Choosing Your Swim Clinic

The weather is starting to chill in some part of the country and the world.  Here on the south coast of Massachusetts, it is starting to chill.  We are being teased with warmer sunny days, and chilly evenings…. even COLD!

As the temperature starts to drop, we may not desire to get wet.  But now is the time to improve your swimming techniques and develop endurance foundations for the coming season.  Not all of us, have the luxury of swimming with a Master’s team, or a coach.  Not all of us are able to receive coaching and/or direction during each swim.  Instead, we swim alone and hope for the best.

Swim instruction is one of the single most influential investments that can change your perspective on racing and training for a triathlon.  The swim should be the easy leg; yet for many, it is the most difficult.  I am part-fish, so sometimes I don’t understand the challenge….. but I work with many runners who desire to learn to swim to be competitive.  In this, I have learned that tackling and improving your swim skills will change your entire race.

Get in the pool.  Regardless of the temperature outside, get in the pool.  The link below will send you to clinics that may be in your area.  If you are unable to swim with a coach regularly, these clinics are an opportunity to receive instruction.   And if you happen to be on the south coast of MA, give me a shout.  I would love to swim with you!

Want To Improve Your Swimming? Follow These Steps

It’s no secret that swimming is a technique-intensive sport. Whether your goal is to develop a healthy, injury-free fitness routine or perform faster in races, good form is a fundamental prerequisite.

Giving advice without demonstrating in person is difficult. Below is my step-by-step process I follow with someone during their first lesson with me. If someone is an out-of-area client, I suggest they have someone video them and upload the links to YouTube so I can evaluate their form.

1.    Breathing

2.    Kick

3.    Body Balance Rotation

4.    Recovery

5.    Hand Entry

6.    Catch and pull

The first step is evaluating their breathing. They must be comfortable breathing before they can focus on body balance, which is needed before they learn swim mechanics. If they work on mechanics before they are breathing efficiently, they will be frustrated. If they can breathe, we move on to step 2.

If someone is having breathing issues typically they cannot swim more then 1-1.5 lengths before they are breathless. I have them use a kickboard and practice inhaling with their face above water and exhaling underwater. The key to breathing is a forceful exhale before inhale.

If someone cannot kick (they either show no forward progression or move backwards) we discuss kicking (pushing) from the quad and hip flexor. Once we’ve address any breathing and kicking issues, I evaluate body balance and rotation.  If they are dragging their legs on the bottom, if they are not rotating from left hip to right hip, on a few stroke drills to help correct that.


A common problem with most newbie swimmers is poorbody position, which can lead to legs sinking. We discuss pressing the weight of their body on their sternum and tucking their chin. This brings their legs closer to the surface of the water and produces a “downhill” swimming sensation. I often will demonstrate total immersion balance and kick on side drills.

Kick on side drill: This kick is done without a board, and fins are encouraged. Start off lying on your right side with your right arm extended above your head and your left arm at your side. Kick about six times; then initiate a stroke with the right arm and rotate to the other side.

With this drill, you are effectively freezing your body position after each stroke – one arm in extended entry position, the other arm in extended follow-through positionwhile continuing to kick. As you take a stroke to rotate to the other side, focus on gradually accelerating from the beginning to the end of that stroke. Finish with a nice snap of the hips as you roll the body to the side.

Another common theme among newbie swimmers is not rotating on the hip or side they don’t breathe on. Most often, they areone-side-dominant breathers. They consistently rotate on one side to breathe  and never fully rotate on the non-dominant side. I discuss the benefits of bilateral breathing, breathing on both left and right hips, and the value that provides with proper body balance and rotation. Basically, when your left fingertips enter the water, rotate on your left hip, when your right fingertips enter the water, rotate on your right hip, whether you are breathing on that stroke or not.

Once breathing, body balance and rotation are fine-tuned, I focus on the mechanics of freestyle. There are three main phases of the stroke: recovery, hand entry, and underwater catch/pull. I often see swimmers recovering with straight arms and entering the water with their palm and elbow at the same time. creating a straight-armed pull with no high-elbow catch. In the end high-elbow recovery sets them up for  a nice fingertip-angled entry when they rotate which,  in turn,  sets up a high-elbow catch and pull.

Recovery Phase

High-elbow recovery meansleading with your elbow and relaxing the phase of your stroke where your arm exits the water. I frequently remind swimmers to swim with their fingertips below their wrist and below their elbow, and to drag their fingertips along the surface of the water on the recovery.

Here are two keys drills I use to create a high-elbow recovery:


Fingertip drag:

Just as the same implies, fingertip drag is dragging your fingertips across the water and thumbslide is dragging your thumbs up the side of your body. Both drills create a narrow recovery with high elbow, arm close to your body.

Entry Phase

Entry phase means an angled, deep hand entry, which can help create a high elbow catch and pull phase. I often demonstrate fist and head-out-of-the-water drills to exaggerate the entry.

Fist drill:

Head-out-of-the-water drill:

Just as the name implies, in the fist drill you close your hands into fists and swim. If you feel like you aren’t getting very far, remember to keep your elbow high during the “pull” phase of the stroke. Let your arm seek out the optimal position that grips the water and provides the most power. If you have a tendency to drop your elbow and just let your arm slip through the water rather than helping to pull you, this drill will provide the feedback you need to develop a better “feel” for proper arm positioning during your open-handed stroke.

Head-out-of-the-water drill is just as the name implies. Swim with your head out of the water, increase your arm recovery rate, and focus on anangled hand entry making surenot to reach and flatten your hand at entry.

Attention to body balance, rotation, high elbow recovery and hand entry will set you up to develop a stronger pull and power phase of the stroke. I will discuss that phase next time. If you make stroke drills an integral part of your training, you will be rewarded with fewer injuries and faster times.

Me swimming from above the water:

Me swimming, underwater view:

Swimming Lingo

Dont be intimidated to swim with a masters group or attempt a workout you read on a dry erase board at the health club or pool you swim at. With the proper preparation and knowledge of swimming lingo no one will know what a “newbie” you are.

Before you start a masters swim program it will help to be familiar with the language of the swim workout.  Fairly simple and basically made up of abbreviations, numbers and a few terms. While most of what is written on the board will be fairly consistent among all coaches, there will always be variations, and it will still take a week or two to get to know your coach’s swim set language.

Here is a list of the most common terms and abbreviations:


FR = Freestyle stroke

EZ = Easy

Fly = Fly

RI = Rest interval

BR= Breaststroke

w/ = With

BK = Backstroke

Dr = Drill

w-up = Warm-up

CH = Choice

c-d = Cool-down

PP = Pull + paddles


Here are some less common terms and abbreviations:

IM= Individual medley (all four strokes swum in the order of Fly/ BK/ BR /FR)

Lung busters entail purposely restricting the number of breaths you take while swimming. For example, “breathe 5 or 7” would mean “breathe once every 5 strokes or 7 strokes.”

SG= Swim golf, a fun drill in which you add your stroke count for a given interval (say, 50 yards/meters) to your time for the same interval to generate a composite score

Band= Band only, a strength drill where one wears a band around his or her ankles to limit the kick

DPS= Distance per stroke, a drill where the swimmer tries to get as much distance as possible out of each stroke, usually measured by counting strokes for 50m.

Lane etiquette- Get over your “fear” of being in another swimmers way. Masters swim is meant to be a group, not individua, workout.  Swimming with others in a lane is part of the deal. Take care of yourself while being aware of others seems to be the etiquette.  When swimming freestyle circle swim, keep the lane rope/marker to your right while swimming down and back. Pass or let someone pass you at the wall. Swim at your own fitness level, rest when needed, while also challenging yourself to keep up with your lane buddies.

Most important communicate your concerns with the coach and other swimmers and you will quickly realize they all have had the same concerns when they started.

Happy Holidays!

Monday Madness At Master’s Swim

I could barely finish the main set, which was 1 x 500 (FR), 2 x 250, 5 x 100 (choice), and then 4(50 BS, 25 FR, 25 choice). There was some more but I had to leave by 7:15 (we start at 6:15).

One thing I know is that I swim better if I eat something before I go. And believe it or not, I didn’t use to take the time to eat anything because it was early in the morning (5:15) and I just wasn’t hungry. I always took time for a cup of coffee but often didn’t eat anything. Mistake!

Since I don’t have time for a bowl of cereal, I often a bar of some sort. I don’t really want to eat a sports bar per se, partly because they’re rather expensive, so I sometimes settle for cheaper forms of quick energy, like Fiber One bars.

They actually taste pretty good and yes, they are made with sugar but our muscles use white sugar pretty much the same way they use maltodextrin (sugar in sports bars), especially in high intensity activity.

Homemade sports bars are actually the best way to go – more on those later. But for now, getting something in my stomach that is high in carbohydrates makes me feel much better than when I don’t eat anything.

Other pre-swim snacks I eat include yogurt, half bagel with light cream cheese, homemade muffin, or biscotti with my coffee. Something is always better than nothing. Pretty profound statement, eh?

Another way to keep your energy level up during master’s swim is to keep a water bottle filled with a sports drink at the end of your lane (but that just makes me have to pee so I forego the fluids during master’s and just make sure I eat before I swim!).

Tomorrow is my run day and because I’m only running 45 mins, I will have a glass of juice and a banana 30 mins before my run. That works well for me. Because your liver glycogen stores are pretty much depleted when you wake up in the morning, you need some carbohydrate to get you going.

Sure, you can run without eating anything but I can guarantee one thing: you’ll run faster and/or longer with some carbohydrate in your system. Juice, fruit, handful of Cheerios, whatever – just eat something with carbs in it about 30 mins before heading out the door.

More ideas coming soon!