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Master your swim

Updated on September 20, 2015

Not many would disagree that a pool is a great place to give the muscles some exercise. With impact to the joints being minimal, swimmers can stretch just about every part of the body. But merely stretching out is what most people at the pool have a tendency to do, and nothing more. Many seem to not want to push the envelope, or even know how to turn their time in the pool into a serious calorie-burning, blood-pumping workout.

I usually try to endeavor a swim training twice a week at my local community pool. About once or twice a month while I am taking a quick breather at the end of my lane following a set, an adjacent swimmer will compliment my gumption in the water, and/or ask how I got to be so fast. If I am in one of those moods I may be tempted to retort that it’s from swimming more and conversing less. But ninety five percent of the time I show appreciation and even dish out a couple of pointers if they seem genuinely interested. After all, after swimming back and forth across the pool for over twenty years now, it’s nice to appear proficient in the pool to others. While there’s always enough room for everyone to improve, below are some initial steps some might want to take in order to be a savvier swimmer.

Dress for Success

Before I go into specific details dealing with performance, I did want to address the issue of swimwear: having a good swimsuit is essential for good swimming. Too many times I see swimmers wearing suits that have an excess of material, or need an adjustment every few minutes, all of which greatly impede on successful swimming.

For the ladies – Ditch the Mom-bod Suit. With the media constantly throwing in our faces the ideal body shape, it’s easy to see how women may want to cover up a body that is less (or more) than the set standard. Hence, swimsuits that have built-in skirts, tutus, or additional material embedded into the waistline are worn at pools across America and are what I’ve deemed, the ‘Mom-bod Suit.’ And while this type of swim suit may expose less of our bodies, it makes it more difficult to glide through the water. Instead, leave the snow suit at home and put on a form-fitted swimsuit. If this makes you uncomfortable to wear in public and in front of others, tell yourself to ‘F’ them -- as in, Forget them. This is YOUR workout, not theirs.

For the gentlemen – Long swim trunks are for the beach. Otherwise, you will most likely find the additional material of swim trunks will get in the way of a steady swim. If you want to be a sleek swimmer, it’s time to toss the trunks and strap on a speedo. I’m guessing I know what you are thinking: I’m not a Speedo kind of guy. But if you want to get into solid, swim-shape, give a Speedo a try. And then? Just OWN IT-- I say this figuratively and literally of course, because sharing Speedos is gross.

The Accessories- A swim cap is also a must if you have long hair. Even with your best efforts to tie it back, a ponytail will flop around, and strands of hair will manage to swim free of the elastic tie. Having to re-secure your hair lap after lap can quickly get annoying.

  • Swimmers also need a trustworthy pair of goggles that will continually keep the water out of one’s eyes. During spring and the early part of summer most sporting goods stores will have a rack of goggles that vary in style and price. If you are starting out you may want to consider buying a couple of different styles to see which type you are more comfortable in.

 A fitted swim suit may not enhance your success in the office, but it will in the pool.
A fitted swim suit may not enhance your success in the office, but it will in the pool. | Source

Toys for the Tub

The nice thing about swimming is that you can get in a great workout without having to utilize extra devices. However, in your training, there are a few different swimming utilities that can up your swim game:

  • Flippers– These help keep the body is a stream-lined position which is ideal when swimming. Also, flippers help to strengthen leg muscles and increase ankle flexibility. Wearing flippers will make you feel quite fast as you slice through the water -- until it’s time to swim with them off.

  • Kickboard – By grabbing a hold of one of these you will be forced to kick your legs in order to move through the water. This is essentially a good way to concentrate on and strengthen the lower half of the body.

  • Pull buoy- This piece of foam that is placed between the thighs is a great way to concentrate on your upper body since the lower legs won’t be kicking. Also, if you have lower back or hip issues, this is a great way to elevate the mid-section and keep it fairly stabilized during a workout.

  • Paddles – Wearing these on your hands is a great way to work on stroke technique and build strength. If you have never used these before and then decide to include them for all or part of a workout, your arms will definitely let you know they were exercised the following day.

A pull buoy can help your workout stay afloat

Tips for Performance

Even if you choose not to integrate a swimming training device into your workout, there are things you can do right at the pool to make yourself a faster, more proficient swimmer. Below are some techniques that can be implemented directly into your swim workout:

  • Give the breaks a rest- Unless you are learning how to swim, or have a physical condition, just because you have reached the end of the lane while swimming doesn’t mean you have to stop and rest. Keep going. Just like a runner doesn’t typically stop at the end of each block, don’t stop for a breather upon reaching that pool wall. Unfortunately those that do rest seem to hang on the wall for such a long time that you’d think they were taking a coffee break and catching up on e-mail. If you want to get in a solid swim workout, don’t rest to the point where the heart-rate becomes too relaxed.

  • Interval training – When running, if you train at a certain pace, then you will most likely run at the same pace in a race. Swimming is the same way. To speed things up, I highly recommend throwing some interval sprints into your workout. For example, if you are swimming a 500 yard workout (typically 20 laps) you may want to consider sprinting every 5th lap to turn things up a notch.

  • Use the clock – Most pools have a large clock on the wall that doesn’t necessarily tell you the hour of the day. Rather, these clocks are used to keep time splits, so make use of them and time yourself. If you are a novice swimmer make sure you are starting a new lap every time that hand reaches the top of the clock to prevent yourself from resting too much. If you are more advanced, try and get in two laps (50 yards) under a minute.

  • Don’t sacrifice form for speed- While it’s good to push yourself faster though the water, be cognizant of your form. Many times when trying to sprint, swimmers shorten their stroke, thus making it less effective. Other swimmers have a habit of kicking their legs haphazardly about when applying additional speed. You want to look like you are gliding through the water, not being Tasered by the police. Losing that stream-lined form is counter-productive in that in slows you down.


Most people think that if you want to get in a good workout, you need to sweat. You WILL sweat in the pool if you work hard enough; it’s just not as noticeable since it mixes in with the water -- and hopefully, chlorine. And while you may not notice yourself sweating, you should be able to tell if your heart is pounding, you’re breathing hard, and if you are red in the face. If you have any or all of those effects, then you know that you are definitely making the most of your swim workout.

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