Emerge from lockdown a better athlete than before - an interview with FINA scholarship swimmers

As cities across the world inch their way back out of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, competitive swimmers are busy planning their resume-to-training strategies. The FINA Scholarships Programme, located at the Thanyapura Sports & Health Resort in Thailand, is home to Olympians and aspiring Olympians. Svexa's Director of Partnerships Shikha Tandon recently spoke to Head Coach Miguel Lopez to learn about his approach to training during the lockdown.

During the lockdown, Miguel, along with Strength and Conditioning coach, Mark Mariani, designed dryland sessions to ensure the swimmers maintained their regular routine of 10 sessions a week, with 2 hours per session. The focus was mainly on cardiovascular exercises, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and flexibility training. To mimic swimming movements, they emphasized on core, lower back and dynamic mobility, and also introduced “swimming suspended in the air”. With the sudden increase in dryland exercises, Miguel noticed that most swimmers focused on the “pushing motion” vs the “pulling motion” during dryland. To avoid injuries due to muscle imbalance, they added more ‘pulling movements’ to the routine along with exercises that helped maintain elongated muscles and full range of motion.

The return to swimming after a long break out of the pool can be challenging as swimmers regain their feel for the water, while also trying to avoid over-training and injuries. A few swimmers from the FINA program, each one aiming to achieve a ‘first’ for their country, shared their stories and strategies for the road ahead as they prepare for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.

Mumu Henitsoa, from Madagascar, is aiming for her first Olympics. Her country has a unique qualification process where athletes swim 100m of their main stroke, 100m of their second stroke, and 400m either Freestyle or IM. Based on the times, points are awarded for each event and the swimmer with the highest total points is eligible for a spot on the Olympic team. Mumu’s main events are the 200m, 400m, and 800m Freestyle. Mumu was part of the Thanyapura program last year as a scholarship recipient, but this year continues to train with the team as an Ambassador of the program. The lockdown, for her, was all about stepping out of her comfort zone. While she had access to open water swimming options, being allergic to the sea water made it very challenging. She also sustained an injury during the lockdown, needing her to tap into her mental strength to stay motivated. She focussed on dryland, her perceived weakness. This enabled her to come back stronger, and translate the strength in the water. Mumu recognizes the benefits of personalized assessments to optimize training. “While I understand my body the best, it would be beneficial to learn how my recovery impacts my performance”, she adds.

Tasi Limtiaco, from the Federated States of Micronesia, swims the 100m and 200m Breaststroke, and is hoping to go under the FINA ‘B’ Qualifying Time, which would be a first for his country. “The lockdown was a little stressful because we were limited to the four walls of our rooms. However, the calisthenics and bodyweight exercises that we did during that time really benefited me, and I feel much stronger now that I’m back in the water. In hindsight, it was a nice refresher to be out of the pool, and switch up the training a bit.”, he says. Tasi also spent a lot of time meditating and going through old videos of his swims, visualizing his strokes and preparing his race strategy. Tasi is excited to use SVEXA’s Athlete Advisor app. With his education in sports science, he understands its role in helping athletes train smarter and recover faster. “The old mindset was ‘the more you swim, the faster you get’ but that’s not necessarily true”, he laughs. After a long break from swimming, he has been steadily improving his times over the past year. The postponement of the Olympics has given him the extra time to achieve his goals, and he’s excited about that.

Sajan Prakash, is an Olympian and represented India at the 2016 Olympics. Over the past few months, he’s been recovering from a neck injury. During the lockdown, he tried to maintain his schedule as close to his regular routine as possible, while also experimenting with new exercises - cardio by running up and down the hostel stairs, and “swimming” while on an exercise ball. The postponement of the Olympics has been a blessing in disguise, as this allows him time to focus on rehab and injury management at his own pace. As he gradually increases his swimming workload, he’s using the time to focus on functional training to keep fit, and also to stay positive. Sajan is aiming for the FINA ‘A’ Qualifying Time in the 200m Butterfly, to become India’s first swimmer to compete at two Olympics. Tracking metrics from workouts and analyzing them is not new for Sajan. He has been doing this for the past few years, and admits, “I track everything”. He feels this helps him understand what works for his body, and helps him strategize his schedules. He has recently started using SVEXA’s Athlete Advisor app.

Miguel and Mark, are both advocates of using technology and science to enhance understanding of a swimmer’s training, technique, speed and recovery. The routine they followed during the lockdown has shown positive results. While the swimmers, initially, felt a little rusty, they began to see benefits within a week of being back in the pool. At a recently conducted time-trials at the Thanyapura pool, 4 swimmers bettered 6 National Records (unofficial times). Going forward, as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, the team will continue to incorporate the learnings from the lockdown.

At SVEXA, we believe that access to technology and sports science insights should be available not just to Olympians, but to anyone that is keen on gaining a better understanding of their recovery and performance. We wish the athletes from the FINA program the best, as they strive to push the envelope for swimming in their respective countries.

If you’d like to hear more about how our Athlete Advisor and other tools can help your athletes train, recover, and perform better then Contact Us now