March 2, 2018
Five Things You Should Do Before Going to Sleep
A slight change to your nighttime routine can help you sleep better and swim faster
Terry Heggy | February 19, 2018
Success comes from cultivating productive habits. Consistently healthy nutrition and regular exercise receive a lot of attention (as they should), but you also benefit from incorporating smaller routines into your process of continual improvement. Positive nightly rituals can be strong contributors to your training program, and a great way to set yourself up with momentum for the next day.
A good night’s sleep is essential for exercise recovery, mental sharpness, and a strong immune system. Stick to a regular 8-hour sleep schedule, but don’t neglect the value of the last few minutes before you jump in bed. Here are some quick additions to your nighttime routine that pay huge dividends over time.
1. Contemplate Your Core
Start your nighttime rituals with some moderate core engagement. The purpose is to finish your day with a message to your body about the importance of the support muscles. It is not to raise your heart rate too much, nor to exhaust yourself. But tightening your core briefly before you retire helps you relax and gets you in the habit of thinking about how powerful your stroke becomes when your body’s center is strong.
- Plank—Hold yourself in a prone position, touching the ground only with your forearms and toes. You can vary the target muscles by shifting to your side, or doing it with straight arms, rather than folding the forearms.
- Bean Squisher—Lie flat on your back and visualize having soft beans on the ground under your torso. Engage your muscles to imagine that you’re smashing every one of those imaginary beans, until every square inch of your back seems to be touching the ground. This develops great awareness of the entire core musculature.
2. Stretch Your Shoulders
Mild stretching is especially important if you spend much time sitting at a desk or driving a vehicle. This stretching is more about relaxing than about forcing your muscles and tendons to elongate.
- Door Stretch—Put one hand on each side of a doorway and lean forward, allowing your chest and back to reverse some of the day’s tendency to pull the shoulders forward.
- Towel Twirl—With one hand on each end of a towel, raise your arms overhead and then down behind your body. The key is gentle motion, making sure nothing hurts as you visualize how shoulder flexibility contributes to streamlining and stroke length.
3. Lose the Lockups
Workday tension causes muscles to tense up around joints, restricting your ability to swim fast. Take a moment to work on knots, spinal flexion, and range of motion.
- Hang in There—If you have an inversion table, spend a few minutes upside down. If you have a bar or ledge you can briefly hang from, this will also relieve pressure on your spinal discs.
- Relax and Roll—Use a foam roller or pressure point device to release any hot spots or knots.
4. Pillow Pressure
Lie on your back with a pillow or heavy blanket lying across the top of your feet. Let the gentle downward pressure stretch your ankle tendons as you relax, visualizing your feet flexing for a powerful kick.
5. Direct Your Dreams
If you relax and release tension as you perform these small rituals each night, your body will reward you by being prepared to slip into slumber shortly after you lie down. End your day with positive visualization, knowing that you have locked in habits that will improve your swimming. As you drift off, think about how good it feels to swim fast, achieve best times, and be proud of your accomplishments. Sleep well, and have a great tomorrow!
About the Author— Terry Heggy
Terry "Speed" Heggy has been swimming for more than 50 years. He won his age group in the 10K Open Water Championship in 2006, competed in the National Championship Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2014, and qualified again for USAT Nationals in 2015. He's the head coach of Team Sopris Masters in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and is a USMS-certified Level 3 Masters coach and an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.