Schwimmverein Limmat Zürich
Deutsche Version Elf Tips für Wettkämpfe
Tips by Athletes1 May 1998
© Aimee Berzins und Adam Shmitt, german translation Felix Gmünder, Schwimmverein Limmat Zürich
Most swim related articles focus on preparing for a competition--what to eat, how to train, how to taper, how to qualify, when to shave, etc. We have decided to approach a subject that is often neglected in competitive swimming--what to do once you are at your competition to maximize performance. The following tips are based on our cumulative experiences at national and international competitions and we hope they will help keep you on track towards your goals.
1. Avoid Stress: Easier said than done, stress is one of the biggest energy zappers during competition. It is already exciting enough to be at a meet to let unnecessary strains drain your energy further. Try to stick to your routine, what ever you've been doing - if you are used to getting up at a certain time to workout, get up and warm-up near the same time. If you are used to eating certain foods during your training months--eat similar types of foods during your competition. Keeping your routine similar to normal habits will allow your body to perform under familiar conditions in an unfamiliar environment.
2. Be Flexible: Because things do not always go as planned, it is important to keep an open mind and be able to adapt to what is going on. If you cannot follow your routine exactly, stressing over things you cannot control is only going to deplete your energy more. Adapt and adjust, stay calm, cool and collected.
3. Stay Off you feet as much as possible: The goal of a swim competition is to channel as much energy towards you race--not on the deck. Standing is tiring on leg muscles, so sit, lay down, and rest until your event. Meets tend to be social occasions as well, but it is a good idea to keep the conversations and "psyching out" to a minimum during the meet.
4. Wear shoes on deck: Your legs are your "engines" during your race. Keep them tuned up by keeping them warm, dry, and comfortable. Walking around barefoot on a cold, wet deck makes for tired feet and legs and causes a loss of body heat. If you have to be walking around, wear good, supportive tennis shoes with socks. Most competitors at National competitions wear socks and shoes all the way up to the block and then take them off just before they race.
5. Drink plenty of water: Dehydration is a major depletor of muscle energy. Swim competitions can be extra dehydrating depending on a number of factors such as temperatures and atmosphere. The best way to avoid dehydration is to make sure you are properly hydrated before the event. Drink plenty of water before, during and after competition to maintain proper hydration. You can also incorporate a low-glycemic electrolyte replacement solution (more information on rehydration)
6. Be careful with massage: If you are not used to getting a massage before your race, be careful. Strong massages can create sore muscles and tire you out before you even start swimming. Keep the pre-race rub to a light massage to keep muscles loose. Make sure you know the person giving you the rub so you can direct them as to how much pressure is comfortable to you before a race. Keep post-race massages light as well. Post-race massages are a good aid in muscle recovery, but too hard a rub can create more soreness.
7. Always warm-up: It is important to get your heart rate up and get your body prepared for racing conditions before each race day. Make the warm-up structured to avoid "floating" back and forth with the crowd. Do some short sets that will get your timing down and heart rate up. Approximately a half an hour before your race is a good target to start your warm-up. However, you may want to warm-up longer if you are doing multiple-stroke or longer distance events. Competing without warming-up is asking for injury and a disappointing performance. Though you should conserve energy during meets, warming-up should not be neglected.
8. Always warm-down: The best way to recover from the meet (or a particular event in the meet) is to warm-down for a good 10-15 minutes with continuous, easy swimming. This allows your heart rate to return to normal and eliminates stiffness and soreness of the muscles. You will find warming down will remove lactate out of the muscles by keeping the blood flowing through them, which will leave you feeling more refreshed for your next event.
9. Wake-up swims: Often meets start early in the morning and last all day. Some swimmers prefer to get up early before the normal warm-up time and get a quick 10-15 minute swim. This can be beneficial if you feel groggy from a time zone change or a change in your normal schedule. A regular warm-up is then done at a later time depending on the race schedule.
10. The waiting game: Often there are hours in between events -- what do you do to pass the time, yet maintain your edge. Often what you do during this time makes a big difference on your performance. The best advice is to do what helps you relax. Bring your walkman with your favorite music (s. music before you race). This will allow you to block out any outside interference. Visualize your race--but avoid overkill. Bring a book to read. Stay off your feet. Time out your routine so there will be several things to do before you race: stretch, walk to the bathroom, warm-up, dry off, go to the bathroom, change into your racing suit, put on your warm-ups and don't forget your socks and shoes, put on your cap, adjust goggles---by the time you take your time with all these activities, you will be closer to race time.
11. Plan your meals: Your pre- and post-race meals are just as important as what you use during the meet. Because swim competitions are long and tiring, it is important to fuel the body properly before, during, and after competition. Again, it is important to stick to what has been working and not give into the temptation of experimenting on or close to race day. In other words, if you've never had sushi for your pre-race meal do not go out and gorge on it, no matter who is buying! During the meet you may want to keep certain foods on hand for sustaining energy. Long competition days can deplete your muscles from energy before you even get on the blocks--a sandwich, crackers, fruit, or PR*Bars are good choices. Stay away from foods that will swing your blood sugar level from one extreme to the other--cookies, breads, high carbohydrate energy bars and drinks, etc.
All of these tips may seem to refer to small or insignificant habits, but in view of the fact that successful races can be determined by hundredths of seconds, these points can assume a significant part of a successful meet.
About the authors: Cumulatively, Aimee and Adam have over 40 years of experience in competitive swimming, much of which has been on a national level. Both have competed in the last three Olympic trials, have been nationally ranked, and have trained with some of the best coaches in the United States. Both represented the US on national teams brining home gold and silver medals from the World Championships, World University Games, Pan-American Games, Goodwill Games, and the Len Games. Although retired from US Swimming competitions, Aimee and Adam continue to swim in San Diego, California.