Monday, June 4, 2018

Training through Fatigue

I'm not that old: I'm only 33, but a 33-year-old athlete body feels a lot different than 23- or 13-year-old body.

I'm as strong as ever, maybe even stronger. Mentally, I’m definitely tougher.

But I do not warm up as quickly and I do not recover as quickly as I used to. It takes me about a half hour to feel warmed up and ready for high-intensity training. When I swim, that’s about 1,200 – 1,500 yards. When I run, that’s about three miles.

Recovery time is worse. It's difficult for me to swim two days in a row or to run two days in a row with any intensity; however, I'm OK to swim with intensity and then run with intensity in back-to-back days, though I’m not sure why.

I feel tired most of the time. I take at least one day off per week and don't do anything other than maybe some light yoga and stretching on that day. I’ve worked with a sports nutritionist and feel confident that my meals aren’t the limiting factor. I. Just. Get. Tired.

The day after a full day off I feel like a new person.

But some days I have to go into my workouts feeling groggy. Sometimes I'll feel better after I'm warmed up, but some days I can’t reach my intended level of intensity. I used to get frustrated when I'd have those days, and it's still not pleasant, but I've learned how to get the most out of my tired days.

When running, it's easier because I don't have many expectations of myself as a runner. If I run and I'm tired and not making my expected splits, it's easy to shrug off and say that it's good that I at least logged some miles.

When swimming, I have much higher expectations, so it can feel devastating when I'm way off my times. But I keep remembering this quote I heard in Ronda Rousey's memoir that a champion is someone's who's the best, even on her worst day. I tell myself that as I get stronger, even on my bad days I will still be fast.

I've also learned to place less emphasis on speed during those days; instead, I focus on my technique:

  • Am I breathing correctly?
  • Do I have bi-lateral breathing?
  • Do I take a stroke before breathing off the wall?
  • Are my elbows high?
  • Do I have enough body roll?
  • How's my head position?
  • What are my legs doing?

This turns it into a mental workout. Sure, I should think about those items even on a fast day, and I do, but on a "tired" day it forces me to slow down and pay close attention.

I write my own workouts, so I have the advantage of tinkering with my sets, too, on a tired day. Instead of intense, repeat sprints or long, powerful endurance sets, I find a happy medium and integrate more stroke work (meaning strokes other than freestyle), which still give me a good workout but they slow down the pace and stretch my body in different directions.

It’s a cliché to say “listen to your body,” but it’s also good advice. I can’t sit at home every time I’m tired, but I can alter my workouts to accommodate and push through my tiredness.

How do you handle your workouts when you’re feeling tired and sluggish?

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