Ever wondered what it takes to be a full time elite swimmer and Olympian, what it takes day in, day out to compete at the highest level?
We did too, so we spoke to WatchFit Expert and double Olympian Ekaterina Avramova to find out what an Olympic swimmer’s training is really like.
This is what she told us…
As a full time international swimmer and Olympic athlete I’m often asked what my life consists of. Believe me, I go to restaurants, the movies, the occasional pub and enjoy attending various sporting events, but of course my training and everything connected to my swimming is dominant in my life and has to come first.
WatchFit asked me to give you a breakdown of what my days and weeks look like. Not because we expect you all to be eager to become Olympic swimmers, but you may be able to take elements from it to help and motivate yourselves.
So what do my days look like?
I get up each morning at 4.30am. Yes it’s true… All those things you’ve heard about us getting up hours before daylight and scraping the frost off the car windscreen and setting about the day are true and not just ‘woe is me’ stories!
However there is another side to this that you don’t tend to hear about, and I will get to that…
4.30am – Time to get up. No snooze buttons, no lame excuses for doing anything other than getting straight out of bed. And no, you never get completely used to it! I don’t have breakfast at this point.
5.20am – I’m at the pool. We run three laps of the pool itself before jumping in. Now I know this contravenes everything we were ever told as children about not running around the poolside – and that is 100% correct – but we are very careful and at that time in the morning the pool has not been used so the whole area around it is dry. (I don’t want to give the wrong message!)
7.30/8am – We complete pool training. And it’s during this brief wet to dry transition period I have ‘breakfast’. It’s not very clever or adventurous and is usually one banana or two.
8-9.30am – Into the gym. This is all about weights and stretching. The strength work is based on three exercises: pull-ups, leg extensions and dips. Developing power with these three is entirely relevant to my swimming strokes.
A good 30 minutes of this session is stretching which I know is often the most avoided element of fitness, but it’s so important. It might not look like you are doing much but it is crucial. I take this time to check emails and social media messages which probably adds to the impression of not doing a great deal – but actually what we are doing is vital.
To be honest, it’s one of my favourite aspects of training and I wish more people would ‘get it’ and pay more attention to their stretching.
10.30am – I’m back at home.
Now I really have breakfast… poached eggs, toast, ham/salami, porridge, fresh self-made juice. I juice my own drinks and the one ingredient I always include is ginger. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not because I like it so much. I don’t. It’s because it’s seriously good for all of us. If you can get more ginger in your diet you’ll be doing a good thing!
Do you remember that I said there was a flip side to getting up at 4.30am? Well here it is…
11.30-4pm – I go to sleep!
Now how many of you get to have that kind of siesta?
Not only that that, I generally grab a coffee, yoghurt and couple of biscuits. Then I’m done! I rest and restore through this time, so it’s one of the most important parts of the day. The expression ‘less is more’ is right across much of life and this includes top level sports training. Of course we have to work hard and push ourselves to limits. But without sufficient rest we will be useless and will never capitalise on the work we have been putting in whilst awake.
But that is not then end of it…
5.30-8pm – Back to to pool and training.
I get there a little earlier and go through a routine of sit-ups and press-ups. Then we are back in the pool.
After 8pm – I go home and eat an appropriate meal. This means carb heavy when generally training, so pasta and chicken feature quite heavily. But when I shift into full-on competition mode, like right now, then protein comes to the fore so I see a lot more fish, vegetables and salad.
When it comes to eating I pretty much like everything and this includes cake and chocolate, but I have to have some discipline about it and resist the temptations most of the time. However it’s important for all of us to enjoy treats every now and again, so each Sunday morning I tuck into pancakes and Nutella, and I love it!
Wednesday is my half day. This means I can enjoy a later night on Tuesday and not worry about the 4.30am alarm. Then the second part of my day follows the format of the other days.
Monday and Thursday dry land training is based around: push-ups, sit-ups, planks, high jumps and own bodyweight exercises. After this we add weights to take me over and above my bodyweight.
All of this is about adding power to my strokes. There are no weights for the sake of it. There’s no ego massaging attempts to set lifting PB’s if they are irrelevant to my swimming disciplines – and a lot of typical weight training is. It’s not about creating a shape to wear a bikini on stage, for us it’s about wearing a swimsuit in the water and being the best swimmer we can.
I train to work with my bodyweight and then be able to go beyond that with added weights up to 25kg using such things as Powerbags which are ideal multi-use sandbag weights.
By ensuring I can lift, pull and drive considerably beyond my own weight, I am able to apply that to the water and pull myself through it as if I am lighter than I really am.
Early season also includes running
But perhaps the less said about that the better! Swimmers and running generally don’t go together very well. Whilst I can swim ‘forever’, I am often blowing a bit 5 mins into a 5km run and am really shot by the end of it. But breathing in swimming and running are totally different which explains this disparity. Ask a runner to swim quite a long way and they’ll know my running pain!
The swimming season is almost all year round – 11 months. So from September to August each year this is my life. But I still love it. I’m only just 25, have already been to two Olympics and definitely have a third Olympics in me.
I’m improving, still setting PB’s, winning medals and achieving national records, working with fantastic people and remain genuinely excited about seeing how far my potential can take me.
I’m looking forward to giving you the benefits of my experiences here at WatchFit!
Connect here with WatchFit Expert Ekaterina Avramova
Lead image by www.thatcameraman.com