View Full Version : Where to begin....

December 27th, 2002, 04:10 PM
Hello All,

I am a 28 year old female who has been out of competitive swimming for quite some time now. I swam competitively from age 5 to 18 (freestyle and backstroke), but have since gotten out of the sport and am quite out of shape. I would like to start swimming again, and have found a pool that I can begin doing workouts at, but I have no idea of where to begin with my workouts. I was very excited to find out that there are teams in my area, and would like to work my way up to joining one! If anyone has any ideas on where I could begin with my workouts, I would greatly appreciate your input!


December 27th, 2002, 05:28 PM

I took 8-10 years off after high school and started swimming with a Masters team at 26. Within about 18 months, I had developed tendonitis in both shoulders and elbows from overtraining. I was out of swimming for 2 years. I've since completed my rehab and returned to swim on and coach my old Master team. Here are some lessons from my midadventures and some suggestions that I give swimmers on my team who are coming back to the sport.

1) Focus on Technique Early

I would get a book on swimming technique or try to hook into a system. I'm a Total Immersion (TI) guy both as a swimmer and as a coach. I subscribe to the TI system because it helped me get through my rehab and it's making me swim much faster than what I had been previously. Some people don't like the TI-style of the swimming. I can accept their opinion. But regardless of stylistic preferences, select A system to help guide you back to swimming with efficiency. A lot of things have changed in the last 10-12 years. A book or system will help you structure your technique and educate you on the aspects of the stroke. If you swim with a Masters team, your coach might be able to suggest a path to take. You can check out http://www.totalimmersion.net for info on TI.

It's very easy when you come back to start developing bad habits because of a natural desire to return to the pace and form of your high school days. If you are swimming with a Masters team, you might feel the urge to power your way through the water to keep up with those around you. By powering through the water to make the interval, you can start doing things that can later lead to injury (e.g., swimming flat, over-pulling, dropping an elbow etc.).

2) Ignore the Clock for a Month

As I suggested above, focus on drill work early on. If you do any swimming, ignore the pace at which you are going. Swim your repeats at a slower pace and with a lower heart rate (about 60-70% of Max). Swimming at this lower heart rate will help build aerobic capacity without causing the burn. You'll also be able to focus on good technique when swimming at a slower pace. Don't worry about how fast you are going for the first month or so. Think about how well you are swimming.

3) Count your Strokes

A metric I use with my returning swimmers is "stroke count". Find out how many strokes it takes you to complete a length of the pool. During your practices, check your stroke count at the beginning of a set of repeats and periodically re-check during the set. A general rule I use is: "If the stroke count has gone up more than 1 or 2 from the beginning of the set, you are over-swimming." When swimmers cross this threshold, I suggest that they sit out a 50 or sit out a repeat. While you're taking a breather, try to figure out what was causing your stroke count to go up. When you start swimming again, focus on an aspect of technique to help you regain your form for the rest of the set. By the time your stroke count jumps 2-3 above your normal count, that repeat is probably not doing too much good for you anyway.

4) Consider some flexibility and strength work

I'm adding this one on as a suggestion. After a layoff, you might have lost some strength and flexibility. It's important to keep strong and flexible in the core and in the shoulders. A yoga or pilates class is a good addition to a regimen. Some shoulder and core strengthening exercises a couple days a way can make a huge difference.


As far as practices go, a Masters team is a good choice so long as you have an opportunity to work you way back in. It's never a bad thing to have a coach.

If you want to swim on your own, the practices posted on this site are excellent. The contributing coaches tailor the workouts for people of all levels.

Emmett Hines, a coach from Houston, put out a book called "Fitness Swimming" a few years back which is also excellent.

December 27th, 2002, 06:41 PM
I, too, stopped swimming for over 10 years after high school and truly forgot how wonderful swimming can be. I would add some suggestions to the latest post.

I would not work my way up to practicing with a team- just join. There will be slower, less experienced swimmers on the team you join so have no fear that you are not as good as other team members or as good as you used to be. In addition to motivating yourself to workout and get back into shape, you will be rewarded with many instant friends to push you along. Plus, you will rarely get the former swimmer turned lap swimmer mentality of "I just swam 1500 yards, I don't really need a better workout, I'm bored, that's enough, I think I'll go home". Your new friends will motivate you to really get a good workout.

You do not have to mention how much you swam or how fast you swam when you were younger. Start off in a slower lane and work your way up. Your teammates will think "wow- what improvement". Do not focus on speed, but rather getting back into swimming shape. Focus on technique like good turns for a while, then move on to repeats on easy times, and finally move on to more yardage and speed. Getting back into shape takes months, but it sure is fun.

You will be slower than high school and if your mother is like my mother, she will point this out. But, your new swimming buddies and your better physique will be worth your less than top speed swimming times.

You also don't have to go to all of the workouts each week - start off with a few per week and then add more. Pain and injury will follow if you do not work your way back into shape and let you body recover.

Also, warming up and down during each workout is essential. By the way, after my absence and my increased age, I find that I need at least 1000 yards (varying kick, swim, pull, stroke) to warm up. I also tend to cheat on the warm down and feel it the next day.

If I have not convinced you to join a team, then the workouts on this forum are good. (Although, re-reading what I wrote, I am sure you will join a team right away) Start off with easy 2,000 yard workouts and move on after a few weeks to more yardage. Make sure you vary what you are doing. You do not want to get stuck doing the same workout and risk getting bored and go home.

Before you know it, you will feel great, swim in meets, and have great friends. And, you will be the next person to write on this forum about the joys of returning to competitive swimming at the Masters Level.

December 27th, 2002, 09:23 PM
Ohh Rah on the total Immersion. It came recommended by a SEAL after explaining I pushed the tide on each end of the pool.

It works.

Teams create motivation. If you are last then so what. In time you will not be.

Q What do you call the person who finishes last in Med School?
A Doctor

Q What do you call the person who finishes last at West Point?
A Sir

Enjoy your time in the pool.

Rob Copeland
December 30th, 2002, 08:23 AM

Welcome back to the pool!!

As a member of a masters club in your area (Peachtree City SouthSide Seals) I wanted to assure you that you do not need to get in shape before joining a Masters club. Most clubs, including the Peachtree City club exist to help swimmers of all levels and exercise fitness.

The great thing about being involved from the onset of returning is that many of your previous bad stroke habits (if you had any) can be corrected as you get back in shape. In addition, the coached workout help to motivate us (or at least me) to get to the pool more regularly.

Shop around and talk to the area Masters clubs coaches to find one that will best fit your schedule and your goals. And feel free to email me or Lisa Watson (Georgia Masters Swimming Chair) at GAChair@usms.org . for more information.