How to Survive Summer Doubles


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Growing up, I wasn’t accustomed to doubles. When school ended and summer doubles commenced, it felt as though I tumbled down a rabbit hole of pain and long course torture. Though my teammates and I no longer had to endure the slings and arrows of school’s hardships, jobs, social commitments, and difficult doubles practices replaced geometry and history. It proved emotionally, physically, and mentally difficult to suddenly transition from one practice a day to two.

Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years to adjust to that transition. If you are like me and didn’t swim doubles throughout the school year, don’t fret this summer. You’ll become a better swimmer for going through doubles training, and you’ll be thankful by the end of the season and going into the short course season.

1. Arm circles before practice.
Nothing saved me more during doubles practices than arm circles. It sounds silly, but simply swinging your arms for a few minutes before leaping into the water and warming-up may actually save your shoulders. Imagine hopping in a car and suddenly going from 0 miles per hour to 60 in a matter of seconds: Your engine would not like that. It’s the same thing for your shoulders, rotator cuffs, etc... Don’t leap into morning practice and sprint warm-up (which will inevitably happen if you’re swimming in freezing 6am waters). The summer season may be short, but when you’re doing doubles, it’ll feel twice as long. Save your shoulders by swinging your arms a little before each practice.

2. Use sunscreen.
Sunscreen? At 7am? Why? Trust me, when you’re 50-years-old and your skin begins to show blemishes, wrinkles, and sun damage, you’ll wish you used sunscreen more consistently during morning and afternoon workouts. Keep a bottle in your swim bag and apply it 30 minutes before practice. Sure, it’ll eventually wash off, but at least you’ll have some minutes of protection against the sun.

3. Water bottles!
Coaches who force your swimmers to bring water bottles to practice? Good, keep it up! During hot summer months, dehydration is the #1 cause of daily fatigue. Especially in the mornings. The last thing most swimmers want to do when trudging to morning practice is gulp huge quantities of water. But staying hydrated will keep your body refreshed throughout each long summer day. Carry a water bottle to practice, to your job, to your bedside, to the beach, and everywhere else you go.

4. Get to sleep early. (Or earlier.)
Summertime means longer hours, more daylight, and subsequently, later nights. Especially when you have no early morning school the following morning. Sometimes it’s tough to tell friends, “Sorry, I have to get going, I have practice in the morning,” but once you create the reputation that you’re the early-to-bed person among your friends, they’ll stop giving you a hard time. Your body rests best between 10pm-2am. If you’re falling asleep at midnight or 1am every night, you’re depriving your body the best hours for recovery. You’re just making it difficult on yourself. Then you’re waking up tired, sore, and fatigued. Try to stay in a routine, and try to sleep earlier!

5. Pace yourself.
Still fired up from last summer’s Olympics? Good. Just don’t overdo it too soon. Remember: transitioning from one practice a day to two practices a day is a huge change. It takes some adjustment. Don’t begin sprinting warm-up of Summer Practice #1. Allow your body, your shoulders, your mind, and your state-of-being to transition and adjust to double the daily yardage. Pace yourself that first week into doubles to prevent end-of-season burnout.

6. Trick yourself to enjoy long course.
For many swimmers, long course format is like staring down an endless pool filled with long, excruciating moments wondering where the wall is. Don’t do that. Instead, trick yourself that you absolutely love long course. It’s a silly mental trick, but trust me, it works. Sometimes age group swimmers complain and lament about the longer format pool. Just tell yourself, “I don’t have to worry about turns!” or “This is the same format as the Olympics, and as such, I love it!” Sounds corny, sure. But try it for one week. If you start out the first month of doubles practices complaining, it’s going to be a long season. Try some good old-fashioned positive self-talk.

7. Don’t get frustrated if time drops aren’t there.
It’s the end of the season. You swam your last race. You didn’t hit the times you wanted. How can that be? After all the doubles you did? After all those hard, distance freestyle sets that seemingly never ended? This has happened to everyone. Don’t fret it. The most important aspect of the summer season, if you’re not Ryan Lochte or Missy Franklin heading to the World Championships, is keeping in shape and building your endurance base. Long course swimming enhances your foundation and is a perfect build-up to the autumn and winter short course season. If you don’t see time drops by the end of the summer, don’t be despondent. You’ll see them later in the short course season. Just enjoy the process and keep finding little things to improve each and every day. Eventually, the times will drop. 

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