View Full Version : Workout(s) for a beginner?

January 27th, 2004, 10:26 PM
Hey all,
I'm just getting back into swimming, after swimming competitively for about 10 years in grade school and High School. Swimming was my life in those days, but I haven't been in a pool for about 8 years.
I've been reading some of the posts on this forum from people who have gotten back into swimming, and have gotten loads of good advice. However, one thing I haven't stumbled on is a good workout for someone like me.
I'm 26, and although not overweight, I'm VERY out of shape. I can't do much more than a 50 before I'm dead. I have no endurance whatsoever. This is both due to lack of cardio fitness, and lack of "muscle strength". Can anyone recommend some (specific) workout ideas (drills, sets, etc) that can help me in both these areas? Primarily I need to build my cardio, as I think it is a big reason why my muscles tire so quickly.
I am anxious to build up to doing the 3500 - 5000 yard sets that I used to do in high school, but I know the dangers of overtraining and don't want to go down that road.

February 1st, 2004, 10:23 AM
I second that request. I started swimming approx 3 months ago for fitness. I had always run in the past, but it is clear that my joints/body/etc were not meant to run that much; I am still trying to 'get back into shape', and I seem to have hit a wall.

I started with a no stress type of workout -- I swam as much as I could for 15-20 minutes each time (3 times weekly on avg), and gradually increased that to 30 minutes each time. Right now I am starting out with a 500 yard swim (all freestyle), which I can do in about 12:30 without flip turns, as I have never learned them. Then I rest for about 2-3 minutes, and do 200-300 yd breast, then end again with a 50-100 freestyle as a slow cool down. By this time I am pretty dang tired. Total in 30 minutes runs between 700-900 yds. I can't yet break 1000 within 30 minutes.

For someone (and I think there are a alot of us) who has not had a swim coach etc, and has only a few strokes down: what do you guys recommend?

And as if that is not needy enough, please explain some of the terms you use for those of us that don't know them (to me a "drill" can either be used for teeth or around the house)


February 1st, 2004, 11:36 AM
I was at the same point as you a year ago. I swam for about a year during college (not on a team - just on my own). During that time I didn't push myself too hard so only got up to maybe 1000 yards at a swim.

Then when I was about 25 I swam for about a year and a half. Like during college, it was all freestyle, non-stop swimming. I got to the point where I could do about 2000 yards. But I still didn't have any speed and didn't feel like I was getting the great effects of swimming that I had heard so much about.

I also tried running a couple of different times, but could only go a month or so before the shin splints and knee pain made me quit.

Finally, last year I took to swimming for real at the age of 33. I am now up to 60 minutes four or five times a week, between 2700 and 3000 yards - and I could go longer but put the limit at an hour just based on time constraints. Here is some advice from a non-swim coach about what worked for me.

You have to get a base of stamina - maybe get to the point where you can do 500 yards/meters continuous. Then, start doing drills and intervals. The interval swimming is good in so many ways and can really increase your abilities. Intervals are key.

What I mean by intervals is this: Instead of doing 500 yards freestyle, do 5x100 - 100 yards, then a rest, etc. The amount of rest will depend on what kind of shape you are in, but should decrese quickly at first.

Drills are also important. They help you get better balance in the water. The better your balance, the faster you can go - and the more yards you can do!:) The balance drill that really helped me is to kick on your side, the lower arm out in front of you, upper arm at your side, kicking only. At first, I put my head above the water continuously, then as I got better, I would turn my head under water and turn to breathe every six kicks or so.

Another good drill is to kick on your side like above, then pull a swim stroke with the lower hand and switch sides. Kick six times again then switch sides, etc.

These are just two drills that I do - there are a bunch. But work on getting the freestyle down first. Then you can work more on other strokes. Definately get the other strokes in too. I am doing them all now (although the butterfly is not so good), and the variety keeps it interesting. That is really important so that you will stay with it.

I recommend Phillip Whitten's book "The Complete Book of Swimming". It gives good basics on the strokes and also has a lot of "pep talk" in it. I refer to it a lot.

Also remember that your body needs rest. At first, I wouldn't go more than three times a week and never two days in a row. Your body needs to rest.

Either way, stick with it. It will be one of the best things you ever do for yourself.

Good luck!

February 2nd, 2004, 08:30 PM
Thanks for the above reply.

I have done some thinking (and swimming) about this.

First off, as I was swimming today there was a guy in the lane next to me I have seen there before and exchanged "Hi howaya" with before. He has the similar issue as the first poster -- can't do more than 50 without having to stop. I was finishing an early, quick 200 sprint when I realized why he was getting tired --> he was hauling butt! I was at a flat out sprint, and while I cannot consider myself fast, I was early and fresh, and was at the same pace (roughly). Is there a chance you are not pacing yourself well? I used to be a runner, and I had re-pace myself each time I would take a running hiatus (like each time I screwed up my knee) even though it hurt my pride to go slower.

Next, I tried the intervals today for the first time ever. It turns out the pool I am in is meters and not yards, so I did 200 M warmup, then did 4 100 freestyle intervals, then a 300 (got tired) cooldown butterfly. I didn't even realize how much I had done until I looked at the clock -- 45 minutes total, almost 1,000 M. I was surprised, as it felt like a normal, slightly easier workout. We'll see how it builds by endurance, so far I am pleased!

Thanks for the help. I will get as much reading material as I can devour for the future.

February 2nd, 2004, 09:56 PM
What you will find is that you will take less rest between intervals as you gain endurance and ability. When I started, I did 100 yard intervals on 2:15 (That means start at "0", swim 100 and if it took 2:00 to do it, I got 15 seconds rest.) At the time, finishing 100 in 2:00 was about my best. Now, I do 100 intervals on 1:50 regularly and sometimes on 1:40 or 1:45 if I am trying to push myself (swimming in 1:35 or 1:40). If you start to keep track of the intervals you have a basis to work from. If you find a particular interval left you with energy when you finished your swim, cut it back by 5 seconds the next time in the pool. 5 seconds may not seem like much, but you will find that over several intervals it can make a difference.

The other way to do it is to use a rest interval - say 15 seconds. Swim 100 yards, rest for 15 seconds then go again. I don't like this one as much because I don't seem to work as hard. But that's just me - a lot of swimmers do it this way. You have to see what works the best for you.

Good luck.

February 3rd, 2004, 09:37 AM
I recommend the book - Fitness Swimming by Emmett Hines. His book will take you through a progression of workouts and drills - from the absolute beginner through highly advanced.

Emmett's book will give you a structure and system for your workouts and allow you to gage your progress, which is very important if you want to maintain your motivation over a long period of time.

Good luck,


February 4th, 2004, 02:08 PM
I suggest taking a look at the workouts on this website and modifying them. I've been using Mo Chambers daily sets for about two years, shortening them to around 2000 yards. I do the same warm-up every day (200 yards, 3 - 5 minutes of in water stretching, then another 100 yards) before the drill portion of the set and then the main portion of the set. Because I am focusing so much on improving technique, I usually do the entire drill portion of the set and shorten the main portion of the set. I always do the cooldown. She has a wonderful glossary of terms and you won't get bored because your training sets change every day. I print them out and put them in a plastic sheet protector that sits on the side of the pool with my water bottle.

I'll confess one thing - I can't comfortably or properly do more than a 75 fly, so I'll further modify that part of a workout if there's too much butterfly for me. There is a WEALTH of information on this site and I'm thankful for it.


February 4th, 2004, 08:54 PM
Thanks for all the helpful suggestions. I have already in less than 1 week seen some improvement with doing intervals (although I am doing 2:45 for 100 M intervals for now....gives me a bit of a rest for a few seconds. It's also kinda neat the way it makes you swim faster as you get more tired, so you can GET a rest)

Where on the website do I find these workouts? I hate to admit when I am lost, but I guess I am!

February 4th, 2004, 08:56 PM
Nevermind, just found them :)

February 5th, 2004, 10:00 AM
Thanks to everyone for your thoughts and suggestions! I've been to the pool 3 times, and I've already noticed a big improvement. I was surprised to find that my cardio fitness wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. My main issue at this stage is muscle strength. My muscles tire fairly quickly. But like I said, I've already made big imporovement in just 3 trips to the pool (tonight will be #4).

I'm still at a point where I have to use long intervals and take plenty of rest, but they are coming down a little bit each day. Last time, I was even able to do a short set of 4x25 Fly sprints during my workout ... Can't wait till I can get back to swimming the 100 Fly, that was MY event in high school!

Thanks again to everyone for your suggestions and encouragement ... keep em coming!