Valentine's Day Gift Guide for Swimmers

It's that time of year again, everyone's favorite Hallmark driven holiday is almost upon us and I, for one, cannot wait to celebrate with an over-priced box of chocolates and sweatpants (hint hint husband). Candies aside, there are a lot of people who prefer actual gifts on Valentine's Day, so I wanted to throw some ideas at you guys that are specifically for swimmers, as well as the staples I've used to get to and from the pool pretty much my entire life. Get ready, there's a pink and red theme ahead...

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One thing I always coveted were the backpacks all of my older swimmer friends had when I was little. They have side pockets for caps, goggles, and shampoo, as well as a mesh compartment to put your wet suit in after getting out of the water. There's enough space in the main compartment for shoes and the clothes you want to wear afterwards as well as a towel and any hair dryer/straightener you might need. 

The one I use to this day is the Speedo Large Teamster Backpack. It's also great as a carry-on bag for short trips that fits easily in the overhead compartment of airplanes.

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This one might seem a bit odd, but I promise you'll be finding uses for it for years to come. I've had mine since I was a freshman in high school and I've never had any issues with it. What I'm talking about is the Finis Tempo Trainer. This tiny little tool sits inside your cap and gives you something to pace yourself off of. Think of it as a cute little metronome (any orchestra buffs out there? Fun fact: I played the violin for 9 years and my metronome became one of my closest friends when I first started). If you don't know what a metronome is it's something that helps you keep a beat. You can set it to whatever interval you like and it will make an audible beep for you to follow along to. The Tempo Trainer is a great tool to help you work on your pace, rotation, kick, timing of your breath, etc. It's a bit pricey for what it does but it's a great product that lasts for years. And no, sadly, it doesn't come in pink.

Back to the pink theme! My next pick is something I actually stole from my diver friends when I was swimming for my summer team as a kid. The Speedo Sports Towel is 12.5 by 16.5 inches and is the most absorbent thing I've ever come across. It's incredibly light and dries quickly as well. This towel is perfect to have at meets, open water events, and triathlons that won't take up too much room in your bag but will get you drier than any beach towel ever could.

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SwimBox Swimming Swim Lessons

Now before you say it I already know what you're thinking, why in the world is a silicone oven mitt listed in a swimmers gift guide? The answer is that this thing saved my life growing up when it came to getting ready for school after swimming every morning. This one's pretty specific and I'm sure isn't for everyone, but a Silicone Oven Mitt was the one thing that kept my hair straightener from burning a hole straight through my bag. I know, like I said, this isn't for everyone. But it was my mom's idea when I was in high school and I still use it to this day. It's also perfect for hair driers!

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Last on the list is simple but something every swimmer should have at least one of, if not 2-3. The Speedo Goggle Case is exactly what it says it is, a goggle case. I had a lot of different variations of this one over the years but this is the best one I've found. It's cheap and easy to use and won't take up too much space in your bag. I used to think these were just silly and unnecessary, but now that I'm an adult and buy my own goggles I use this every time I swim because it keeps them from getting all of those teensy, tiny, scratches all over the lenses, which means it keeps me from buying goggles every 3 weeks because I can't see out of them anymore. Think you don't need this because you're a triathlete and don't swim as much as you bike and run? Think again, because this case will save your goggles from getting damaged in your bag where they're hanging out with all of your other belongings and keep them pristine for race day.

Dr. Marc Luko Guest Series Post #2: Moving Well

In my last post I talked about the importance of recovering well. If you have not read that post yet, you can check it out, here. Today I want to address the second secret to elite performance: the importance of moving well.

Moving well is all about efficiency. Whether you're a runner, swimmer, soccer player, or a gymnast, the better you move, the more efficient you are. In sports where the objective is to be the fastest, this can mean the difference between finishing in 1st place or 3rd place. So, what does moving well look like?

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SwimBox Swim Lessons Performance Monitoring

Look at these two athletes. Which one do you think “moves well”? If you said the one on the left, you would be correct. But can you tell me why the athlete on the right does not? We can all guess, but one frame does not tell you about the whole movie.

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This leads to my next point. Moving well can be broken down into two parts: the mobility that we have and the mobility that we can use.

The mobility that we have is called range of motion. Range of motion is a measure of how much movement is possible at each joint, e.g. knee, shoulder, elbow, etc. For a visual, think about how much motion a swimmer is going to have at their shoulder vs. someone with arthritis. This can be limited because of injury, surgery, short muscle length (e.g. hip flexors) or a slew of other factors. If someone has an issue with range of motion, they can work to improve theirs. This is where stretching, manual therapy, manipulations, dry needling, etc. are appropriate. But, what happens when there is plenty of range of motion but the athlete is still limited? This is an issue of the mobility we can use.

The mobility that we can use is a concept that is not so obvious. Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents would tell you not to use a calculator for simple math because you would lose that skill? They would say “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. As hard as it may be to hear, they were right, and that concept doesn’t just apply to math, it also applies to movement. Just because someone has a lot of range of motion does not mean they have the ability to use it, or, more importantly, control all of it. If you have the available shoulder range of the person in Figure 3a (180 deg) but you only use the amount of the person in Figure 3b (90 deg), you will lose the ability to control the shoulder at the upper ranges. This scenario tends to lead to injury because you are taking your body to a place it rarely goes and it's not comfortable with. Think of it like this, if I'm a runner and I have the genetic capability to run 30 miles, but I usually only run 15 miles. What do you think is going to happen when all of a sudden, I attempt to run 25 miles? Here's a hint: nothing good.

Figure 3a.

Figure 3a.

Figure 3b.

Figure 3b.

So how do you move well? By practicing good form with exercises and going through full ranges of motion. This will help you reinforce good movement and gain control through all ranges of motion. Never push through ranges that are not available to you. Your body will naturally give you more motion when it feels you are able to control it. While stretching can help, particularly after surgery when joints are stiff, strength training through full range of motion will give you more bang for your buck in the long run. Strength training in this way will help you improve the mobility that you have and the mobility you can use, while at the same time making your stronger in these movements. Once you have done that, follow the words of well-known Physical Therapist, Gray Cook, “Move well. Move often”.  And your parents, "If you don’t use it, you will lose it."

Not sure if you move well? Get screened by a Physical Therapist and have them give you tips on how to improve where you are at. 

New Year New...Failures?

I feel like January can be a very hostile time of year, even if it doesn't appear to be from the surface. Everyone's starting New Year’s resolutions and promising themselves to work harder, eat healthier, and most of all (I'm sure you guessed it), go to the gym. That being said, it's always come across to me as the perfect time to fail. There's even more societal pressure than normal, which can lead to a big let down if you make even the smallest of slip ups.

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Well, I just wanted to take a second and tell you how I really feel about it when my friends tell me they're beside themselves because not even a month into the new year they're already back to their same old bad habits: so what? Just taking the time to think of ways you want to better yourself is a step in the right direction. So many people think they're done growing up by the time they get out of college, but you're here working every year at learning something new to make yourself grow and become just that much of a better person. That's huge! So dust yourself (and try again, any early 2000's R&B lovers out there giggling with me?), pick yourself up, and try again. Fun fact? It took me 3 years to figure out how to change one small piece of my freestyle catch. Yup, you read that right. Three. Years. It was discouraging and enraging at times, and I thought I was a lost cause more than once (changing something minute in your stroke after swimming for 23 years is no easy feat you guys), but I never gave up. I tried different things and kept coming back to trying to make that one little thing better. And that eureka moment when I finally got it? It was just incredible. Almost as good as that first bite of a freshly baked cookie (...almost).

You're going to have goals. You're going to come up with lists of things you want to change to help keep yourself growing and learning and bettering yourself. And you're also going to have setbacks. And failures. So what? Take what you've learned from those failures (even if it's nothing, because let's be real, we all have setbacks where we don't think we've gained anything) and keep moving forward. It's almost come to seem like failure is a taboo word nowadays. But who hasn't had their fair share of failures? It's okay to fail, it's okay to get upset (and console yourself with a donut or 4), just keep your goal in mind. It's that simple.

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It might seem hard and silly to think that way just because some virtual stranger online is saying this, but you know I'm right. Deep down that nagging voice we all have (that we love to hate so much) knows I'm right too.

Don't beat yourself up over the mistakes, the failures, and the setbacks. Acknowledge them, let yourself pout for a bit, and keep moving forward. You'll reach your goals and have your eureka moments. It might not be overnight, but you will.

Dr. Marc Luko Guest Series: The Secret to Elite Performance

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Who knows the secret to maximizing your performance? I believe there are multiple secrets, because one thing alone does not turn you into an elite athlete. In my opinion the three utmost points to elite performance are:

Recovering Well

Moving Well

Training Well

If you don't read any further, you will have just learned the "secrets" to elite performance. But if this is the end of the line for you, implementing those three points properly - and knowing why you should be doing so, will remain a mystery. For those of you that are curious, read on, as today's post will be about the first point: recovery.

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Contrary to popular belief, working harder does not constitute performing better. While hard efforts are par for the course and necessary to improve performances, training hard all of the time will only lead to injury. With the advent of social media and the internet, many athletes are gaining insight into what elite athletes are doing for workouts. But, what they are not seeing, is the aftermath. And that is just as important - if not more so - than the actual workout. Elite athletes don’t just train hard, they recover hard too.  


The science and benefit of sleep has been gaining a lot of media attention lately, and for good reason. It is the cheapest and most effective form of recovery there is. Yet, it is highly underutilized. The focus for so long now has been on how to gain more training hours, when it should really be geared towards looking into more recovery hours. Triathletes that have increased their recovery times while still maintaining quality workloads have demonstrated less injuries and better times.

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Some of you may be asking yourself “Well, that’s nice, but how do I know how much sleep I need? Or whether or not I'm ready for another hard workout?” This is a completely valid question, as up until recently, most athletes would judge their state of "readiness" based on unreliable factors, such as soreness levels. Today, the world of sports science has evolved and has discovered that many of the “secrets” of recovery are accessible and reliable, with the right technology and data analysis. When these variables are monitored and managed well, athletes are able to get the most out of their workouts as well as reduce injury so that they can continue to train well and perform better.

 

As an athlete, you're already doing a lot. Whether you’re a high school swimmer and have a job while also juggling classes, clubs, and your social life, or a mother of three who is a competitive triathlete who also works 70 hours/wk at a law firm, adding something else to your training is difficult, even if it will ultimately help you. In my experience athletes who want to be performing at their peak don't necessary yet another person telling them to workout, they need someone telling them when not to. It's ingrained in our brains that the more we train the better we'll be. But speaking from experience, over-training without proper rest and recovery won't get you anywhere but stuck on your butt while everyone else is out there getting better. 

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I'm so happy to be a part of SwimBox Elite, our new performance optimization service. Over our careers, Dominic and I have seen too many athletes that have trained themselves into short or unfulfilled athletic careers due to overtraining, not to mention more injuries than we can count. Discussions of how to fix this lead to extensive research and testing that ultimately manifested into our new program. If you have experienced poor recovery from workouts, inexplicable drop-offs in performance, long history of injuries, or want that slight edge over the competition, this is for you. Our program offers virtual recovery monitoring with email updates on actionable steps, 24/7 data collection, and personalized coaching based off of your specific needs. This will ensure that you are getting the most of your training. Each component of our program ensures that you are recovering well, moving well, and training well. Our goal is for each of our athletes to improve their performance by at least 5-10%. 

 

*stay tuned for the next post in this guest series: Moving Well

California FBM Clinic Trip Recap

Who's ever flown to and from California (from the east coast) in less than 38 hours, worked the entire time you were there, and lived to tell the tale? At this day and age I'm assuming there are at least some of you answering in the positive to this question, but still, it's not a normal thing you do on a weekend. But alas, that's what Dominic and I set out to do last weekend in order to hold our first ever Foundational Breathing Method Clinic, and it was great! That is until a giant fog fell over us this past Thursday that caused me to live off of Oreos, donuts, and Papa Johns for a 13 hour period (it was great, don't act like you're not jealous) and change our bedtime to 7pm...

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We landed in CA at 9:45pm EST, which is already well past when we normally get to sleep, and headed to dinner with our hosts for the weekend. The restaurant we ate at claimed to be Cuban, and no offense to CA but it definitely wasn't. Cuban inspired is more what I would call it. If I hadn't fallen in love with all of the authentic Cuban food we had in Miami maybe I wouldn't sound like such a snob right now, but I did, so I'm going to hold my nose up a bit too high for this one.  

Dinner put us back at the house at 12:45am EST, but the clinic wasn't until 10am PST the next day, so there was plenty of sleep to be had. That being said, I've only travelled to a different time zone once, so I'm not used to my internal clock not matching up with the external clock, and I was wide awake and ready to go at 3am. Oops.

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All of my complaining about food and sleep aside, the clinic was great. We spent an hour in the classroom, two hours in the pool, and finished off with an hour of dryland. It might seem a bit weird to start off a swim clinic outside of the water, but this really allowed Dominic to teach everyone about the anatomy we'd be utilizing during FBM and how these subtle changes would improve multiple parts of their swimming. Not to mention our participants gained a greater knowledge of how it's possible to manipulate your breathing to aid in day to day aspects of life as well.

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Putting everything together in the water is where everyone really started to understand how helpful FBM is. One of my favorite parts of clinics is being there to see the moment someone learns something new. Seeing that spark of understanding in someone's eyes really is a great feeling, and having the chance to be a part of that feeling is something I'm truly grateful for. We had one participant say that she'd never been able to swim across the length of the pool without gasping for a breath before, and now she feels like she can actually swim. Hearing that made the whole trip worth it.

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After two hours in the water we headed into a ballet studio to work on some dryland moves. And if your first thought when you read the words "ballet studio" is of those rooms lined in mirrors, you'd be right. If you know me well enough you're laughing right now, because I can't walk past a mirror without looking at myself...I just can't. There's always a hair out of place or my bangs need fixing, so a room full of mirrors is my dream (and Dominic's nightmare). 

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Our dryland session was the perfect way to end the clinic. Dominic went over certain PRI moves that help you better understand the strength of your breath and explore how to better gain your FBM when you're in the water. All of the movements are body weight only and can be done in the comfort of your own home. And by that I mean in your living room, dressed in sweats, with the TV on in the background.

Even though the weekend was jam-packed and we spent two full days traveling it was well worth it. We got to meet a great new group of swimmers and triathletes and spend the day learning with them. But the real moral of the story? If you're about to spend an entire Sunday flying from California, to Denver, to DC, make sure you have plenty of snacks with you, otherwise you might find yourself buying a $15 six ounce bag of popcorn while your husband stares at you with his jaw dropped...Was the popcorn good you ask? Sigh, it was okay...just okay. Does this mean it'll be my last extremely overpriced junk-food purchase? No way.

Butterfly Fun with Softballs

If you don’t learn anything from this video, at the very least I can promise you some entertainment, because this one’s a good one. Ever swum in an Endless Pool with two softballs in your hands? No? Well now I can proudly say that yes, yes I have.

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This fun drill we came up with works on driving power through the finish of your butterfly stroke (which is also eerily similar to the finish of your freestyle, hint hint). As a kid butterfly was my favorite stroke and 100 butterfly was my best event, but I’d be lying if I said I always followed through to my finish and that I always carried my force during my entire pull through the water. It’s hard to focus on that for an entire 100 or 200.

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Take a softball in each hand and start with your arms extended in front of you. While doing fly kick you’re going to take a pull and try to throw the balls behind you as far as you can (maybe have your brother or sister be behind you so you have a target you really want to hit). This forces you to have a strong pull the entirety of the way from your catch to your finish.

If you think this sounds easy, I say ha to you good sir. Ha to you. The first time I tried this I barely got the balls out of the water. I turned around and stood up only to hear Dominic laughing hysterically at my first attempt. Thanks for the support, husband.

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After a few attempts I got the hang of throwing the balls behind me and out of the water, but they never went too far. And I was tired, after just a few kicks and strokes of butterfly. I like adding this drill to the end of a workout when my body and my brain are fatigued. It forces me to focus and stay engaged when all I want to do is crawl out of the pool and head to Panera for a loaf of bread.

Performance Optimization with SwimBox Elite

Growing up as a competitive swimmer I was always very focused on everything that impacted my performance…Okay, I can’t even write that sentence with a straight face, that is just a blatant lie. I swam all the time, so I ate all the time. Do you think I’m talking about protein and veggies here? Nope, not even close. Donuts were my one true love, probably still are (don’t tell Dominic), and I definitely never paid attention to my sleep habits. An 8:30pm bedtime as a 16 year girl isn’t exactly going to make you a happy camper.

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But as I’ve gotten older and learned more about taking care of myself (be proud, Mom & Dad) I really wish I had paid attention to these things more when I was younger and competing. Which just makes me want to have everyone else take as good of care of themselves as they can in order to get the best out of their training. Which is why Dominic and I are so excited about SwimBox Elite, our new performance optimization service.

SwimBox Elite Performance Optimization Whoop Strap

Using the Whoop Strap, a wearable that’s worn 24/7 (don’t worry, it’s waterproof), we’re able to monitor your resting heart rate, heart rate variability, recovery, cardio strain, and sleep. Yes, we’re basically asking you to let us stalk you, get excited. Getting all of this data in real time allows us to take the guess work out of your training. Our head of performance, Dr. Marc Luko, takes all of this data and sends you weekly analyses and training suggestions to make sure you’re staying on top of your game.

SwimBox Elite Performance Optimization Whoop Strap

If you’re like me, you definitely have those days where you wake up and wish you could call in sick to your training plan because you’re feeling so beaten down and dead. With SwimBox Elite we’ll see your data, in real time, and let you know you need to give it a rest, take a break, and let your body recover. And even though we all can get a bit obsessed with sticking to our training and getting those endorphin highs from our long workouts, breaks are necessary, and sometimes it’s hard to know when to listen to your body and when to suck it up. But not anymore.

SwimBox Elite Performance Optimization Whoop

As a member of SwimBox Elite you'll receive training tips based off of your personal data, take a movement screen so we can head off injury before it happens, specific advice on how to best prepare for your races, and how to take care of your body in terms of training, recovery, and sleep performance. Members also get data updates, Skype sessions to plan for your race season, and performance coaching. We believe this is a perfect add-on to any swimmer's current training plan to give them the extra edge over their competition. 

SwimBox Elite Performance Optimization

I was always the kid who would miss a practice and come back about 3-4 days behind in my conditioning. But to me it seemed like I was the only one this happened to, because my friends, who would sometimes miss 2-3 practices in a row, would come back even better than they were before they left. I hated not knowing why this was happening, so that makes me super excited to be able to take that guesswork out of your training and give you the answers you're looking for to have you perform at your best.

Miami Man 2017 Trip Recap

Boy does it ever feel good to be back in the dreary, chilly, and wet weather I’ve come to find normal for Northern Virginia in the winter months. Miami was great, but it felt a bit weird to me to be in a tank top and shorts in the middle of the beginning of the winter holiday season. Sweater weather just started and I missed 5 days of it! 

Traveling to Miami to support one of our clients during Miami Man, their A race of the season, proved to be a lot more action packed than we had anticipated. And not just because we started the journey out with a 6 hour maintenance delay at the airport (Stranger Things marathon anyone?).  We took this trip as an opportunity to meet some online clients and do some lessons in person, and we’re so glad we did.  

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Carmen started swimming less than 2 years ago and recently began competing in triathlons with her husband, Jose. Before competing in Miami Man on Sunday we met up with her for two private lessons on Friday and Saturday at her neighborhood pool. Although bringing in outside coaches is “frowned upon,” so we had to be pretty stealthy during our lessons. And by that I mean I walked around taking pictures, Dominic filmed for video analysis, and Jose filmed with his GoPro throughout both two hour sessions. Oops? 

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Dominic worked with her on her kick, rotation, body posture, and balance.  

We also got to meet Marcel, who is a client we’ve been communicating with online for about half a year now. His first half Ironman is coming up next March in Puerto Rico, and we got the opportunity to work with him on our Foundational Breathing Method to correct his sinking legs/hips and body posture in the water.  

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I had pretty intense oral surgery less than a week before our trip, so hopping on a plane to Miami wasn’t really something I was looking forward to. But getting to meet all of these great people and spend time with them was really a wonderful experience. And yes, I’m sure the fact that I was on painkillers throughout most of it aided my happy mood, but I digress. One of the best things about running your own schedule is getting to take trips like this, and I need to remember to be more appreciative of these experiences while I’m having them. 

Ohh, did I forget to mention the food? The food was AMAZING. We drove an hour and 23 minutes (after our 6 hour plane delay and 3 hours of rental car hassle) to a Cuban restaurant in Miami Beach and it was more than worth it. My mouth is watering now just thinking about that food, sigh. 

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But all of that being said Sunday was the best day. We got to cheer on our client and friend Gail and be there to celebrate all of the hard work she’s put in this season. She placed second overall in her age group! 

Our clients are the driving force to what we do and make all of this so rewarding. We can’t thank you guys enough for your loyalty and support. 

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How to Handle Missing a Workout

I grew up as the kid who never missed morning swim practice. I looked forward to it, I got excited about it. I wanted to hear my alarm go off at 3:43am in order to get up and jump in the freezing cold water and swim 3-4 miles before any of my other friends even woke up for school. Well, most days at least. 

I was also the kid who, when she did miss a practice, lost about 80% of my conditioning and spent almost a week getting back up to where I had been before. Which I hated. A lot. And it often felt like I had let everyone down just by sleeping in and getting up at 6am, like any other regular high school student.

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Now that I'm old and wise (kind of) I know that missing a workout isn't the end of the world, but I still struggle with my own self inflicted guilt sometimes. Fortunately the swimming world I live in now is much more forgiving than it was in high school, and my body is much more acclimated to resting and taking care of itself too. I know that sleeping in one day when I'm supposed to go for a long swim won't hurt me or set me back. No one will call my cell phone at 4:30am wondering where I am (yes, my coach used to do that, and no, he isn't the only one) and I won't lose my spot in the lane I normally swim in. 

Even missing a workout because I have too many things planned for the holidays or I decided to go to an impromptu dinner with my husband won't hurt me. In fact it's usually more beneficial than not.

Taking care of myself and getting enough rest is HUGE when it comes to performance. I wish I had realized this when I was competing, but such is life. I just wanted to let you guys know that it's okay to sleep in sometimes. It's okay to go have that dinner with friends and grab a drink (or three) and relax even when it's not in your schedule to do so. 

But the one thing you shouldn't do is try to makeup the workouts you missed. That's when you get into overtraining and can really hurt yourself. So give yourself a break, don't beat yourself up too much, and sleep in a little if you want. Just don't do it everyday, because then you might be in trouble. And I definitely don't want your coach calling me at 4:30am asking me where you are...

Our new blog about what's going on with us at SwimBox

SwimBox Thoughts: a SwimBox Blog

Welcome to SwimBox Thoughts!

These posts are going to be a mix of swim tips/developments, SwimBox current events, and just my general ramblings of things that are related to swimming. Or food. I like to talk about food a lot. Like this morning after swim practice I was dying to have a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel but I had hard boiled eggs instead. Why? Because I'm no longer a 13 year old with the world's fastest metabolism, and it turns out no matter how much you swim you kind of need to pay attention to nutrition (as much as you probably don't want to).

See? Swimming related, but very loosely. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

Some posts are going to be more informative than others and some will just be about whatever I feel like saying at that very moment. You never really can tell with me.

If there's any swim tip you want me to demo or brand of goggle you want me to try let me know, I'm game. Think of this as entertaining yet informative reading. Unless you're already bored, then my sincerest apologies for wasting the past 34 seconds of your life (note the sarcasm).