Here is a list of new year’s resolutions for anyone who swims. As a sports dietitian and a swimming coach, I can not stress enough the importance of each and every one of these resolutions. If you can do each of these things daily, you will be a faster swimmer and a happier person! 1. Sleep more. The benefits of getting enough (>7 consecutive hours) sleep every night will help you swim faster. Studies indicate growth hormones are produced at their peak during deep sleep. Sleep is also essential for your body to recover. With enough sleep, you’ll also be leaner! Many times when we are tired/sleepy, we reach for less healthy foods (chocolate, sugary drinks) to keep us feeling awake and alert. If you consistently get enough sleep, you will be stronger because your muscles will be able to recover from the previous training. It is also important to note that you cannot make up for lost sleep. 2. Eat healthy food. Eating healthier will help you become a better athlete. Food is your fuel — make it a high-quality fuel (fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meats, whole grains, healthy fats) for a high-performance machine (your body). Consult a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for a swimming-specific nutrition plan. 3. Stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle to every practice. Just a 2 percent decrease in hydration can negatively affect sports performance by 10 percent, according to NASM’s Essentials of Sports Training. That would be the difference of swimming a 100 free in 1:06 instead of 1:00 — just from being dehydrated! Our bodies need to stay hydrated for optimal performance. Drink before you get thirsty and monitor the color of your urine (dark yellow means you are very dehydrated, while very light yellow means you are hydrated). 4. Stand up straight. Good posture will not only make you swim faster, but it will make you look more attractive and confident. It will improve your abdominal muscles, decrease your chances for shoulder injury, and decrease your chances for back pain later in life. Lazy swimmers often have slumped shoulders and posture, but the fastest swimmers (Natalie Coughlin, Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky) stand tall and keep their shoulders back. 5. Keep your head down in the water. Proper body position in swimming is one of the easiest ways to swim faster with very little effort. Perfect, tall posture on land translates into the water. Swimmers are fastest when they swim “tall” or “long” with their head in line with their spine. 6. Streamline off every wall. Another very easy way to go faster is simply to streamline. Pushing off the wall like superman with your arms apart is lazy and makes you slower. Change the habit now, and it will become something you don’t even have to think about. 7. Shower before diving in. It is now a well-known fact that chloramines are horrible for our health.It is not yet a habit of every swim team to all rinse off before practice, but you can be the change. Inform your coaches and teammates and set a good example. When your teammates see that you have rinsed off, they will ask you why. What a great time to inform them about the negative effects of chloramines. 8. Stretch & rehabilitation exercises regularly. All athletes benefit from stretching. Due to the large range of motion that swimmers must move their limbs to perform proper swimming technique, stretching is imperative. Also, doing the proper preventative maintenance exercises to help strengthen the small muscles in your shoulders can significantly decrease your chances for injury. Consult your coach or physical therapist for specific stretches and rehab exercises to do to keep your body healthy for years and years to come. 9. Perfect your drills. Why does your coach have you swim drills in practice? To give you a rest? No. Drills are meant to help teach your body how to move properly in the water. Perhaps more than in any sport, drills and proper technique are essential for optimal performance. Take drills seriously. Stay aware of why you are doing the particular drill and how to do it perfectly. 10. Make every turn and finish that you do legal. If you always turn with one hand on breaststroke or stop one yard from the wall when finishing, you are training your body to make illegal turns and to have sloppy finishes. If you are training for a competition, why would you practice how to get disqualified? Train with legal technique for your turns and finishes. This will make you will faster and decrease your chances of a DQ in a meet. 11. Stay balanced with your breathing. If you always and only breathe to one side in freestyle, start to bilaterally breathe to keep balance in your stroke. Even if you always breathe to one side in a race, you should breathe to both sides in practice to decrease your chances of injury. Exclusive single-side breathing can lead to shoulder injuries due to the increased stress you are putting on one side. On breath-control sets, stick to the odd breathing patterns (3, 5, 7, 9). Balanced breathing can also be accomplished by picking one side of the pool and always looking towards that side for an entire practice (one lap you breathe to the right, the next lap to the left). 12. Be grateful for the opportunity to swim. Swimming is a privilege and wonderful opportunity. Remember to thank your coaches for taking the time to help you reach your goals. Remember to thank your parents for waking up early and driving you to practices, sitting for long hours on metal bleachers at swim meets and everything else they do to help you develop as a person and a swimmer. 13. Do weight-bearing land exercises. Swimming is a fantastic non-weight bearing sport; however, it is very important (especially for growing children) to also do some weight-bearing activities to support healthy bones. Some of the best weight-bearing activities are those that include lots of jumping (gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, jumping rope) and lifting weights. 14. Visualize success. Visualization is very powerful!! Many studies have shown that visualizing perfect form and athletic success is equally as effective as physically training. Mark Spitz said, “The difference between winning and losing at the Olympic level is 99 percent mental!” Take some time to visualize yourself swimming a perfect race and achieving your goal time. 15. Play in the water every practice. Playing could be as simple as a dolphin-dive, blowing ring-bubbles from the bottom of the pool, taking underwater pictures with your friends, doing a cannonball or practicing your starts. Remembering why you swim and enjoy being in the water will not only make you happier, but it will also help to keep you coming back to the pool for every practice, year after year. I recommend that you choose one new resolution to master each week. Don’t try to do all 15 of these at once! If you can slowly add each of these resolutions to your daily habits, there is no doubt you will swim faster. Here’s to a VERY fast 2016!
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