Photo Courtesy: Swimming Peripitus
By Norah Hunt, Swimming World College Intern.
Once August rolls around, swimmers typically fall into two categories regarding breaks from swimming. The first group is overjoyed by the recess from the sport, a chance to stretch their land legs and live life a little less structured than they normally would. They plan trips, sleep in, and stay up past eleven (no morning practice!). They completely embrace the non-swimmer lifestyle, at least for a week or two.
The other group struggles. Swimming provides structure, and without that constant in their lives they don’t know exactly what to do. They feel guilty about not being in the water, and not exercising as much as they feel they should. They miss their swimming friends, and even though the sport is monotonous and difficult, they miss it horribly.
The fact of the matter is, swimmers are not invincible. Our bodies may sometimes feel as if we can push on forever, but we do indeed wear down. Our shoulders ache, our backs tighten up, and eventually overall fatigue sets in. We keep swimming, often past our comfort zone, but eventually we need to stop. Breaks provide a way for our bodies to relax and recover from the stress put on them during the season. We may lose muscle, and we may lose some endurance, but that is completely okay. We will regain all that we lost once the new season rolls around.
So, breaks provide much needed physical relief from all the high volume training we put on ourselves. However, the mental break we receive for a few weeks in August is arguably more beneficial and more necessary.
Swimming is an incredibly mentally draining sport. We stare at a black line for hours on end each day. We wake up before the sun to jump in freezing cold water; we lose sleep over imagining the perfect race at the big end of season meet. We have rivalries and healthy habits to maintain; we have demanding coaches that will accept nothing but our best. We have the time of our lives, but it is so, so tiring! There are never enough hours in the day to balance training, recovering, sleeping, and a social life.
Because of this, breaks become so, so crucial to our well being. It is deceptively easy to experience burnout with swimming, since it is a lot of the same processes day to day. We can become so complacent and bored with our sport without even realizing it! Breaks allow us to reflect on what we learned from the season or from the year, and figure out how to be better the next time around.
It is okay to miss the sport while we are away from it. Swimming becomes so woven into who we are, and it is often hard to part from it, even temporarily. We miss our friends, the adrenaline rush after a good practice, the tranquility that only comes with sinking to the bottom of an empty pool. The chlorine runs in our veins, and we worry that we will lose this spark if we take a break.
The pool will always be there for you when you go back to it. That longing we have during breaks, while sometimes hard to manage, is actually the easiest way to see if our love for the sport is still there. The greatest thing in the world is experiencing childlike excitement at starting a new season of a sport you have been doing your whole life.
Do not feel bad about taking breaks. Give your mind and body some much needed rest, make plans with friends, and catch up on sleep. It is okay to miss the sport. It will be waiting for you when you come back!
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.