Lessons from the
Olympic High Altitude
Training Camp

 

By Jon Shastid

Swimmers have differing goals: to get in shape, to stay in shape, to race, to relax. No matter what the purpose, some aspects of the Olympic High Altitude Training Camp apply to all swimmers. This initial article is dedicated to several basic aspects, which the coaches at the camp emphasized as building blocks of all good swimming: hydration, warm-down, and stretching.

Hydration:

During a workout, drink something (even sips) every 10 to 15 minutes. By the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. If you keep the body hydrated, you will swim better and train better. After exercise the body needs ample carbohydrates, and the initial half hour to 2 hours post-workout is critical (after that, the body does not process the food as efficiently). Suggestions: within 20 minutes after a workout, drink Gatorade/PowerAde; within the next 1 to 1½ hours, eat salads, peanut butter, or fruit.

The importance of warming down (recovery):

High lactate levels inhibit muscle contraction and reduce the body's ability to renew its internal energy sources.
A good rule of thumb: warm down for at least 10 minutes. During this period, roughly 70 percent of lactic acid should be processed, versus 10 percent if passive recovery is done. (Note: recovery should be easy ... at the low to middle end of aerobic range.) Active recovery can include swimming, walking, stretching, rotating arms, etc.—i.e., getting the blood circulating via the heart pumping. This gets blood through the organs that process the lactic acid.

The shorter the race distance, the more important the recovery and the longer the time needed. Straight swimming at an easy pace works better than a combination of distances and efforts. For sprinters, this "easy" pace would be roughly 50 percent of maximum velocity (i.e., if you swim the 50 free in 25 seconds, then swim the 50 recovery at 50 seconds for each 50). For mid-distance, it should be 55 to 60 percent; for distance swimmers, it should be 60 to 65 percent of maximum velocity.

Stretching:

• Stretch after swimming (think of chewing gum: a stick of gum can break when first taken out, but after chewing is flexible; your muscles will also stretch more easily during post-workout, AND the benefits are greater).

• Don't stretch to pain; stretching is a gradual process; hold stretches gently for 20 to 30 seconds, relax, and then repeat for another time or two.

• When discomfort comes from a workout, stretching is good! Without stretching, the muscles will try to "repair" the micro-tearing "in-place"—i.e., in their contracted state—instead of in the preferred elongated state of post-stretching.

You get faster during recovery! Recovery (post-workout) is when muscle is built (or rebuilt after being broken down during the workout). If you stretch post-workout, your body will build muscle and memory along the "longer" or stretched muscle axis—not the tightened, bunched mass that lactate and overwork have left you with.