How To Get The Most Out Of Winter Training

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What comes to mind when you think of cold temperatures, 3-hour workouts, exhausted athletes, and an elevated risk of injury? A good deal of you probably thought winter training and the rest of you probably thought BUD/S Navy Seal training. Mental fortitude and toughness are often excuses used to allow coaches to berate athletes to breaking points during this time of year. Here, we go through how to get the most out of this portion of the year, why a good portion of coaches are shifting their training, and what you should do if you think the training could leave you injured.

My Experience With Winter Training

A break from school was what the majority of my friends looked forward to as a kid, but what it meant for me and other swimmers was… winter training. That’s right, more time for coaches to experiment with 1000’s freestyle or repeat 400 IMs. Lucky for me, I was coached by Aubrey Knapper at Texas Gold Swimming for the majority of my young career. We’d get after it from time to time doing 8,000m workouts in two hours, but nothing was totally unreasonable. This marked the final push towards the descent into a full-on taper for whatever meet was on the radar that season and I understood why it was important.

Friends of mine who swam on other teams in the area didn’t have it quite so good though. I’d hear horror stories of 100 X 100s followed by 20 X 200IMs capped off with a lactic set, 2000’s kick for time, and a whole slew of other nonsensical workouts.

Moral of the story, I was one of the lucky ones.

Getting The Most Out Of It

I wouldn’t say my training was the most dialed in it could have been growing up, but you have to keep in mind you’re not the only one on the team. Club teams are way more spread out in terms of goals, commitment, and ability leading to coaches having to adjust workouts for the group as a unit. My point in saying this is, even if you think a workout might not be tailored perfectly for you, ask how you can adjust to make it so. I’d always go into a set with one specific goal in mind so that even if the set wasn’t perfect for me, I’d come out knowing I got better.

For Example…

Set: 10 x 100 freestyle (short course meters) on 1:30

Explanation: This set (specifically the interval) wasn’t particularly challenging for me. I could go through the motions, hold 1:02 - 1:05 on all of them and come out feeling like I was in marginally better shape than I was prior. Instead, towards the latter part of my high school career, I shifted focus.

Goal: Five aggressive dolphins kicks off each wall into the most relaxed, but fast, freestyle I could do.

Outcome: I got… better. I wasn’t just going through the motions and doing the yardage (or in this case “meterage”) but I had an actionable goal that could change my perspective on how to swim in a meet. It’s not always about going from point A to point B the fastest in practice, sometimes you need to think outside the box.

A Shift In Training

As I mentioned above, some programs treat winter training as a full-on mental fortitude workshop. Other programs, and in increasing numbers, increase the intensity while simultaneously maintaining reasonable yardage.

Quality over quantity... 

Quality over quantity…

Quality over quantity…

If you’re in the sport (or have ever been around the sport) you’ve heard this phrase at least once, but what does it really mean and how does it make sense during this beastly portion of the year?

One thing that I always believed to be over-looked in the sport was racing in practice. So many people I knew would crush workouts in practice (including myself). They’d then get to a meet, not knowing anything different, and swim the race the same exact way. Racing is a completely different beast and although practice is important, it’ll never mimic a race. Being in good shape physiologically is pertinent to success in our sport, but without the muscle memory and understanding of what it really feels like to be at 90% vs 95% vs 100%... racing will feel foreign.

In summary, more programs are adopting the “quality over quantity” mentality and really leaning into what it feels like to race at 100%.

When To Say Enough Is Enough

Injuries happen in our sport. We’re not in pads slamming into one another regularly, but we are putting pressure on our joints for extended periods of time over long periods of months and years. During this grueling time of year, we’re absolutely more injury-prone. The workouts, the weather, and the lack of rest are all factors that play into it. Be smart and speak up if something in your body doesn’t feel right. Don’t try to swim through something that feels different or worse than just being sore.

At the end of the day, no one knows your body better than you do.

When To Suck It Up

It might sound a little contradictory following the section above, but trust me… it’s not. There are feelings, aches, pains, etc. that should absolutely be brought to the attention of your coach or trainer but there are some that should not.

You’re going to get tired. Suck it up.

You’re going to be sore. Suck it up.

You’re going to get broken down. Suck it up.

The mental aspect of completing winter training will stick with you long after your career is over and if you’re going to take one thing away from this article it should be this…

Waking up for work at 6:00 am when it’s freezing cold outside will feel like nothing compared to waking up at 6:00 am when it’s freezing cold outside and your 6 workouts deep in the week about to jump in a cold pool for two hours and work your tail off.

Get up. Get to work.

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