We all have tough days when things in life are weighing heavy on the body and mind. There are times when we don’t feel like going to the pool, or we don’t feel like doing much when we get there.
If you have one of these days, and decide that doing something in the water would still be good for you, but your body, mind, or heart is just not into the assigned practice – what should you do?
Well, you don’t do what someone else expects you to do in your practice that day!
Refresh Your Perspective
First of all, remember who you are there to serve in your practice – you. This is not ultimately a selfish view. Take care of you and then you are in a better position to take care of others. (Even rescue personnel know they need to secure themselves before securing a victim so that they don’t turn themselves into another victim and make more work for everyone!).
Second, keep the big picture – and I mean ‘The Big Picture’ – in mind: you might have some big race goal coming up that you feel the pressure to prepare for. But look way past that – you’ve got life extending way beyond that race and you want to be working through this with life-long sustainability in mind. There is work, family, friends, and meaningful activities outside the pool that you need to stay strong for, and swimming is there to support that, not take away from it.
With that Big Picture in mind, you may consider giving yourself permission to trade in some of that precious goal achievement (or race preparation) time for some soul-refreshment time.
We are all concerned about avoiding physical injuries, but I also feel it is as important to guard against mental injury – that way in which you become sick of the process of training so much that you don’t want to swim much any more (because you only know one way to be in the water). A warning that this sickness is approaching is if you start to feel you have to do your practice every time you get in the pool – as if some force outside your own heart is pressuring you. Please beware if you find yourself feeling obligated to practice. It grieves me to hear of those who work so hard and make these great swim accomplishments then afterwards they don’t want to be in the water for weeks or months or ever.
Never let anything rob you of the joy of swimming, not even for a week or a day.
I trust those reading this have the maturity to recognize the difference between working past obstacles to your goal that require great effort (this is not fun per se, but it is still a satisfying effort), and warning signs that your soul is being damaged by your training process. Such injury robs you of joy even in the final accomplishment.
There is a time to push through some resistance and there is a time to give the heart a rest. Every once in a while you may need to set aside your training agenda and just let the water tend to your soul, to keep in touch with its healing properties.
Refreshment may require some drastic change in your mode: Turn off the stroke count. Turn off the Tempo Trainer BEEP. Don’t look at the clock. Don’t count laps. Take off the fancy swim watch. Just get into the moment of a single stroke. Focus totally on the feel of the water flowing over you, the feel of natural forces being balanced in your body. Enjoy the pleasure of just one of your favorite parts of the stroke – each moment enjoyed in itself.
On a less drastic level you may need to just come to the pool and do your warm-up and your cool-down routine.
Candidly, it seems I have done one of these stripped-down sessions once a week for the last month. A couple times I’ve just had a lot of things on my mind, eager to get through my morning routine (including swim practice) and get back into the office to work on the task at hand. At other times I could feel my body was not well recovered and it would not be good to drain it further. I feel I am managing the loads upon my life fairly well, but still, it is heavy some times. My heart is not always in the pool. You know what I mean. In these times, I just do my warm-up and cool-down routine (always mindfully) and then get out.
And sometimes, I go through that warm-up and am surprised that it was enough to pull me out of the funk, and I actually want to do a bit more. But I find that place because I removed the pressure to get there.
My warm-up (known in TI as a ‘tune-up’) routine takes me through about 10 minutes of gently loosening up, awakening my body systems and my mind, bringing them together. Then it takes me through another 15 minutes of lengthening and tuning up the fine timing and connections of my full-body synchronization. My cool-down routine takes me away from freestyle and puts my body into different balance, different movement patterns, and different breathing. Those two parts make up about 2300 yards for me, much less than an hour.
What I do in that routine is not so important to this discussion. That routine just happens to be filled with activity that refreshes my body and mind and allows me to leave the pool revived without being tired, if I do nothing else. I can raise the intensity level if I want to, but on these tough days I adjust the intensity just enough to keep my mind peacefully engaged – not too much and not too little.
For some swimmers I may prescribe a long set or a whole day in the pool that is just ‘pure pleasure’. Choose some pleasurable mode you want to enter into, some internal quality you want to feel, then get into it and swim in it for as long as you can sustain it. By turning off the other demands and devices and counting, and focusing purely upon sustaining a certain internal quality, you may surprise yourself by how far you end up going, lost in that focus.
You may go even further and regularly schedule in a ‘fun-swim’ day, or an ‘alternative-swim’ day – where you do something that is still skill-oriented, but put your body and mind into a different mode. If you do a lot of short sprint work, it could be a long-and-gentle swim. If you do a lot of long-distance work, it could be some short-and-brisk laps. Or do a ‘no-freestyle’ day. Or play water polo or marco-polo with your pool mates. Or put on some fins and do some silent dolphin kicking under water with the longest, leanest, most silky-fluid movements you can, then switch to your back and flutter along with an easy breathing pattern.
At The Service Of Your Well-Being
The point is that your time in the pool is a tool at the service of your well-being, and not just there to serve the goal you are training for. It is not a master over you but a servant. If you need it, I give you permission to re-arrange your agenda when your heart knows it needs something different for this day in the water.
Unless illness, recovery, or higher priorities insist that you skip practice, that time in the water on a tough day could be a real blessing to you rather than another burden. I hope that you will see it that way, and always use it in the service of refreshing your soul.