The Point of Pain

By Coach Joe aka SwimmerJoe

I work with developing swimmers, most of whom are not accustomed to putting their body into pain.  And, yes, it is difficult to explain to a 15-year-old the reason why they should not only push their body into pain, but also be happy they are doing it.

The Goal of Training Hard

Not only that, training has a goal to break down the muscles, only to have them come out stronger on the other end. So, a swimmer often doesn’t understand why they can hold a 26.5 pace per 50 for the first few days of the week, but then can only hold a 27.8 per 50 as the week progresses. This is the result of the muscles breaking down.

Throw in the major pain from rigorous dryland, overly-tired bodies and minds, and a coach has to navigate the ever-changing balance of the swim group.  A coach has to know just how far to take his athletes–just to the edge (Perhaps even an inch or two over!)--and then begin to reel his athletes back in.  

A coach has to take his athletes to the breaking point without actually breaking them, and all the while keep his athletes enthused, excited, and positive about training day in and day out, mile after mile, 300 sit-ups after 300 sit-ups.  

What young athletes don’t understand is the training does break them down to a point; it is supposed to do this. However, since they are in the middle of the training, it is hard for them to see the big picture, so they get frustrated and start to get bummed and extremely irritable.  (Sorry, parents!)

It is difficult to get young athletes to understand they need to grin and bear it and just get through it, any way they can.

This experience is universal.

Olympic athletes struggle through it. Flash back to tweet from 5-time Olympic swimmer Dara Torres as an example: “A first, doing most of my swim workout this am breaststroke!! Yikes! Arms feel like lead weight! More power to u breastrokers!!”

She acknowledged she was darn tired and her arms were killing her, but look how positive she seems; she knows how much this pain will help her, not just with breaststroke but with her overall swimming. So, keep the big picture in mind, especially when in the drudgery of pain. 

Visualize Confidence.

To help them persevere, I tell my swimmers to picture themselves getting on the block and having the confidence to say to yourself that no one–-and I mean no one!--has trained harder, been more tired, or suffered more than you. That way when the last lap of the race is on the line, and your arms and legs are way past tired, you know you can out last anybody in the pool. You know you can finish strong. You know this pain will subside.

Because of that broken down state and smash of physical and mental instabilities, your internal strength becomes powerful, very powerful. So, keep the big picture in mind and remember that tapering (that easy, relaxing training that all swimmers live for) is not too far away. If you can mentally get through the hard training, you will be better, plain and simple.  

Tough Coaches

I grew up with many coaches and almost all of them were very tough with us (maybe you didn’t notice-ha!), but I think it is what has made me and my swimming friends insanely strong. We were all tougher than nails, rose to any challenge, and still to this day can probably get through anything life can throw at us. 

I swam for the legendary Randy Reese and I smile as I think back to an interview with  Navy Seal training? After training with Randy, the Seal training was what he called "fun". (Really!)

So when you get beyond your realm of pain tolerance or you can’t believe these crazy practices, remember, coaches are building your foundation and inner mechanics to be a speedy, tough athletic machine. 

Get through it and enjoy the process… you’ll shine in the end.

Cover photo by Michael Lyn.