A swimmer’s life isn’t just swimming

A Swimmer's life
Written by: Elizabeth Byrnes at 14 May '16 0
You are reading: A swimmer’s life isn’t just swimming

Competitive swimming is not just about turning up at the pool, jumping into your cossie and diving in.

Whether you are elite end or club level, just starting out or well established, what you do outside the water has a huge impact on what happens in the water. Both physical and psychologically.

Jon Rudd knows all about each component and their individual significance in adding up to a whole, much like the cogs in a wheel.

One of the world’s top coaches, he was presented with Ruta Meilutyte, just 12-years-old and homesick for Lithuania, and within three years Rudd had moulded what was initially an unwilling student into an Olympic champion.

He also took on Ben Proud, a 16-year-old who arrived in Plymouth from Malaysia, all raw talent not long out of training in board shorts.

The workload came as a shuddering shock to Proud but in 2014 he became the Commonwealth 50m freestyle and butterfly champion.

While the two athletes already had the raw material, talent and single-mindedness, it was up to Rudd to fine tune the pair who had a combined age of 28 when they came to him.

Rudd says: “It’s the physical and mental state of the athlete.”

“A swimmer’s life isn’t just swimming and you have to balance family, school, social life, boyfriends and girlfriends. All those things that can change the psychological state of your athlete as they walk through the door.”

Rudd also shares his thoughts on other elements that make up a swimmer.

“I would say there are lifestyle choices: it’s around nutrition as much as it is around the gym work and it is around the gym work being specific and relevant to what it is you are trying to achieve.”


“The first thing anybody should be considering is comfort eating and eating for pleasure so confectionery, processed sugar foods and processed fatty foods. There is no need for them to be in your diet other than they taste nice and you enjoy them. And an athlete of any description whether high end or county standard needs to consider what it is they are putting in their mouths and what the reason is.

“So, what is there in your daily eating plan that is there just because you like it and it tastes nice?

“The second thing people need to consider really carefully is the amount of carbohydrate in their diets because it is carbohydrates that if they are not utilised as an energy source the body turns them into fat and stores them.

“And sometimes with the amount of carbohydrates that I see children eat on a day to day basis there is no way they can do the amount of training in a day that would be necessary to utilise all that carbohydrate. So things like bread in particular but pasta, rice and potatoes – those kind of core carbohydrates that fill us up and make us feel satisfied after a meal because our tummies are full. Those are the things we need to treat cautiously.

“If swimmers are still hungry in reducing the amount of carbohydrate then they replace that with additional protein or additional fruit and vegetables or additional salad. So instead of one chicken breast and a big pile of potatoes the ideal thing would be to reduce the pile of potatoes and eat two chicken breasts.

“Carbohydrates are relatively cheap to put in front of people and proteins tend to be more expensive so there is a cost implication with that kind of diet.

“But the key message would be consider carefully comfort eating and the amount of carbohydrates you are eating and look to increase your protein content. And make sure you are eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and good salad.

“Great nutrition is breadth and balance.”


“Good swimming gym doesn’t necessarily make you look bigger. You don’t want to or need to look like a bodybuilder as a swimmer, if anything it’s a disadvantage because you lose your range of mobility.

“In 21st century swimming the strength and conditioning programme is very close to being as important as the work in the pool.

“And I don’t believe you can develop strength and power in the water – not very much or not very well anyway – that needs to be done in the gym and that is how you apply that in the water through great technique.

“You have to have both because people don’t get faster just by getting stronger. People don’t get faster by getting better technique: it’s a combination of the two.

“Ruta is in the water 20 hours a week over nine sessions and the gym up to six or seven times a week, each maybe for an hour and half.

“She does lifting, more or less important depending on the point in the cycle, core stability work so developing abdominal muscles and strength in the lower back, conditioning work, where we use kettle bells and so on.

“Quite a lot of stability work protecting the joints from the work they are going to have go through on a weekly basis. Some good old-fashioned cardiovascular work, hill running, treadmill, static bike.

“It is blending those things together on a week-by-week basis.”


Be inspired by our collection!


Written by:

Elizabeth Byrnes

Liz swam with a local club in Sheffield, England, as a child before retiring at the grand old age of 12. Her lifelong love of the water, combined with a passion for travel, has seen Liz plunge into pools across the world. Liz spent 12 years with the Press Association reporting on swimming and athletics at Olympic and World level but is now fulfilling a dream as a freelance writer. When not in or around the water, she can be found hiking, running and cycling.