Point of Pain

Posted on November 21, 2010


I work with age group swimmers, most of who are not accustomed to putting their body into pain.  And, yes, it is difficult to explain to a 12 year-old the reason why they should not only push their body into pain, but also be happy they are doing it.

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. Throw in the major pain from heavy, very 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 an inch or two over–and then begin to reel his athletes back in.  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.  

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

Olympic athletes do and they don’t complain about it, they just struggle through it. Take this recent tweet from Dara Torres as an example: “A first, doing most of my swim workout this am breastroke!! 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 will help her, not just with breaststroke but with her overall swimming. So, keep the big picture in mind, especially when in the trudgery of pain. 

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 persevere. 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 very close.  If you can mentally get through the hard training, you will be better, plain and simple.  

I grew up with many coaches and almost all of them were very tough with us (maybe you didn’t notice), 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.  Remember the swimmer that sailed through Navy Seal training?  https://swimmerjoe.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/randy-reese/  He thought it was fun! Yeah, that’s what I am talking about.

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 for a speedy, tough athletic machine.  Get through it and enjoy the process… you’ll shine in the end.