6 Tips for Getting Back in Shape After a Big Layoff from the Pool

Michael Butler
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How long will it take for me to get back into shape?

There’s an old saying in swimming that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that’s not entirely true. Even if you’ve been out of the game for awhile, you can still bounce back. All it takes is the right mindset and some hard work.

Use Active Recovery

When you’re just out of the pool, perform active recovery by using a pool noodle or even just a foam roll and a towel. Stretch out the lactic acid by kneading the muscles in the pool or while watching TV. It’s important to keep your muscles warm, relax your muscles, and improve circulation.

Use Light Weights

A heavy workout doesn’t work for everyone. Different strokes for different folks. For instance, you may not have the time or desire to train with heavy weights in the gym. You may also prefer using resistance bands or exercise balls over a treadmill, bike, or elliptical.

Use Your Body Weight

Bodyweight exercises are an ideal way to stimulate the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your body.

Include Cardio

Detraining happens slower than you might think.

What you may not realize right after vacation is that as you increase the time between workouts, you’re extremely detraining. You’re so out of shape that it feels like you didn’t do anything at all before you took off … but you actually detrained considerably.

This is why it can be very tricky to get back into your routine and get your body fitness level back up.

One way to battle detraining is to ease your way into training as much as possible. Miles a Day says:

  • You do not need to start out at the same level of fitness when you start again. Instead, ease your way back into training. Use one or more of the following recovery techniques:
  • Warm-up to start gradually increasing heart rate.
  • Gradually increase the intensity of the training session after exercise.
  • Subbed different exercises as volume increases.
  • Train at a lower intensity and frequency to start.
  • Make exercise a priority.

Getting Back in the Water After Taking Time Off

First, you have to prepare your mental state. I’ve never met a former athlete who got back into shape easily. The secret to getting back into swimming form after taking time off is simple – you just have to want it more. You have to be determined.

You have to be able to go to the pool when no one else is there and stay there until you have what you came for. It may sound selfish, but you have to want it enough to do some of the things you probably didn’t do in the past when you were younger.

You just can’t turn on an 8-hour training block 2-3 times a week and expect to improve. This is especially important on the first day back. Make sure you do your warm up correctly. I like to do about 15-20 minutes of aerobic activity, followed by 5-10 minutes of stretching.

Are you prepared to train as hard as you can? Are you willing to stay at the pool? Then you are ready.

Suspend expectations .

Once you’ve decided to get back in shape, expect regression. An 180-pound bench press can take months to regain.

There are many paths that work well, so pick what’s good for you. If bodyweight and dumbbells are your thing, then use the path that’s best for you. If you’re the type that loves barbell squats and power cleans, then work back up to them.

If bodyweight and dumbbells are your thing, then use the path that’s best for. If you’re the type that loves barbell squats and power cleans, then work back up to them. If the doors are wide open to get back into where you once were, then first focus on where you are now. How many reps can you do with what weight? If you’re currently starting at square one, it’s best to reset your expectations.

Then, when you reestablish basic competencies, you can work forward from there.

Use mastery goals instead of outcome goals.

When you begin to lift heavy again, aim at lifting with correct technique. Lift with a barbell that’s comfortable for you.

Technique, technique, technique .

Good technique is vital for endurance and distance swimming. The following 5 tips will allow you to develop good technique – which, in turn, will have you picking up speed in no time.

With every swimming session you should focus on your kick and breathing. If you are using a pullbuoy this is even more important. Practicing your pullbuoy technique by yourself is not enough. It’s best to practice for the purpose of technique and endurance, you should partner with a faster swimmer. You need someone who can swim slightly faster than you, but not so fast you cannot keep up or do not end up breathing to catch up to him or her. The goal of this exercise is to focus on your kick and breathing. You should be able to swim for 15 strokes at the minimum, while focusing on your kick and breathing rhythm. As you become more comfortable increasing the count.

When you’re practicing your pullbuoy exercise, your kick should be long and relaxed so that your instep brushes along the surface. The aim is to glide you’re your top part of foot (instep) along the surface while kicking. Use your ankles to control your kick, which will help prevent knee injury. The purpose of this exercise is for you to gain a better understanding of the right kicking motion.

Avoid the urge to go full beast-mode on day one .

You will get injured and then you'll never want to go back. Start off slow, do a little bit of everything for a few days, and build yourself up.

Suggested warm up: 25 yards of freestyle, 25 of backstroke, 25 of breaststroke, and then do 25x of a butterfly/dolphin kick combo. After that, do a 100 (candle) drill. Unless you're a beginner, in which case, start with a 50.

Do this “wake up” workout in the morning and then do something such as a game of pickup basketball or fetch with your dog to get a little more cardio in.

Do this 2 days/week and increase your distance every week by another 25 yards. Once you are at an acceptable level of fitness, bump it to 3 days/week.

If you have a high school/college swim team that you can go do laps with, do it! You won't find many 25-yard pools with lap lanes, especially at hotels. But if you have a yard or access to an outdoor pool, you may be able to find a lap mark (it's short compared to a 50-meter pool).

Warm up like a total boss .

If you want to ensure you get back in the groove as quickly as possible, there’s no better way than to start slow.

Beginning a workout with an easy warm-up is known to improve movement quality, decrease the risk of an injury, accelerate recovery time, and get you ready to get to work.

There are many different types of warm-up routines that you can adopt. After you’ve chosen the one you prefer, don’t forget to regularly alternate between dynamic cardiovascular and strength exercises.

Here are three simple exercises you can do before hitting the pool to warm up and get back in shape.

Recognize the successes along the way .

Our minds naturally like to focus on what we hate about ourselves or what we don’t like. This type of thinking is boring. And the worse you feel about your body, especially for a mother battling post-pregnancy fat, the more trapped you’ll feel in your fitness funk. So you’ll want to flip that switch to a more positive focus.

Every time the kids successfully do something new, great! Every time you get a compliment on a new hairstyle, wonderful! Every time your spouse or friend lets you know they love you, fantastic! Not only will you feel good about your steps forward, but you’ll feel good enough to take more! And that’s the trick to regaining good feelings about your body. A major key to staying motivated with your fitness routine is to remind yourself often of the other things you love about your life.

Use this as an opportunity to reset some lifestyle habits .

If you’ve fallen out of the workout routine, you’re not alone. The Fundamentals of Fitness report found that between 2008 and 2012, participation in organized sports in the U.S. dropped from 33.2 percent to 27.7 percent. Rates of obesity have also hit an all-time high.

Keep in mind that getting back into shape is about more than just getting into swimming shape. It’s about getting back in shape in every part of your life. That includes establishing a regular workout routine that includes the gym, but that also includes diet, sleep, stress, and other factors. You can use the pool as the primary focus, but you’ll have a much better outcome and lifestyle change if you use the experience to target all of these factors.

So here are six tips to help you make the most of your reentry into the world of fitness.

The Next Step

Once you know you need to get in shape, you need to figure out where to go and what to do. There are many options for both regular and lap swimming, depending on the type of workout you’re looking for.

If you are looking to get in shape, and are in the beginner stages of exercising, you may want to try a place like YMCA, your local rec center or exercise classes. If your goal is to get in better shape to overcome a specific obstacle, be it reaching a personal record in distance, becoming healthy enough to reduce medications, or getting fit enough to run a 5K, you may want to try a class that is specific to your goals.

You can coordinate with a personal trainer for a one-on-one exercise program. But hiring a trainer can be costly, especially if you are practicing laps-focused activities such as breaststroke and backstroke.

So remember, while getting in shape is always an excellent goal, it’s better to focus your energy on finding the type of workout that’s best for you.