ISCA Coach Education Program

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4 Strategies for the Prevention of Swimming Overtraining

I struggle to fall asleep, my muscles feel heavy and my heart rate is through the roof. I don’t understand what’s wrong with me; training is my life but, right now, I don’t even feel like going to the pool. I have no motivation to push myself and I just feel like crying, staying in bed and not leaving the house. I’m exhausted, I feel overwhelmed and the championship is right around the corner – I’m going to make a fool of myself. I have no energy, I’ve lost five kilos and I just can’t find the necessary motivation to concentrate. If that weren’t enough, my parents tell me I’m unbearable, that I’m impossible to talk to, that I answer back and always in a bad mood.

But what do they want? They completely ignore me… they should try and put themselves in my shoes.

This is swimming overtraining – a kind of prolonged and chronic fatigue that attacks you like a virus and leaves you weak and defenseless [read our previous posts on the subject: Overtraining in Elite SwimmersSprint OvertrainingOvertraining Inhibits Muscle Growth]. Your energy evaporates, as if by magic. You feel exhausted and anything you do, no matter how simple, becomes impossible. Your performance is seriously affected and you feel like you’ll never be who you used to be again. Various factors influence the appearance of these feelings.

Here are some of them:

  • A disproportionate increase in training volume and intensity, inadequate planning of training loads between work outs, over a long period of time.

  • Insufficient recovery that is partly or entirely disproportionate to the effort made.

  • Personal problems or concern over academic results. Anxiety or other circumstances that cause mental or physical stress in the swimmer.

  • Unreal goals that are impossible to achieve and lead to desperation, unease and tremendous sadness.

  • A program that is poorly suited to the athlete and their objectives.

  • Environmental and family pressure that causes insecurity and instability, preventing the achievement of objectives by the swimmer and destroying self-esteem and confidence.

  • Early return to training after a long disease or injury without fully recovering, which can lead to the re-emergence of the problem if not properly treated.

  • Insufficient food and drink, which prevents proper recovery.

  • Heat, humidity and training at altitude.

Having the ability to recognize and find formulas that enable us to act properly when the early symptoms appear, take swift and effective action, prevent their appearance and avoid their effects should take preference in any sports program worth its salt. None of the following suggestions are anything new but they should not be forgotten nonetheless. They are effective and can help us achieve our goals.

4 Strategies to Prevent Swimming Overtraining

  1. Personalized work outs

    Be careful not to be too demanding in terms of distances or repetition intensity. Remember that not all swimmers are the same. Each one has a different exertion threshold, respond differently to the same warm-up session and need not necessarily reach optimum performance levels at the same time. Some are capable of swimming long distances seemingly without effort while others are more suited to sprints or less intense activity. Distinguishing the needs of each one will be your main priority.

  2. Listen to your body and rest appropriatelyPhelps stretching and preventing swimming overtraining

    If we stopped a second to think carefully and analyse the daily demands placed on swimmers, we would quickly realise the incredible pressure they suffer every day and the physical and psychological pressures they are subjected to. Training and studying occupy the majority of their daily lives. They sometimes lack the time needed to rest and have to rush lunch in order to get to the pool on time, without letting their digestive system work properly. On other occasions, they finish their day really late at night and hardly have enough time to sleep. They often receive no help in this regard and their only compensation is that of overcoming personal goals. In most cases, they do not receive the recognition they deserve. Pay attention to your body. It demands that you listen. It needs to recover and that you pay maximum attention. It needs you to realise that indiscriminate exertion without the necessary rest will not only harm your performance but also your health.

  3. Recover or break down

    The heading might be a little over-exaggerated but it represents the reality. When you feel that your body is not working normally and is giving you the warning signs – stress, fainting, excessive fatigue – stop immediately and decide what is best with your coach. Perhaps you need only reduce the load or rest a day or two. Sometimes, such a break can be the best possible decision. Pay attention to how you feel. Make sure not to confuse logical tiredness from exertion with an overload beyond what your body can stand.

    After a long disease or injury, returning to normal should always be a slow, gradual and steady process, avoiding major, long-lasting and intense repetitive exertion. Difficulty should be increased carefully and gradually, following the logical principles stemming from common sense.

    Be careful with infections because they can often become one of your worst enemies.

  4. Take care with and watch what you eat

    A correct diet helps provide our body with the substances it needs for a healthy life. Only with proper nutrition and optimum training will a swimmer achieve the best results. Long and intense work outs empty muscle cell glycogen reserves and the best way to return these levels to normal is with a correct diet, especially carbohydrates as the main source of energy when training.

    Drinking enough water during the work out will also help us maintain proper hydration levels and provide our body with the mineral salts it needs and guarantee good performance.

Summary of Swimming Overtraining

These suggestions, effective heart rate control during exercise and rest, appropriate monitoring by the swimmer and coach of physical health, rest times, the number of times the swimmer eats and the use of resources that facilitate faster recovery – massages, sauna, contrast bathing – can be useful in helping to prevent the appearance of these problems.

If, in spite of all our attempts, we are unable to progress towards our objective, the best solution is to provide the athlete with a few weeks of complete rest and ask for the appropriate professional help.

Written by Agustín Artiles (“Champi”). Agustín has more than 35 years of experience as the Head Coach of some of the most important Spanish swimming teams He has been the Coach of the Spanish Swimming Team from 2008 to 2012, and has trained the 50 breastroke Spanish national recordman, Hector Monteagudo Espinosa, from 2002 to 2013 Agustín has also trained several international swimmers from the Spanish National Team and from the european and world top ten, as well as paraolimpics athletes with medals and world records in all the different categories. He has also been accomplished with the award as the Best competition swimming coach in Spain 2006, as several recognition for professional merits.

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