cakeWithout doubt the toughest question in swimming to answer is “How much training is right for me?”

Coming up with the right swimming training program has often been described as being a bit like making a cake.

When you make a cake, you follow a recipe which specifies how much flour, how much butter, how much milk, how many eggs, how long to bake in the oven, what temperature to set the oven for – yummy I can almost taste it now!

If you add too much butter, no eggs and five pounds of flour more than the recipe needs, then cook it for three hours at a high temperature, you get a mess more like a brick than a dessert!

Training is a mix of the right things done at the right time in the right quantities.

It all starts with your training plan – your “recipe” for success.

Your training plan includes lots of ingredients like endurance, speed, power, technique training, skill training, mental skills development, gym work and about 100 000 other tasty training treats.

It’s mixing these training ingredients correctly that makes all the difference.

Do too much endurance without mixing in some speed work, gym work and flexibility and you will not get the success you deserve.

Not enough endurance training and you will find yourself “dying” at the back end of races.

It’s the balance of training “ingredients” that makes a great racing “cake”.

So how do you know how to make your “cake”?

Step one:  Decide what cake you want to make.

Once you decide to make a cake, you then decide what type of cake it will be.

If you want to make a chocolate cake, you need eggs, milk, flour and chocolate. If you want to make a lemon cake, you need eggs, milk, flour and lemon. You select your ingredients based on the type of cake you want to eat!

In swimming, decide what performance you want to end up with at your next meet, then plan your training with the right mix of ingredients for that performance.

For example, If you want to improve your 100 fly, your ingredients are:

  • Great fly technique – long slow arms with fast legs;
  • Strong, fast, powerful underwater kicking;
  • Powerful, explosive start;
  • Controlled breathing – every 2-4 strokes;
  • A solid base of endurance training so you maintain rhythm, speed and form in the second 50;
  • Developing the mental skills to remain relaxed and to maintain rhythm when you get fatigued and under race pressures;
  • Fast, powerful turns with a tight tuck and less than a second between the time your hand touches the wall to when your feet touch the wall.

Deciding what performance you want to achieve determines what training you need to do.

Step two: The perfect recipe.

So you want to make a chocolate cake. You ask around for a chocolate cake recipe. Maybe you buy a book about making cakes. Or search the net. Or call Grannie for her family favorite.

The perfect swimming recipe has four essential ingredients:

  • Physical ingredients – a balance of speed, endurance, power and race specific tempo training;
  • Mental ingredients – a blend of self confidence, self belief and self esteem with relaxation, motivation and visualization skills;
  • Technical ingredients – a mix of great technique development training for arms stroke, kicking, breathing, body position, head position and timing;
  • Tactical ingredients – a box of tricks – pacing, racing skills, diving, starting, turning, finishing, racing strategy and psyche outs.

Step three: Find a great kitchen.

Now that you have decided to make a cake you need to have a kitchen with the right equipment to allow you to start making and baking.

The right environment is important. Just as you can’t make a cake without an oven, some bowls and some mixing spoons, you need to find the right environment to help you achieve your swimming goals.

The right training environment gives you the opportunity to realize your potential and achieve your goals. The right training environment is one which maximizes the opportunity for you as an individual to work on the specific skills and techniques you need to be a successful racer.

Find a pool with a motivated, passionate, caring, knowledgeable coach who has the time and patience to give you the individual attention to detail you need. Find a team with motivated, passionate, committed, fun loving swimmers who want to work hard but want to love and enjoy every minute of the experience.

Step four: Keep checking on the cake.

The reason they put little windows on oven doors is so cooks can keep checking and monitoring the progress of what they are cooking.

Every day you train it is important you check your progress.

Ask yourself seven simple but very important questions every day:

  • How do I feel today? SCORE 0 for GOOD / GREAT and 1 for BAD / POOR
  • How well did I sleep last night? SCORE 0 for GOOD / GREAT and 1 for BAD / POOR
  • How’s my attitude?  SCORE 0 FOR GOOD / GREAT and 1 for BAD / POOR
  • Are my muscles sore and aching? SCORE 0 FOR NO and 1 for YES
  • Do I feel stressed and anxious? SCORE 0 FOR NO and 1 for YES
  • Is there anything happening away from the pool that I can’t stop thinking about? E.g. exams, problems with family and friends? SCORE 0 FOR NO AND 1 for YES
  • How’s my appetite? SCORE 0 FOR GOOD / NORMAL and 1 for POOR

If you score 4 or more, chances are you are tired and bordering on over training. These simple daily checks are your “window” into how your body is “cooking”.

Step five: Take it out of the oven at the right time.

So your cake is almost done. You look in the oven, take a guess and pull it out before its ready…………disaster. It doesn’t rise – it is just a gooey yucky mess.

Or – you think your cake is ready but just to be sure you leave it in the oven for another 30 minutes……..what happens? It comes out with a hard, black base and tastes like charcoal.

One of the biggest mistakes swimmers make is to just do one more session or one more set – believing it is better to be “over cooked than under done”.

Racing is a combination of Physical, Emotional and Technical (P.E.T.) skills. The excitement, the emotion, the joy and the rush of racing is the edge you need to perform at your best.

If you go to the Meet feeling light, fast, positive and energized, chances are you will race well.

If you go to the Meet tired, flat and negative because you just had to squeeze in a few more miles in the pool, no amount of positive thinking is going to help you get that personal best time.

Step six – The icing on the cake

All great cakes get finished off with some tasty icing and maybe some candy sprinkles.

All great swims are finished off with something special…….you! The great swims are those which say something about the swimmer who swims them. That is, they are a statement about you, your hard work, your attitude, your belief and your discipline.

The icing on the cake is you and your ability to take the recipe and make it special.

So that’s all you need to know about training and racing. I bet you didn’t know that cake making had so much to do with being a great swimmer!!

Wayne Goldsmith