Wouldn’t it be great to swim like Adam Peaty? Be the best in the world. Leave the rest of the world in your wake. It’s something I’ve been dreaming of doing for the last 35 years. At the age of 40 and 11/12ths I have come to terms with the fact this is unlikely to happen! But it has all been worth it. Through bitter painful swimming experiences and now bio-mechanical knowledge from the world of physiotherapy I feel I know what it takes to be a better swimmer… if only I’d known this in 1980!
1. Know What Swimming Does To You
As a competitive swimmer for over 30 years and Sports Therapist I feel reasonably placed to talk about the muscular affect of swimming on the body – positive and negative. That coupled with our proud association across our 2 clinics with some fantastic swimming clubs – Shiverers and The Dolphins in Brighton and The Dolphins and SAMS in Swindon – we know swimming bio-mechanics.
In our experience all of the injuries, aches, pains associated with swimming come from the strength that swimmers develop due to the nature of the sport. In physiotherapy they speak of your strength becoming your weakness. In swimming this specifically means shortening and tightening of you pec (pectoralis major) and lat (latissimus dorsi) muscles. This puts strain on a whole host of regions, rotator cuff (small muscles in your shoulder that scream loudly when they work too hard), low back and neck to name just a few.
We talk in greater details about this relationship in our How To Avoid Swimming Injury page.
2. Keep At It
Adam Peaty has achieved everything by the tender age of 21. My old training buddy Jazz Carlin took literally aeons longer, reaching 25 before her greatest achievement. I like to say training buddy about Olympic silver medallists. It sounds so much better than it was. The reality was I was a long way behind, she was doing her second swim of the day – a recovery swim, and she was only 17 at the time – but it’s certainly my best claim to any swimming fame.
Jazz’s story epitomises my point. Keep at it. Having missed out on London 2012 due to illness she kept going to achieve fantastic things. For most of us reading this Olympic medals are pure fantasy. But my own story also bears the fruit of this mantra. Truth is I’ve never been very good. This is no false modesty statement, trust me. However, I have always been keen. What that’s left me with is being a relatively fit old man, young at heart with lots of energy and a way of managing my type 1 diabetes following my diagnosis in 2009.
There will always be times when you don’t want to hit the pool. But I guarantee the hardest thing is just getting to the pool. And when you’ve done that session you’ll feel a hell of a lot better than you would have done sitting around feeling sorry for yourself!
3. Actually Go Swimming
Now this sounds as obvious as it gets but it’s so true. Our Olympians train about 6 hours a day. Our good quality club swimmers train in the region of 20 hours a week. If you’re one of those keep at it! If you’re on the more mortal side of things just try and do that one extra session per week. You will improve. It’s inevitable.
Take a good old “never was” like myself. I always reckon 3 times per week is my sweet spot for making improvements to my fitness. If I go twice a week I can bimble along for a while. If I go 4 times I really start feeling good in the water.
Whatever your level try and put that extra session in. The water just feels better. Trust me.
4. Don’t Go Out!
Ever! Adam Peaty’s story is one of complete dedication. Training 6 hours a day. There’s not many 21 years olds who don’t drink or even go out! But it’s your choice. Consider your goals. How much do you want to achieve them? And what will you sacrifice to achieve them?
Hopefully the last example from myself, I am aware there’s been way too many self references in this post! My idea of discipline is not drinking on a Thursday night so I’m fresh for my swim on Friday morning. I mean it’s not at 5am… more like 9, but it is the am! If I go for a cheeky couple on a Thursday then my session won’t be as productive. That’s the choice we all have.
5. Hit The Gym… Hard
They’re big boys aren’t they?! And girls too. Just looking at Jazz on TV and comparing her physique to how it was when she was 17 is incredible. This is one of many areas she has obviously found some speed from. The male swimmers you just need to look at their ripped physique to know how important the gym work is.
But there’s gym work and then there’s gym work. Be careful not to do the bog standard ‘gym program’ that everyone does. Swimming works some muscles more than others. That’s great and you need to strengthen those muscles. But your strength can become a weakness i.e. the muscles that shorten and tighten as a result of swimming cause issues elsewhere.
This can be true of the competitive swimmer because they are working so hard these imbalances become more pronounced. But equally those new to the sport or increasing their training as their body struggles to adapt to the increased load. For anyone looking to improve their swimming no matter what their level I would recommend seeing someone who can assess how their body works and set a programme accordingly. Somewhere say like Brighton Sports Therapy! Equally there are some excellent Personal Trainers out there who can do the same. Any PTs out there if you’d like to get our heads together I’d be really interested.
6. Beat Your Chest Like a Gorilla!
Has anyone noticed how Adam Peaty’s chest is red raw before he goes in the water. This is because he’s been slapping away at his chest back stage! The idea is to stimulate the muscles that you use most during swimming. Much like we do with our Muscle Activation techniques. Though don’t worry, no slapping from us! We’re much more subtle.
7. Get Regular Treatment From Brighton Sports Therapy!
So yes it’s a shameless plug but I was genuinely feeling this last night. Us sports therapists and physiotherapists really should know what we’re supposed to do. And yes I do kinda follow my own advice. But our life is as busy as everyone else’s and it can be hard to find time for treatment even when there’s a great therapist in the room next to you. We’re rarely free at the same time!
Yesterday I finally got a long awaited swap session with one of my colleagues. By the time I hit the pool I’d completely forgotten about the treatment. Until I dived in that was. I was swimming along wondering why I felt about 10 years younger. But that’s exactly what is possible and as a therapist it’s lovely to be reminded of this… hopefully more regularly in the coming months.
I hope you find these top tips useful for your swimming journey. As always happy to discuss any of the above. If we can help you in anyway with your future in swimming give us a tinkle, the number is top right.