“I’ve been caffeine free for many years,” said Tricia Schafer, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. ”My boyfriend and I decided to drop it because it made us irritable. Seriously, we’d get up, be all peaceful, then have a few sips of coffee and start bickering. The correlation was uncanny. I also struggle with anxiety issues and caffeine seems to make it worse.”
Over the course of a typical week, Tricia swims eight hours with the Phoenix Swim Club Masters, works out on a spin bike four days and runs 20 miles. She also sometimes competes. In the past, caffeine-rich products made her irritable, rather than giving her a competitive edge. “I have never consumed an energy gel. I just don’t feel like I need them. I sip on V8 juice between events or eat Clif Shot blocks (uncaffeinated).” She also easts Zing brand nutrition bars “because they are gluten/dairy/soy free and are super easy to digest. And they are delicious.”
Tricia breaks up her two to three hour a day workouts into increments “so I can eat real food in between efforts.” Her preference is to eat healthy, wholesome foods often in small amounts. “I hate feeling hungry and I hate feeling full.” In addition to Zing bars, she pours herself tall glasses of homemade juice comprised of celery, kale, chard, beets, and grapefruit, nibbles on nuts and seeds and often eats up to eight eggs daily. She usually also eats one serving of organic meat. Occasionally, she indulges in her favorite treat- coconut chocolate milk.
Tricia’s style of meal preparation is quick, easy, and super nutritious. “I’m a lousy cook and barely have the patience to cut veggies for the juicer, but I eat them as I cut them and often end up filling up on raw veggies and skipping whatever the next ‘regular’meal would be. If I’m hungry, I have to eat now.” While the average American craving instant food gratification ends up in the line at McDonald’s, Tricia makes sure what she eats nourishes her active body, rather than filling it with crud.
Just like your car, when you driving your body hard, it needs some maintenance and tune-ups. Many athletes and fitness buffs are very diligent about making sure they swim, bike or run a certain number of miles ever week, but devote little attention to pre- and post-workout stretching, massage, and recovery.
In reality, the body maintenance is as important as the workout itself. Proper care for your body can reduce the incidence of injuries, reduce pain and inflammation and improve performance. Below are some tips to help you establish a preventative maintenance schedule for your body:
1 – Schedule massages regularly. Massage is necessary to keep muscles and the connective tissue that sheaths muscles healthy (long and pliable rather than lumpy and thickened). Massage also often alleviates muscle discomfort. If you can afford it, schedule one twice a month. Otherwise, learn how to do self-massage work with balls and foam rollers.
2 – Stretch major muscles worked after every workout. Stretching releases toxins that build up during exercise, improves circulation, restores length to tissues and incites a relaxation response. Always take nice deep breaths while stretching and hold stretches for 30-60 seconds per muscle stretched. Do not bounce the stretches.
3 – Identify overtight parts of your body and give them extra attention. Stretch these muscles more frequently or even do 2 to four sets of 30-60 seconds for these areas. For example, many people have tight psoas muscles (upper part of front of thighs) from sitting so much. This can tip the pelvis forward and place undue stress on the low back. You can stretch the psoas after work by getting down on your knees and taking a giant step forward with the right foot, resting your hands on the front thigh and then pressing forward with hips in the back, getting that lengthening stretch in the psoas. Then you can change sides. Sitting also tightens the chest muscles, which can be loosened by lying on top of a foam roller with the arms out to sides, palms up at shoulder level and letting gravity passively lengthen the muscles.
4 – Rest. Sleep sufficient hours nightly and take at least one day off from training every week. Never work the same muscle groups in strength training two days in a row.
Your body works very hard for you and you should give something back by nurturing it with some care and recovery.
I wish people struggling to make time or find the motivation for workouts could jump inside my body for just one workout and experience the sheer joy I feel being a fast, efficient swimmer. You don’t have to be a swimmer to enjoy that fantastic fitness feeling. You can be in walking shape, running shape, cycling shape and more. I have been out of shape (in the water and on land) before and I know it feels like the absolute dickens to workout when you are deconditioned and your body is fighting hard against you establishing a new inertia of activity over sedentary living. You have to hang in there long enough to experience that “I’m fit” elation. The fact that I love being fit means I don’t struggle with weight and heart disease and diabetes won’t be a part of my future.
So if you’re not there yet, keep trying because it is a goal worth achieving. To elevate your fitness level to that place where you just might hear that voice of gratitude inside your head saying, “Thanks for making this all possible, for letting me live in this amazing body that can do so much more than I ever imagined.” And then you will know that fitness has become a part of your life that you will never let go. And if you are there, please share your experiences of enlightenment with other readers.
Over the course of the meet, I swam five personal best times, proving to myself that I am only getting better with age. I placed 6th in my age group in 50 breast, 8th in 200 breast, and 9th in 100 breast. I also met some amazing swimmers who were there to give their all, despite coping with cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart failure, and other severe and/or chronic illnesses. These people remind me what a wonderful gift it is just to be alive and serve as inspiration to help me keep my chin up when I face what is really nothing more than a petty difficulty or two compared to what these people face.
When a competition goes well, I like to analyze what went right so I can replicate the conditions again the next time. Hopefully you can glean something from my analysis and use it to your advantage in your next race.
1 – I tapered well for the meet. I did a 10 day taper, gradually reducing yards, emphasizing speed work and I halted all cross training activities. I also avoided spending a lot of time on my feet. This is particularly important for breaststroke, because my kick is such an important part of my stroke. I know a couple of swimmers who went out and did a 50 mile bike ride 2 days before the meet – not a good plan.. Patience is a virtue when it comes to a successful taper. I waited until after the meet and then bounced all over the place in Zumba on Monday
2 – I got lots of sleep before and during the event. 8 or 9 hours a night… Stretching before bed helped me relax so I could go instantly asleep.
3 – I hot tubbed and stretched every night so I never experienced any muscle soreness. I also did a very long cool down (400 to 500 yards) right after my last race.
4 – I avoided static stretches pre-race, which have been proven to reduce power to muscles for a period of time afterward. I did “shake” the muscles to keep them super loose.
5 – I stayed away from the pool as much as possible when I wasn’t racing. I found the 1800 people plus family and friends mob scene very over-stimulating and needed to have time away from this chaotic scene. Some swimmers around my age are also very exclusive of people outside their clique and I prefer to stay away from those people as much as possible.
6 – I stayed covered so I didn’t get cold or lose energy from the sun.
7 – I made sure to do some fast swimming during warm-up. I watch my times, so I’m sure I’m really warmed up. It takes longer to warm up a 48 year old body, so I need to spend more time in the warm-up pool than I used to.
8- I got back in the warm-up pool very close to my sprint events so that I was “keyed up and ready” to swim super fast. There is nothing worse than doing a sprint and not feeling fast until the race is almost over!
9 – I swam my own races. This may not work well for everyone, but I find that if I am too concerned with what other swimmers are doing, I forget what I am doing or allow myself to get psyched out. In Masters swimming, you often don’t know what kind of times swimmers are capable of doing. Some people put in very slow entry times, whereas I always put down my best times in nationals. If a swimmer who has put in a slow seed time is suddenly way ahead of me, it is easy to start freaking out and convincing myself I’m swimming a disastrous race. I try to focus on my own race so I don’t swim a poor race needlessly. I always have a plan for what I want to do and I try to stick with it first and foremost and go by how I feel instead of by what is happening around me. Within the boundaries of swimming my own race, I compete with others.
What I did wrong? There were a few things…
1 – This was the first nationals I attended where I actually did not enjoy myself at all. It was very crowded there, I had some personal issues going on and so I never felt relaxed. I didn’t laugh and joke with people like I usually do either. I hated the hotel where I was staying and kept wishing I was at home all weekend. I feel like I would have swum even better had I felt a little light-hearted.
2 – I got too inside my head before my 200 breaststroke and so I didn’t meet my expectations in that race. I also don’t think I adequately warmed up that day because I got annoyed with the crowds in the warm-up pool. Again, a little patience would have paid off if I had had more of it…
I hope some of you will share your thoughts on competition and what works and doesn’t work for you!!
Some people think I’m crazy to compete. “Why would you want to do that at your age?” they ask. As if I should spend my weekends playing bridge and rocking in my chair at 48. Pleeeze! Others, who share my competition and swimming passion, understand what I’m up to completely. There is so much more in it for me than getting a fast time and a medal. That is just part of the story. No matter what time I swim, it is an opportunity for me to express my gratitude to God that I can swim, that I am healthy, that I look fit, that I love to workout. This is a gift I no longer take for granted!
Swimming in an event with so many fit people of all ages – from 19 all the way to 95 – also inspires me to keep on striving to be my best. Nationals, wherever they are held, is a place where people of many generations, professions, and states and countries can come together and share a common love for swimming. I always meet so many interesting people at nationals. Often its the people who aren’t famous who fascinate and inspire me the most because of their perseverance and determination.
A swimmer friend of mine was so ill in January, she had to be fed intravenously. Now she is back in the water competing and expects to win many of her events. I know another woman who underwent chemotherapy last year, now she is swimming 4 events in nationals. People compete alongside fathers, mothers, sons and daughters at this event; enjoying a family weekend of friendly competition. Others enjoy reuniting with friends they’ve met from all over the country over the years.
Is the competition fierce? Sometimes. There is nothing like showing up the first day and seeing nearly 2000 swimmers competing and/or in the warm-up pool to get your adrenaline sky-rocketing. A long warm-up and a few conversations with familiar faces always calms me down in a hurry. But in the end, its a smile, handshake and a pat on the shoulder or a hug after a race, a warm conversation on the sidelines, cheering and encouraging teammates and finishing the competition feeling grateful to be alive and that I have so many special people in my life that makes it all worth it for me.
1 – I Bungee laces for my running shoes. I wrote a produce review on these a couple of years ago and got instantly hooked! If you do triathlons, you will love these. No more hopping around on one foot as you try to tie your laces when your muscles are still trembling from the ride. The elastic allows you to slip on your running shoes like slippers. These are also great for seniors who have trouble reaching their feet.
2 – Trail Running shoes for aerobics. In the 80s and 90s, well-cushioned aerobic shoes were par-for-the-course. Then they became more like a glorified walking shoe: stiff and with very little cushioning against impact. Since then, I’ve been looking for another solution. Many running shoes, such as Nike Vomero offer excellent cushioning, but limited lateral support. Most recently, I invested in an Avia trail running shoe. Awesome! It gives me lateral support, sole flexibility AND cushioning and I feel like I am back in business.
3 – TYR Durafast swimsuits – If you are like me, you find it irritating when in a matter of weeks, your suit is so stretched out already that its close to your knees on a forceful wall pushoff. The Durafast lasts longer than most other swimsuits on the market today. I am still wearing a suit I bought last August and I’ve even worn it in the hot tub a few times and it hasn’t lost its shape. The Nike suits I’ve purchased have also held up well.
4 – Lane Four Selene goggles – If you don’t want to go to work with dark rings around your eyes, these goggles have soft rubber that barely leaves a mark. To me, this is a huge benefit, because I don’t like getting to work looking like a mean person. The anti-fog coating does come off pretty quickly with these, but putting a little liquid soap inside and rinsing them seems to do the trick.
5 – Long hooded swim parka – Protects you from the cold, sun and wind. I have gotten a whole lot of value out of the 100-something dollars I spend on my swim parka. I used to always get cold at meets and now I never have a problem. I swim much better when I don’t get chilled between events. You can buy these from swimoutlet.com and other swimming stores. Most swimming clubs offer them with the team logo.
6 – Foam rollers – When a masseuse isn’t close at hand, you can massage your own body by rolling a foam roller beneath your muscles (think of rolling your muscles like dough). It lengthens the muscle and reduces discomfort, rigidity and knots in connective tissue. You can order these on my web site at www.susandawson-cook.com/personal_best_stretch.htm. Stretching is something I also can’t live without and if your’e not sure how to do it effectively, my DVD will teach you how!
The next product I’m going to try is My Own Bottle (myownbottle.com). Plastic is just plain bad for you and its really hard to see if there’s mold growning in the bottom of a stainless steel bottle, so these glass bottles piqued my interest. You can wash them in the dishwasher and reuse them so you’re not wasting; the downside is that it wouldn’t be safe to use them at the pool.
Research shows that performing static stretches before a workout or sporting event decreases eccentric strength and the rate of force production in the muscles. In a nut shell, your muscles won’t react as quickly or efficiently and optimal performance will be inhibited. However, mobilizing the muscles and joints before a race can be very beneficial. Not only can that improve performance, but it can reduce the potential for injury.
You can warm-up major muscle groups doing dynamic stretches involving movement patterns. Dynamic stretches differ from the “ballistic” stretches that ruled in the 80s, which basically involved bouncing a stretch that should have been static (such as reaching for your toes and then continually bouncing to see if your hand will eventually touch the ground).
Bouncing a stretch near its elastic limit can tear tissues. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, increase body core temperature and improve range of motion. Some examples include lunging side to side, marching with high knees, pulling the heels to the hips and other similar movement patterns that move muscles and joints enough to stretch them and improve their range-of-motion. When you do dynamic stretches, always move in a smooth and fluid manner and avoid moving muscles beyond what you perceive as a comfortable range.
When choosing which dynamic stretches to do pre-race or -workout, it is prudent to think about which muscles and joints will be activated most during your swim. Breaststrokers, for example, will want to prep all muscles in the legs and hips and also perform range-of-motion activities for hips and ankles. All swimmers should perform some complex shoulder movements before their swims (think about doing movements that mimic weight training activities such as internal and external rotation for rotator cuff, chest flies, lateral raises, etc).
Racing or training with well-prepared muscles is always safer than forging forth with ones that are inadequately or inappropriately warmed up. So save the toe-touching for after the race and go for pectoral flies before you step up on the blocks.
I am very excited to announce that I will be starring in a DVD, Personal Best Stretch: Move Better Than Ever, to be filmed next week at SaddleBrooke Ranch. Whether you are an athlete, gym rat, or someone who wants to reach items on high cupboard shelves, you will benefit from this enjoyable and easy-to-follow format.
This program includes stretches you can incorporate into your routine pre- and post-exercise. Included in this comprehensive dynamic and static stretching program are moves and postures from Qigong and Yoga, postural improvement stretches, sports-specific activities, and Olympic swimming warm-ups for the shoulder girdle.
The expected release date for this DVD is mid-February, 2011. The product will retain for $19.95 plus applicable tax and shipping charges. A 15% discount will be offered on all pre-orders placed and paid for before release date. For more information, please contact Susan at 520-572-0388 or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thank you for your interest!