How to Make a Swimming Comeback

Has it been years since you’ve been in the pool on a regular basis? Have you decided it’s time to start swimming again? It can be completely exhilarating (as in, “I can still swim!”) or utterly discouraging (as in, “1600m used to be my warm-up, not my workout!”) to try to recapture those glorious days of high school or collegiate swimming. 

To keep you from getting stuck in the past and nostalgic for what you used to be able to do, here‘s some advice on how to make a successful swimming comeback! 

Be Consistent

Consistency is your friend. Swimming for twenty minutes most days of the week will do more to improve your fitness than swimming two hours on Saturday and one on Sunday. Think about it: At the height of your career, swimming was probably your main priority! If you want to return to the glory years, you’ll need to make swimming a regular part of your life again. It doesn’t have to be your highest priority – it just needs to be part of your weekly or daily routine. Once you are back to the pool consistently, you can slowly increase the time and intensity of your training.

Take Baby Steps

If it’s been 18 years (or even two months) since you’ve been a regular in the lap swim pool, don’t expect yourself to be able to jump right in where you left off. Before you can set off on your comeback, you need to know where you are starting from.

On your first day back, just swim as far as you feel like, stopping as frequently as you want. This will give you a good baseline to work from in future weeks. Eventually, you can increase your training volume, or distance swum, week by week. Big jumps in training volume put you at risk for injury or overtraining, so try not to increase your total yardage by more than 10% a week. Also, make sure to incorporate recovery days and recovery weeks into your comeback plan. 

Set Clear, Achievable Goals

Write (or purchase!) a training plan that will force you to establish some clear, achievable long-term and short-term goals. Taking baby steps back into the pool is really about setting goals that propel you from one step to the next. If the steps are too tall or spaced too far apart, you risk getting stuck or abandoning your comeback in discouragement. (If you’re not sure how to set goals, you should read this guide.) Hint: In the beginning of your comeback, an appropriate goal may be simply getting into the pool three times a week. 

Keep a Training Log

Your training log will provide motivation, and help you keep track of progress up your ladder of goals. Your training log data will help you identify what’s holding you back, and what you need to work on next. If you’re new to using a training log, check out How (and Why) to Use a Training Log. 

Buy a New Swimsuit

No one wants to see you in a threadbare suit from years gone by! New clothes always seem to make us feel special, right? Get a fresh start with fresh new swimsuit. It’s worth it to splurge on one that’s a color and cut that you love. The more you love your suit (and your other gear), the more you’ll look forward to your workout. And that makes it more likely that you will actually show up at the pool! So while you’re at it, maybe get a new cap and goggles, too. 

Take a Lesson or Two

Swimming technique has probably changed during your years away. What the experts thought made for fast swimming in the 1980s was only sort of correct. (And fifteen years from now, the same will probably be said about the early 2000s.) Swim lessons will not only help you update your strokes but will also help you prevent injury – your instructor will be able to identify and correct any, ah, creative technique you’ve developed during your time off. 

Keep an Open Mind

 It’s never too late, and you’re never too old to swim. But know that an older body responds to training differently than a younger body, and so you need to design your training regimen accordingly. Allow yourself the time for a gentle, gradual warm-up. Plan easy workouts, easy weeks and days off. This is because older bodies generally need more recovery than younger ones. If you are open to trying “new” training strategies, you can be just as fast as you were before your extended break from the sport. But in order to do that, you’ll need to train smarter, not harder. 

Find a Training Partner

 Thinking of skipping today’s workout? What will you say tomorrow when your lanemate says, “We missed you yesterday!” Better have something legit or, at least, believable to tell your training buddies! Training partners and coaches help create accountability. If you know they are expecting you, it’s much harder to skip a workout because you don’t feel like driving across town.

Hot Tip: The No-Fail Option

Get to know your lanemates, and give some of them your phone number along with this instruction: “If I miss more than three workouts in a row, call me!"

One of the easiest ways to find some training partners is to join a local Masters swimming team. In truth, Masters swimming tends to be a “whatever you want to get out of this, you can” sort of endeavor. The coach is not going to call you if you miss a bunch of workouts, and they’re not going to berate you for missing your intervals, skipping laps, or even changing the set they’ve written (as long as you are not interfering with the others in your lane). What they will do, however, is plan your training, write your workouts, and encourage you to stay engaged in your swimming comeback.

Pay Attention to Your Nutrition

What you eat and when you eat matters, especially if your comeback is motivated by weight-loss goals. You don’t have to subsist on lettuce and plain non-fat yogurt. (In fact, there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t!) But the less processed your diet, the better. Try to find a balance between “calories in” and “calories out,” not just on a single day, but over the long-term. Low-carb diets are a BAD idea for regular athletes because carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy.

Timing is important too when it comes to nutrition. Plan your eating around your workouts, so that you have the fuel you need during practice and can recover properly afterward. Before practice, easy-to-digest, carb-rich foods will probably work best, but the exact timing and content of that pre-workout snack will depend on your body. Everyone is different. Experiment and figure out what works for you. After practice, you need to eat something as soon as possible, while your body is primed to take up nutrients for recovery. For quick tips on what to eat after practice, see How to Recover Faster. 


Advice Helps

Follow the tips above, and you should be well on your way to making a successful swimming comeback. 

Do you have advice for swimmers returning from a long break from the sport? Have you re-discovered your swimming talent of long ago? You should share your knowledge below!

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