In Nutrition

If you’re a swimmer, or wanting to be (it’s never too late to learn, take lessons, and enjoy this form of joint-friendly exercise) the following is especially for you. So many of my female clients get in the pool and can swim but miss the opportunity to add swimming to their routine. It’s a secret of triathletes that cross training with three different activities keeps you doing all of them for longer.

Certainly, the shoulders can be an obstacle if you already have an issue. Some strokes may work while others don’t for you. If you use swimming once or twice a week together with walking or running (or elliptical) and with biking, you have a very well-rounded program that will change the look and feel of your body very quickly. 


Test, Don’t Guess

The Best Way to Get the Best Fitness Workout From a Swim is to Test Yourself before you begin.

1. Warm up with some light swimming of whatever stroke you’re most comfortable. You can do a front crawl, elementary backstroke, breaststroke, or side stroke. You can use pool buoys or a kick board for a length if you’re already comfortable with them.

A 200 (or 4 laps down and back in a 25-meter pool; some pools are 25-yards and you can call that close enough) is sufficient.

2. Swim each of the following distances as fast as you can and record your time. Rest on the wall between each test. Repeat each of the distances and record your average of the three.

trial 1 trial 2 trial 3 average time





3. Cool down. After your testing is done do a 200 of any combination of strokes to cool down and consider that your interval training workout for today.

The times will serve as a benchmark for you so you can retest and see if you’re becoming more efficient in several weeks. The times also will be something you can use for designing swim workouts. For instance, if you’re average time for a 50 is 50 seconds (don’t judge yourself by that if you’re slower – this is just for example sake) during a workout you might be assigned to do 5 50s on 60. That means if you do hold your speed you’ll have 10 seconds of rest before you go again. If you begin to slow down you won’t get any rest. Having that target will help you work a bit harder and achieve the interval goal of working harder on that particular “set.” See how these intervals are inserted mid workout below.

Tools and Drills

You don’t have to use tools at all. They do break up your swim however. They can help improve the efficiency of your stroke so that swimming is that much more pleasurable. Among those to choose from: kick boards, buoys, and paddles. Unconventional toys like rocks or shells and bike tires are used by advanced athletes. If you have toys and you’re comfortable with them, insert them or substitute for some or all of the drill suggestions below. If you’re just beginning to swim start with a couple staples.

  • Get comfortable with a kick board. When you have a stronger kick, your position in the water will improve. If your feet come up you swim  easier than if they sink. You’ll find a few laps with a kickboard can be a good core workout.
  • Get acquainted with a buoy. Used between the legs this tool helps create “pulling” sets where you’re not using your legs but arms alone. It isn’t as hard as it might sound, however. A buoy can improve your position in the water and you may find you love the ease of swimming with it. Your goal is to try and achieve that position without the buoy.

The drill side of the equation is about different challenges that require some focus and concentration. Drills are usually done early, right after the warm up, while you’re mentally and physically still fresh. With a drill you’re making swim more challenging by changing some element of your stroke in order to improve your stroke efficiency or position in the water. It’s common for a beginner to constantly be in motion with their arms (when I started I looked like a human washing machine in the water). A drill called a catch-up drill, or playing golf, or a superman swim can encourage you to glide more through the water. As you watch even some of the fastest swimmers in the world you see them glide through the water as opposed to churning it up.

Drill 1: Catch-up drill. While swimming front crawl you’re going to make your arms take turns. You leave one arm out front until the other one comes back and touches it (or almost does). It takes a lot of focus and concentration and challenges your position in the water and your core. You continue to breathe normally (a subject all it’s own I’m not getting into here!

Drill 2: One-Arm Superman drill. As you begin a front crawl place one arm at your side. You’ll use the other arm only. You can swim a 25  and return using both arms (my personal favorite) or do a complete 50 and then do the other arm. If you feel you have a weaker arm (if your eyes were closed would you swim toward one side or in circles?) favor that weak arm with this drill and do twice as many lengths or laps on that side.

Drill 3: Golf. Golf is fun to play in the pool. You’re only playing yourself. You need a pool clock ideally so you can see quickly what your time is. As in golf the idea is to get a low score. In this drill you count either your right (or your left) strokes as you swim 25s. You add together the seconds it takes you to swim with the number of strokes and that is your “score.” As you swim several in a row your objective is to improve efficiency and find a dance between increasing your speed and decreasing your strokes to reduce your score.

In a infographic I created I show how to format a swim workout. I gave two sample workouts. Knowing that you may have more or less experience with swimming and there is no “average” reader, adjust the distance according to your level of experience. If you’re just starting reduce a warm up set for a 500 to a 250 for instance. If you’re a swimmer and fit from other things possibly just returning to the pool, you can increase a 500 distance to a 750 or 100 instead. No matter what you do want a warm up, a drill, followed by the main set and ending with a cool down.

Workout 1: Long Swim

Swim 100

Kick 50

Pull 100

Kick 50

Swim 500

Kick 50

Cool down 100

Workout 2: Swim Intervals

Swim 100

Drill 100 Catch Up Drill

2 x 50 (fast and on your average 50+10 seconds)

6 x 25 (fast and on your average 25+10 seconds)

1 x 50 (fast: shoot for time no more than your prior 50s)

Cool down: Pull 100

Workout 3: Form Focus

Swim 200

Drill: One-arm Superman drill 300 (50 on R/50 on L x 3)

Drill: Golf. 100 keep track of your best score.

Main: Swim 200 Kick 50 Swim 200 Kick 50

Cool down: Pull 100 Swim 100

These are just some simple sample swim workouts. The options are infinite. Like anyy exercise, the better you plan before you hit the water, the more results you’ll get from your exercise. Let me know how you’re doing and if you have other questions about equipment or gear for swimming. Go make a splash!


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