By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, June 20, 2018
The alarm clock rings. It’s 5am. Sunshine is still an hour away, and yet that incessant beeping of your alarm clock is impolitely reminding you that soon, you’re about to jolt your body from its pleasant cocoon of blankets and pillows and submerge it into freezing cold water with the expectation of the generation of lactic acid and a 150bpm heart rate.
Of course, this description of the everyday morning practice routine isn’t included in the “Join a Swim Team” handout. Many young potential swimmers would likely read that above paragraph, smirk, and say, “I’ll stick to soccer, thanks.”
And yet, morning practice — while sometimes cold and difficult — can actually be a pretty fun and rewarding experience, with the right attitude. And no, this isn’t just some USA Swimming propaganda. Anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m the last person who ever enjoyed morning practice, but even I, finally, during the final swimming season of my career, learned to enjoy leaping into the water at 6am.
And if I can do it, so can you, swimmers.
Here are some tips for learning to love morning practice:
1. Arrive five minutes early.
Nothing is worse for your Morning Practice Mentality than showing up to practice a few seconds late and trying to catch-up with the team during warm-up. It just makes everything feel rushed — which is the last thing anyone wants at 6am.
2. Drink some water as soon as you wake up.
It’s important to hydrate as soon as you wake up! Whenever I’m dehydrated, I feel slow, slogged down, and I just generally don’t want to do anything but sleep. Before you jump into the pool, drink some water. It helps wake you up.
3. Leap into the deep end.
It’s all about how you enter the pool: If you dip your toes into the water, timidly and wishing for sleep, I can tell you that you’re going to despise morning practice. But if you head over to the deep end and do a massive cannonball before anyone else gets into the water? Something about that just sends a statement to your mind that this is fun — even if you don’t believe it (at first).
4. Positive self-talk.
It’s so corny, but positive self-talk can really help. “I love morning practice!” is something I actually told myself, out loud, whenever I felt that urge to sleep come on. Eventually, as you keep telling yourself this over and over, you begin to believe it. Try it for one month. Whenever you hear yourself think, “I want to sleep” or “This pool is too cold this morning” or “I just want to quit swimming,” try instead saying out loud, “I love morning practice!” Or try shouting it. Out loud. To your entire groggy-eyed team.
5. Set a bedtime.
Yup. If you’re a morning practice swimmer, you’ve got to set a bedtime. Seriously. Otherwise you’ll be doing a Netflix binge until 2am and feeling like utter death when you wake up for morning practice a few hours later. This bedtime has to be sacred and you have to adhere to it every single evening. Over time, your body will thank you.
6. Treat yourself for every “good” morning practice.
The only reason I joined a swim team in the first place is because my mother promised me fast food breakfasts after every morning practice. Sure, not the healthiest or best reason to join a swim team — but I did it. And I continued eating that way all through high school and college. I’m not saying you need fast food as a motivational force for doing a morning practice. But find whatever reward system you can to help you get through those tough morning practices. It’s okay to treat yourself once in a while… especially if you’re waking up before dawn and swimming miles on end before the majority of the world even hits their snooze button.
Practice these six things like you would practice an endless 400 IM repeat set at 6:15am, and one day, you’ll wake up and actually be excited for morning practice.
And — gasp! — you may even learn to love it.