Swimmers know that this time of year, during the post-Olympic glow, is when the local lap lanes become a whole lot more crowded.
With a brand new swimsuit, goggles in hand, and stomach bursting with pride and motivation after watching the top swimmers in the world race over the course of a week, an intrepid wave of new and returning swimmers head to their local lap swims to take on the sport of swimming.
For some, watching the Olympics has gotten them excited to get back into the water, while for others, it’s their first foray into organized swimming.
You have a few different options for what to do:
- Hit up the local lap swim. Almost every neighborhood pool has scheduled lap swims scattered over the course of the day. Late afternoon is typically one of the harder times to get pool time, as club teams, lessons, and other aquatic programs like synchro take advantage of the after-school hours to schedule programming. Swimming at your own pace is fun and safe in terms of the challenge. You can progress at your own pace, although the big limitation is that with no one to instruct you, there are some technical improvements to be missed out on.
- Join a local club team. USA Swimming has nearly 3,000 club teams spread across the United States, so if you are a kid and you are looking to get competitive with the sport, you can start here by searching for a team in your area.
- Sign up with a Masters team. There are heaps of benefits of swimming masters — they take everyone from newbies to former Olympians, meaning that whether you are dipping in for the first time or getting back into your age group hero days, there is a lane for you. You can learn more about whether there is a club near you here.
Building a Swim Workout
Assuming that you want to get a few sessions in on your own or you want to supplement the swimming workouts you are already getting, here is how to build your own swim workout.
There are 4 parts to your typical swimming workout.
- The warm-up. If you have worked out in any capacity at any point in your life, you know the purpose behind this. Start with a low intensity to loosen up the arms and legs. How much you want to do varies with the workout at hand, but devote 20% of your total workout time. Throw in a bunch of kick work — it will really help increase your core temperature.
- Drill/Pre-set. Here is where we set the stage for the main set that is to come. Feeling loosey goosey, we escalate the intensity and attention to technique. Alternating efforts of moderate-intensity swimming with drill work is one of my favorite ways to go about this. For the drill work, pick those that reflect what you need to improve on the most in your stroke.
- The Main-set. The bread and butter! This is where the bulk of the hard work is done. What you end up doing here is unique to you and your goals in the water. For straight aerobic work, you could swim a series of 100’s with about 10 seconds rest in between, or unleash some high-end speed with a set of sprint 25’s and 50’s with a little bit more rest.
- The warm-down. Now that you have worked your butt off, it is time to kickstart the recovery process with a structured cool down. Depending on the intensity of your workout, the warm-down should last about 10-15% of your total workout (so 5-10 minutes for an hour workout). Remember to keep your technique intact and swim out the lactate and neuromuscular fatigue so that you can come back and take another healthy swing at tomorrow’s workout.
Breaking Down the Lingo of Competitive Swimming
If you’ve ever looked at the whiteboard at a swim practice, you might be forgiven for thinking you were staring at a Fourier equation. Heavy on abbreviations, short hand, and code that is recognizable only to that particular group of swimmers, it can be a lot to take in.
Here is a sample set and the explanation of how they are laid out:
8×50 freestyle swimming @1:00
- 8 = number of repetitions
- 50 = distance covered per rep
- @1:00 = the interval per rep
Here are some of the common terms you will see scrawled up on the whiteboard in addition to the sets:
Bilateral breathing: This means that swimmers breathe to both sides during freestyle. To breathe bilaterally, you would take a breath after every 3 strokes, for instance.
EZ: Shorthand for “easy.”
Negative split: Come back faster on the second half of the rep. If you swim :31 seconds for the first 50 of a 100, the goal would be to swim :30 seconds or faster on the second 50.
Even Pace/Split: The goal here is to swim the first half and the second half of the repetition at the same speed.
Stroke: A majority of swim sets are performed in freestyle (or front crawl). When “stroke” is listed in the set, this means to do any of the other three strokes (butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke).
Distance Per Stroke (DPS): The goal here is to maximize length with each stroke without over-gliding.
Kick (sometimes just “K”): This is when you use a kickboard (or in a streamline on your back for backstrokers) and perform kick with a board.
Pull (or “P”): Know that pull buoy that coach had you grab from the equipment bin? Throw it between your legs (between your thighs — not your ankles) and let your arms and shoulders do all the work.
Swimming is a highly technical sport. The importance of technique is hard to overstate. When we watch swimmers like Ledecky and Phelps, it’s not just their conditioning that allows them to overtake the rest of the world — it’s their ability to swim faster with less exertion than the competition.
Keep this in mind as you are improving and getting a better feel for the water. If you are serious about wanting to get faster in the pool, you need to pay equal attention to swimming better and faster.