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World-Class Swimmer Carson Foster on Prepping for Collegiate Championships with WHOOP


World-Class Swimmer Carson Foster on Prepping for Collegiate Championships with WHOOP

We sat down with one of the nation’s best swimmers to discuss how he’s been using WHOOP to optimize his training and get his body primed to perform at the 2022 NCAA championships.

The youngest of 3 swimming siblings, Carson Foster found great success in the pool at a very early age. As a 10-year-old in 2012, he became the youngest person ever to swim the 50-meter butterfly in under 30 seconds. He also broke Michael Phelps’ National Age Group record in 100 fly. A year ago as a college freshman, Carson was part of a gold-medal-winning relay team in the 4 x 200 freestyle at the NCAA championships. Last June, he just barely missed qualifying for the United States Olympic team.  

The Trials and Getting on WHOOP

“At Olympic trials I missed the team in three events by about a total of two seconds,” Carson told us. “That was a minor setback and kind of what led me to get into WHOOP. I was like, ‘Where can I make my next step in terms of enhancing my swimming?’ The biggest thing I saw was that I could be better with my recovery and my sleep. Getting that information at hand was kind of the natural evolution of me taking my swimming as if it was my job.”  

Understanding Heart Rate Variability

“Once I started using WHOOP, over the last 8 months it's become a hobby of mine to research ways to increase HRV, really learn what heart rate variability is,” Carson explained. His older brother Jake also swims with him at the University of Texas. “I created a team on WHOOP so we can all see each other's data. I know HRV is individualized and it’s best for you to compare it to yourself, but it is interesting how mine is significantly higher than Jake's,” he said with a laugh. “That's why I really like WHOOP recovery. If you had something that was solely tracking your resting heart rate or HRV it'd be cool, but it wouldn't be really helpful in terms of seeing where you are comparatively.”

carson foster MPA HRV trend
From Carson's most recent WHOOP MONTHLY PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT, his HRV has been trending in the right direction since last October.

Locking in Sleep

“I've noticed that when I go to sleep past 10:30 my recoveries are significantly worse,” Carson noted. “There's something about my circadian rhythm where I can’t sleep in past 7 am. And so knowing that, I've had to make changes. I have a setting on my phone now where everything, except for what I’d need case of an emergency, is shut off at 8:30. I can't go on any social media past 8:30 or get any calls from people outside my family, so nothing is keeping me awake. I'm always in bed now by about 8:45.” Data from WHOOP has helped Carson improve his sleep: “I see sometimes in the morning that I’ll have a lot of disturbances, so I began researching what those could be. I started wearing earplugs at night to see what would happen. It made them decrease significantly and my sleep efficiency went up. That's what I think is so fun about having the data, finding these little things that can make it better. At this point I'm also not even doing it for my swimming, I'm just doing it because I want my stats to be better.”

carson foster whoop recovery trend
In the past 6 months Carson has had just 1 red recovery, UNDERSTANDABLY ON NEW YEAR'S DAY.

Stress and Recovery

“The biggest thing that affects my HRV and recovery scores is how stressed I am the day or night before,” Carson pointed out. “When I noticed that trend I started using the WHOOP journal more to see what kinds of things make my score go up and down–thinking about the things that make me stress and trying to eliminate those.” “When I'm stressed out about a school project or something it makes my recovery go down,” he added. “So, I rescheduled my day to try to help with that. Now I wake up in the morning, crank out all my schoolwork, and have everything done by the time I go to practice so I don’t have any stressors after that. I can just come home and relax, eat dinner, watch an episode or two of Netflix, call my parents, and go to bed.” LEARN MORE: Impact of Stress on HRV, Resting Heart Rate & Recovery  

Strain and Tapering

“When I'm on taper I try to make sure no matter what I'm keeping my strain under a certain amount,” Carson told us. “Based on my recovery WHOOP will say something like ‘Stay within 9.5-14.6 for optimal training. I don't really listen to that normally when I'm in the training cycle, but when I'm on taper I keep my strain below that. If it doesn't want me to go above 13 strain, then I'm going to make my workout pretty easy. But if I have a 95% recovery and it's saying not to go above 17, I'm OK to do some aerobic work and kind of get after it a bit. WHOOP has definitely helped me make sure I'm not overreaching.”

carson foster mpa training behavior
Carson's MPA shows "restorative" training behavior while tapering for the World Championships last December, where he won gold in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay.  

Prepping for NCAA Championships

“My biggest thing for the next couple of weeks is really making sure I can average good sleep,” he said. “Last year when I was on spring break I thought ‘I can sleep in, I can go to bed late and spring break is the week before the meet so I’ll be fine.’ But then I couldn't actually sleep in past 7:30 so I was probably getting about six-and-a-half hours of sleep per night the week before NCAAs.”

Carson foster whoop strain taper
Carson's day strain indicates he began dialing back his training load about a month prior to the national championships.

“Last year I was also thinking about swimming 24-7 and stressing myself out by watching YouTube videos from past meets, which I thought was getting me excited. But in reality, it was just making me nervous for no reason. I've been to a million swim meets. I know what it's going to be like so there's no point in worrying about it before. Ultimately I'm only in control of myself, so as long as I can focus on myself there's no need to worry about anyone else.”