Whether competing in the 50 meter Freestyle or the 10K Marathon, the preparation for Olympic swimmers is much more than just practicing in the water. Swimmers also must take part in strength and conditioning sessions, follow specific nutritional guidelines and be prepared mentally for competing against the world’s best in the sport.
Did You Say No Water?
Known to the elite swimmer as the dry land routine, this consists of conditioning sessions which are used by athletes of many sports. For instance, coaches will have their swimmers do plyometric box jumps to build a swimmer’s lower body. There are also specific exercises to improve a swimmer’s range of motion, and fighting the body’s fatigue factors. Weight training, running and drills which use a medicine ball are common among swimmers of all Olympic events.
The Black Line
It’s the thick black paint, located at the center of each pool lane, and it is something the Olympic swimmer calls the ‘life’ line. Practice after practice the swimmers (unless in the backstroke) will keep an eye on the black line as they complete lap after lap during typical three hour pool sessions. Not all this time is spent on a swimmer’s specialty event. A lot of it includes drills to work various aspects of the entire swimming performance. Drills will concentrate on a swimmer being able to increase hip movement, use of the core muscles and getting faster feet. Add a typical practice totaling six or more thousand kilometers (a few thousand less on ‘taper’ days) and it is easy to see why Olympic swimmers are among the fittest of any athletic participants.
Despite the much-ballyhooed ‘unhealthy’ diet of gold medalist Michael Phelps, swimming coaches and nutrition advisors steer Olympic swimmers to proper nutrition as part of overall training. Swimming at the elite level burns up a lot of calories, but it doesn’t mean the calorie replacement should include sugar-laden, fried or processed foods. Also, the jury is out regarding replacing ‘real’ food with specialized ‘sports foods.’ With real food, it is easy to figure the amount of protein, vitamins and nutrients are actually being absorbed by the swimmer’s body.
Swimmers Getting Older
U.S. Olympic swimmers have come a long way since a 13-year-old Donna de Varona was part of the women’s preliminary heats in the 4x100 relay. The average ages of men and women Olympic swimmers has increased over the past 60 years. A published report shows the average age of a male medalist in the 2012 Olympics was 26.2 years. This compares to the average age of 21.2 during the 1984 games. For U.S. women, the average ages of swimmers winning medals has not risen as drastically. In the ’84 Olympics, the average age was 18.4 years, compared to 21.4 years at the 2012 games. Better funding of Olympic athletes in the U.S., as well as more concentrated training efforts and better nutrition guidelines are believed to be valid reasons for athletes remaining active in Olympic swimming for a longer period of time.
Perhaps you have overlooked swimming for a while because it may not seem like a challenging sport, however at the beginning or Olympic level it is very physically demanding and competitive. If you haven’t done so, give it a chance you might be the next US Olympic swimmer …or diver.