When training is going well, rather than wondering what you did to get so lucky, I'm going to show you what to do to continue to keep the train rolling full steam ahead. As with the previous strategies, these are counter-intuitive. If your instincts were accurate, you wouldn't need to read this!
Strike when the iron is hot.
This seems contradictory to pervious strategies where I advocated demonstrating self-control. And it is. The difference is that you are making a choice, you know what you’re doing, and you’re going to take action after the fact to ensure you maintain your momentum. There is no sense in wasting a great opportunity. If you’re lighting it up and you KNOW you can do something special, whatever that is and whatever that means to you, take the shot. You never know when these moments will arise, and you never know when or if they’ll come around again. Take advantage of the situation, and do so strategically. Get after something that is meaningful to you, where you feel very confident you’ll be able to take a significant step forward. Then do it.
The point is to accomplish 1 goal rather than doing 10 different things. If you do the latter, you’re simply going to accumulate excessive fatigue without doing much to improve your fitness or your confidence. The single goal already accomplished everything that needed to be done. When you do choose to get after it, there is a cost to doing so, and that cost needs to be rectified. Which again brings us to the next strategy.
Step away when you’ve done something significant.
When you’re ready to go, there is a tendency to try to keep the party going. You’ll attack every set and swim as fast as you can for as long as you can. Unfortunately, this approach often creates so much fatigue, that sooner than later, you find yourself unable to repeat the same performances that felt so easy only a week ago. This process is equally confusing and frustrating. It makes no sense.
The solution is simple. After you have a breakthrough, back off. If you do something special in training, either stop the training session, or dramatically reduce your effort for rest of the session. The next day, do the same. Depending on what you did, you might want to back off again the day after that. Take more time than you think you need, especially as you’ll think you don’t need any time. Of course, this is really hard to do. When everything is going so well, you want to experience the rewards of all your hard work. The irony is that the more you experience these rewards, the more likely it is that you won’t experience them again.
Think of it this way. You just did something spectacular. Are you really going to do something MORE spectacular later in the practice? Are you really going to do something MORE spectacular the next day? Or the day after that? Probably not. You may be able to perform really, really well, that’s not necessarily the goal. The best bet is to just re-charge and then take a shot at doing something even better a few days, or even a week down the line. Be patient. If you’re able to consistently back off and go back to ‘normal’ training, you’ll be able to accomplish the spectacular again in no time.
Managing training effectively is often about going against your instincts and doing what is going to get you what you want most, rather than what you want in the moment. However, once you see the wisdom in working against those instincts, it starts to make sense. Once you experience the benefits, you’ll believe it.
When you’re struggling, the instinct is push harder and to do more. As most performance problems are tied to fatigue in hard-training swimmers, this is only going to make the problem worse. Back off, set expectations low, experience some success, and then slowly build some training momentum by focusing on small wins. Take one repetition at a time and strive to be slightly better than you were on the previous repetition.
When you’re performing unbelievably well, the instinct is to keep performing and keep the party going. Unfortunately, this just leads to the accumulation of fatigue and the deterioration of the performances you worked so hard to develop. While you can’t peak forever, you can absolutely sustain and prolong a successful block of training by acting cautiously, intelligently striking when the iron is hot, and backing off whenever you accomplish something significant. If executed well, these strategies can help you avoid losing control of all of your progress.
Progress in training is all about momentum. The decisions made every day determine which direction that momentum begins to build, and whether that momentum continues to move in a positive manner. The more you act strategically rather than instinctually, the more likely you are to experience the success you’ve earned.