Swimnetwork.com Special: Getting into the Swim of Things

By Dr. Chris Colburn

So, you've decided to get in the water again. It's probably been a while since you last hit the pool. Maybe you swam your final conference meet or NCAAs a few months ago, or it could be a decade or three since you last attempted a swim practice. Maybe you're a triathlete or fitness swimmer attending your first organized water workout. In any event, that first practice can often be daunting. Following a few simple rules of thumb may improve your perspective, prepare you for the experience, and keep you coming back for more.

Rule 1: Say hello.

If it's your first day at practice, greeting your new lane mates and alerting the coach to your presence and status as a newbie can go a long way to creating a good experience. Your new training partners will be more receptive to helping you with the drills, local lingo, and the points of some of the sets. The coach, if you're fortunate enough to have one, often will check up on your strokes, and make sure everything proceeds as it should. While it may seem elementary, this can be important, especially in a large program with a number of coaches. Jim Montgomery, Olympic Gold Medalist and Head Coach of Dallas Aquatics Masters, has advised swimmers and coaches to "just say hello" for years. The staff follows up with new arrivals after practice and they find it much easier to do so when the new swimmers introduce themselves.

Rule 2: If you can, ask questions.

Learning about the coach (if you have one) and the workouts often makes for a better experience. Ask about the day's workout, the rest of the workouts for the week, or the overall season plan (if there is one). If you can, ask about these items ahead of time, so you can come on a recovery day, or a day that may best fit your fitness level. That way, if you can only show up on the day when the team is doing a 1650 for time, you can find out if you'll be in for daily doses of the same in the future. At Academy Bullets Masters, we often advise people of a good starting day so their first workout provides both an evaluation of the swimmer's abilities and a representative sample of the different kinds of work we do.

Rule 3: Understand what you can't do, and focus on what you can.

If you have come back to the pool after a long hiatus, you will likely find that the training you can handle now is significantly different from what you remember. Nadine (Takai) Day, former USA National Team member and holder of multiple Masters records, learned quickly that she had to limit her training due to some injuries she sustained in college. "Due to my back problems I can't do dryland, and my body can't take much hard training. I do a lot of drills, technique, and quality pace work. Focusing on the little things has really paid off." The key here is to be positive. Look at what you're able to do, and work with it. Working within some limitations may enable you to overcome those weaknesses.

Rule 4: Take the long view.

One of my newer swimmers, a recent college graduate who came to Masters four months after her last conference meet, finished her first practice saying, "That felt awful!" More often than not, the first day doesn't feel that great, regardless of your fitness level when you arrive. You may be out of aerobic shape. Your muscle memory might not be what it once was. The rules may have changed so much that people look at your turns and ask, "What ARE you doing?" In the big picture, none of that matters. You made it through your first day, and deserve some congratulations for a job well done. Keep in mind that the first day might be hard, but if you stick with it, each successive day gets easier and more successful as you adjust to your new routine.

Chris Colburn (aka DrCoachChris) is the Head Coach of Academy Bullets Masters in Aurora, Illinois, and the Chair of the U.S. Masters Swimming Coaches Committee. He has come back to Masters training many times, and firmly believes that the first day is always the hardest.

For more of Chris’ work and for more swimming, go to Swimnetwork.com.

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