Updated: Aug 20, 2021
For all of you triathletes out there who are racing this summer, and open water swimming opportunities haven't presented themselves yet..... practice some "higher anxiety" swim starts in the pool, (think "Push ups on the pool deck, followed immediately by a 400yd swim at race pace.....or a quick treadmill run immediately prior to getting in the pool....). The goal here is to purposely activate your Sympathetic Nervous System (this is our "Fight or Flight" nervous system, and it's the part of our CNS--Central Nervous System--that tends to go into hyperdrive on race morning.), and then LEARN HOW TO WORK THROUGH IT.
Our Sympathetic nervous system is hugely responsible for the adrenaline that fuels the fear and anxiety many newer or inexperienced triathletes feel on race morning, especially those who have not had much (or any?!) open water swimming experience. Couple the constricted feeling of a wetsuit into the mix, and that can heighten the effect of the sympathetic nervous system even more!
However, we NEED to remember this part of our nervous system is actually our ally on race day! This is the part of us that helps us get our internal engines revving, and all of our senses and awareness at full mast....if we can learn to TRAIN WITH this heightened sense of awareness and recreate the higher elevated HR and adrenaline, it will make it much easier to work with on race day, and we will be able to USE IT TO OUR ADVANTAGE. If you can work these "higher anxiety" swim starts into your weekly swim routine, it won't be a derailing factor on race morning!
Deep belly breathing is the balancing component here----deep belly breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing) invokes our PARASYMPATHETIC Nervous System, and THIS is the opposing part of the nervous system....it counterbalances the Sympathetic Nervous System, and is responsible for "Resting and Digesting". Within the construct of moments or situations of high anxiety, remember your breath. It is our secret weapon to ALL THINGS STRESSFUL, and it can NEVER be taken away from us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in! A deep belly breath is slow, it's controlled, it's intentional, it's measured, and it literally is the act of taking in a breath SO deep, that our belly expands in the process of breathing in.
Work on both of these aspects of your Nervous System while you prepare for, practice, and/or visualize, the Swim Start to an upcoming Triathlon! They are the Yin and Yang to each other....purposely induce your Sympathetic Nervous System via creating some anxiety, and then intentionally use your deep belly breath to balance it out, and take control of the moment! -- Coach Sarah