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by Marty Munson

March 26, 2020

You can keep your workout mojo, even if your pool’s not open

Your pool may be closed and your meet may be canceled, but that doesn’t mean your motivation and your fitness have to shut down.

“It’s important to stay away from that all-or-nothing mindset of ‘Well, if I can’t swim, then I’m not gonna do anything,’” says Carrie Cheadle, a certified mental performance consultant and author of “Rebound: Train Your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger From Sports Injuries.”

A big part of what Cheadle does is help injured athletes who can’t be in their sport right now, and she draws parallels between their situation and yours. There’s the same frustration, the same not knowing, and the same experience of having to change things around. What she tells injured and beached swimmers: “Focus on the things that you can do, and keep reminding yourself that you will be getting back in the water again.”

Don’t pretend it’s not a drag at first; hiding those emotions from yourself won’t be productive. But “after you get over that initial frustration and mourning, it’s time to just pick yourself up and keep moving in a forward direction,” says Liz Waterstraat, a member of Illinois Masters and the founder and head coach of the triathlon coaching company Multisport Mastery.

Here are Cheadle’s and Waterstraat’s tips for doing that.

Deliberately Adjust Your Goals

So the “hit my college time at Nationals” goal couldn’t happen. Now’s the time to pivot.

“Create new goals based on what else you could be doing right now that will serve you as a swimmer when you get back in the water,” Cheadle says. “When you don’t take the time to consciously adjust your goals, you will continue to gauge your feelings of success based on the original goal you set for yourself. When that goal is no longer realistic, yet you continue to connect to that goal emotionally and gauge your feeling of success based on it, you’re creating emotional turmoil for yourself.”

Not helpful. So decide what you want to happen now, and create a plan for it (or ask your coach for help).

Useful things to focus on now: cardiovascular conditioning, strength, and the often-forgotten mobility, Waterstraat says. You can get creative with these at home.

“Even if you can’t leave the house, consider walking or running up and down the stairs or using a jump rope for conditioning,” she points out. For strength, “a lot of coaches are rising to the challenge of how we can make this more interesting to people. Engage the muscles that are used for swimming so that when you get back in the pool, it’s not like you’re starting over.”

And mobility can be well served with yoga and stretching workouts. (Check out USMS’s twice-a-week dryland workouts here.)

Change the Plan, Keep the Routine

If your life has been upended—you’re working at home and your whole family is there at the same time—your routine probably has, too. So really nail down a new one, a step that can really put you on solid, momentum-generating ground. Decide when you’re going to do what, and “ask yourself, ‘What do I have to commit to doing to make this happen?’” Waterstraat says. “Do I have to wake up 20 minutes earlier so I can do this before the kids get up? Do I have to ask my spouse to step in for 20 minutes? Or involve the kids—mine love jumping in and doing the exercises that I’m doing.”

Don’t just watch your old routine go; create a new one, and make it as easy as you can for yourself to actually do it.

Do Your Swim Workout Outdoors

You know that 6 x 100s on descending intervals, followed by 6 x 50s sprints with 1:00 rest set you did the other day? Take it—or any favorite set—outside and do it as a run interval workout. It can be comforting to do something that looks so familiar, even if it’s in a totally new setting. If you have access to a rower, interval swim workouts translate particularly well to that equipment.

Wear Your Tracker

“Wear your Garmin and go through your regular process,” Waterstraat says. Or if you have a notebook where you usually keep track of your swim workouts, write your workouts there. You’ll see yourself progressing toward your new goal, just as you did the old one. “And when you look back 30 days from now, you can say ‘OK, I didn’t swim, but look at all this other activity I did,’” Waterstraat says.

Work the Social Stuff

Technology is your BFF here. Some swimmers are working out with teammates on Zoom, others text each other a few times a day to hold each other accountable. Use your friends, your coaches, your teammates, an app—whatever you’ll engage with—to keep moving toward your new goals and identifying as the swimmer you are. Then, you can just add water later.


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