you have to keep up the work that got you there. If you wish to continue making progress, you have to continue to stress your body in new ways so new adaptations occur. But how long can you maintain your new, faster, stronger, more physically fit comfort zone if you stop swimming? At what point does your body start the downward trend back toward “normal?”

The answer: It depends on your workout routine, how often and how long you swim.

Miss One, Make Up Two

Let’s say you swim rigorously every day and you’re called to a business meeting. Because of this, you can’t make it to practice. You will maintain your level of fitness for a full day, but because your body is used to training every day, your body will start to lose what you’ve gained after only one day. It’s going to take two days of swimming to get your conditioning back to where it was before you missed practice.

At a constant level of effort and routine, for each workout you miss, it takes two workouts to get back to where you were. To account for this, you have to work twice as often for the same amount of time that you won’t be swimming to avoid losing any conditioning.

Take Two Steps Forward, So You Can Take One Back

So how do you negate this effect and pick back up where you left off when you return to swimming? The answer is concentrated loading, which is a drastic increase in the magnitude and/or duration compared to your normal workout routine.

If you know you’re going on a one-week business trip, you’ll have to attend twice as many workouts or swim twice as long for a week in order to return from your trip feeling great. If you know you’re going to be missing workouts for three weeks, you’ll need to step it up for three weeks prior to the start of your break. The important thing is that the work put in during this time is outside your comfort zone.

Once you return, it won’t be necessary to go back to double duty. Just make sure you get back into your normal routine and stick to it.

As an example, let’s say Norm swims for one hour three times a week. To prepare for a break, he could swim for 1.5 hours four times a week or attend six practices for a week.

Final Thought

The important thing is that your concentrated loading phase needs to be done immediately before your break in training. If it’s done too far in advance, you’ll adapt to the new workload, your new homeostatic state will improve, and you’ll have to work even harder to prepare for a break in your training and still come back feeling great.

 

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