Mike's Mailbag: Getting Back into Shape after Time Off

Mike's Mailbag: Getting Back into Shape after Time Off

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, June 18, 2018

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question you’d like answered, please email me your question to swimmingstories@gmail.com, and I’ll do my best to answer either on USASwimming.org or in the next issue of Splash Magazine.


Dear Mike, 

For the past three to four months I have been in and out of the water all the time due to injuries, school, drivers ed, and lifeguard classes. Many times missing one, sometimes even two weeks of practice because of conflicts. So, I have been in a constant cycle of getting out of swimming shape because I was out for a week or two, then as soon as I start to get my speed and endurance back I have to leave again, getting out of shape. Mentally, it has taken a toll on my swimming.  Finally, that cycle has stopped and I am back to normal training. This is my second week back in the water and I'm really starting to feel it. The practices are the same difficulty as always, but I'm not able to make the intervals because I am so out of shape. Starting Monday, the next three weeks are going to be extremely hard as we prepare for long course. I really miss the shape that I was in back in February, and it frustrates me when I see the times I am putting in practice and how far behind I am from people that I used to be the same speed as, or faster. Any tips on what to do to get back in shape faster so I will be ready for more intense training this summer?

-- Out of shape


Hey Out of Shape,

I wish there was a magic wand that could make you (and me) in-shape, with little or no effort. Swimming is one of those brutal sports where five days off is basically an “off-season.” A few weeks away from the pool? You have to start all over. Ugh, I know… Even in my 30s, I share your frustration.

My advice: Don’t rush it. Rushing can lead to injuries, even long-term injuries, which would ruin your season (and future seasons). So many friends and teammates rushed their “getting back in-shape” process: They trained hard (too hard), worked overtime the first few weeks, and their shoulders, knees, or back eventually fell apart. The only thing more frustrating than trying to get back in-shape? Coming back from an injury.

Go slow.

I’m a big fan of the saying, “Make the best with what you’ve got.” Another favorite: “Play the hand you’re dealt.” In other words: Make the best of your situation. You might have to find another team that practices at another time. You might have to figure out ways to work out after your drivers ed classes, or before school. When I swam and it was too snowy to get to the pool, I’d get to school an hour early and run in the hallways in the winter. (For some reason, they allowed me to do this.) If I went on vacation with my family, I brought along stretch chords to workout in the hotel. If I went to northern Michigan and there wasn’t a lap pool for miles and miles, I swam in a river.

Find creative ways to stay engaged, even when you can’t find pool time. Or, tweak your schedule and make “finding pool time” a priority. Nothing is impossible. It might take sacrifice, it might take time management, but I believe that there’s a way to minimize that out-of-shape feeling you get due to the inevitable conflict.

Whatever you do: Go slow. Don’t push it. Don’t be one of those swimmers who sprints 110% from the first minute of the first warm-up… Being out-of-shape is frustrating now, but swimming is a long, long sport. Do what you can, make the best of the situation, get creative about your training opportunities, and you’ll be fine.

I hope this helps.



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