Swimming is a unique sport, we do things a little differently, and we’re proud of it. Swimmers are no strangers to being thrown into the deep end, and the holidays are no different for us. While a large portion of the population relies on their New Year’s resolutions to kick them into gear, we have Hell Week. Whatever you celebrate, or don’t, during the holidays, it usually ends the same way for swimmers.
We spend the holidays, with family and friends, mugs of eggnog in hand, faces powdered with sugar from sufganiyot, surrounded by the smell of fresh pine, intoxicating gingerbread and warming log fires. Then, before the decorations have even been taken down. Splash. We know what follows: sore, aching muscles, ice baths, warm baths, and collapsing into bed nightly like soggy spaghetti.
What to expect from Hell Week:
Hell Week is one to two brutal weeks, which basically cram in a month’s worth of training. Coaches are looking to put you through your paces and push you; they’re aiming to get you back into shape after the break, and ramp up your fitness level. By stepping into the pool for Hell Week, you are essentially stepping out of your comfort zone.
If you can push through it you’ll be rewarded, you’ll come out of it stronger. But, it’s not a walk in the park. Hell Week is designed to be tough. The only way out is through, and to get through it in top shape, you’re going to need to focus on one particular area of your training. Recovery.
If you’re not treating recovery as an important part of your training, it’s not too late to start. Recovery can be the difference between securing a place on the winners’ podium or a seat in the stands nursing an injury.
In a nutshell, when you train you’re putting resistance on your muscles, which can cause microscopic tears in the muscle tissue, especially if you’re training harder than you have in a while, or ever. The body rushes to heal these micro-tears by sending satellite cells to the area to heal the tissue and form new muscle protein strands. These cells are responsible for rebuilding muscles, which grow stronger to ensure you will be able to cope with similar activity and levels of resistance in the future.
Recovery is a simple equation
The body needs two things to build these muscle fibers, sleep and fuel.
Recovery = Nutrition + Sleep
Without the proper nutrition - carbohydrates, the right proteins, healthy fats, hydration and vitamins and minerals - the body cannot repair effectively. If these aren’t present in the right amounts, the body can seek out nutrients from other sources by breaking down healthy tissue, such as from muscle and fat. The body also needs time to repair, and this time is typically when we are sleeping. Building tissue takes time, and you should aim to give your body 6-9 hours of sleep each night to repair, recover and prepare for the next day.
We’ve put together a comprehensive Hell Week survival guide, which delves into the nutrition you need for optimal recovery. The guide includes time-tested tips such as how to time your snacks for success, ways to improve your sleep, stretching tips, and pages of mental motivations and advice from athletes.