By: Erin Sloan M.Ed
today are extolling the virtues and benefits of swim training.
They are making the discovery that, done safely and with serious
intent, there is no downside to cross training in the pool. This
is a phenomenon that surfaces from time to time on a variety of
levels, and history is replete with examples of champion athletes
that have supplemented their training with swimming (ala "Rocky
II") or have made the conversion from competitive swimming
to other sports with some success.
bound Julie Allen, the distance ace from Corona del Mar High School
in Newport Beach California, is the latest addition to the roll
of champion swimmers who have made the successful crossover to
other sports. Others in the not too distant past were Kiki Vandeweghe
of UCLA and Denver Nugget fame, 1979 Modern Pentathlon World Champion
Bob Neiman, and Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger, all dominating
swimmers as youngsters who dedicate a good deal of the success
they have achieved to their background in swimming.
therapists have traditionally held the torch for swim training
due to the low stress, low impact nature of the activity to the
bones, joints and connective tissue of injured athletes. These
professionals are charged with the pre and post surgical care
of these athletes and always, or almost always, incorporate some
form of work in the pool in a progression toward recovery.
thinking coaches have used this concept in devising a plan of
preventive maintenance when it comes to the rigors of conditioning.
These coaches have come to the conclusion that the amount of "terrestrial"
training necessary for the high levels of aerobic conditioning,
needed to remain competitive, contributes to the inevitable injuries
developing athletes sustain. They subsequently, and thoughtfully,
come up with some type of aquatic conditioning program. Unfortunately
their expertise ends there. A lack of knowledge and training become
safety issues and hinder the efficient administration of a good
warning is issued at this point for all coaches reading this article
interested in cross training their athletes in the pool. It is
absolutely imperative that an accredited swim coach's safety course
be taken before any undertaking of this type. I hesitate to recommend
the Red Cross, due to current events, but their instructors are
usually highly professional and not involved in the business,
or political side of the organization. Secondly, consultation
with an experienced swim coach to aid in the development and implementation
of the plan is highly recommended. Almost every community with
a post office has a U.S.S. swim club (for readers outside of the
U.S., contact your national governing body of swimming for a team
in your area). Start there. Do not assume that the average high
school swim coach is competent in this area.
any educational endeavor, the most important initial activity
is the diagnosis of your swimmer's skill level. This is accomplished
by putting the swimmer in waist to chest deep water, having them
push off the wall and swim across the shallow width of the pool
(assuming you have a pool with a shallow and deep end). Take accurate
records, noting medical histories and any other concerns you have,
and any observations you make. After the third or fourth time
through this diagnostic a clear picture should emerge and from
this you should be able to form two groups: swimmers and non-swimmers.
us to our second consideration; pool size, depth and configuration.
Most, but not all, of the pools have an "L" shaped configuration?
One arm of the L is 25 meters by 12 ½ yards, and runs from
3 ½ to 6 feet deep. The other arm of the L is 25 yards
by 12 ½ meters, and runs from 5 to 12 feet deep. The deep
arm can be roped off, providing a 25 yard lap pool for the more
advanced group, separated from a smaller shallow end for the beginners.
You probably do not have this configuration, so consider carefully
the pool and situation you have. Your facility and skill/comfort
level may require that you break the two groups up into two (or
more) training sessions. The size and configuration of my pool,
and my skill/comfort level allow me to run two separate groups
concurrently. I can never give any one group or individual 100%
of my attention, as even the most advanced swimmer must be safeguarded.
This technique of teaching, coaching and lifeguarding, at the
same time, requires a great deal of energy and a commanding voice.
You may want to start with smaller groups and separate training
sessions based on ability levels.
consideration is equipment. You will need kickboards and swim
fins for all your athletes. Kickboards provide floatation and
give some peace of mind to the beginning swimmers and allow you
to isolate the largest muscle group for cardiovascular conditioning
in the more advanced swimmers. I will discuss some stroke drills
later that require the use of a kickboard. This is the first,
and most essential piece of equipment you will need. The good
thing about this is that most pools that have swim teams training
in them have these in abundance and rarely mind if others borrow
them (assuming they are used for their correct purpose, are not
destroyed and are put away at the completion of the training session).
Fins are not "one size fits all", are a little more
expensive and not used as commonly as kickboards. The investment
is worthwhile however as they greatly facilitate the learning
process and stroke training. Swim goggles are recommended, as
they eliminate the problem of chlorinated water, and it adds to
the comfort level of the swimmer when they can actually see where
they are going. One bit of advice: Don't let them become a distraction
for you. The swimmers will have you adjusting them constantly
if you let them get away with it. This takes you away from your
job. Make them responsible for their own gear. Also, do not let
them use their goggles as an excuse to sit out some exercise?
If they can't deal with the goggles make them swim without them.
This is the best motivator to learn to use this piece of equipment.
now take you through the program, from absolute "I don't
know how they manage to take a bath because they wont put their
face in the water" phobic to "You should really try
the swim team during the off-season" naturals. You may use
your own judgment as to where you will position each swimmer within
this training schedule. Remember, the more division within the
group, the more attention you must pay to sub-groups. I suggest
two activities, three maximum, at one time.
Raising the comfort level and confidence of non-swimmers:
Some people are actually afraid of the water and will not put
their face in it, or submerge their head. Have them put both arms
on the wall, both feet squarely planted on the bottom of the pool,
and then work their way from putting just their mouth under the
water, then add the nose, then the eyes, then the whole head.
This sometimes takes one whole training session and part of the
next. Be patient. Rushing this step could ruin a potential swimmer
for life. It will come. I just saw an ex-student of mine swim
the 200 freestyle in a high school meet, and a little over one
year ago I was taking him through this step, and it took two days
to get him to put his entire head under.
Still holding the wall with both hands and both feet firmly planted
on the bottom, have the swimmer put his head under the water and
blow bubbles. Tell them before hand that as soon as all the air
has been blown out, lift their head and breathe in. Repeat until
this can become a natural breathing rhythm.
Have the student take one step away from the wall and fall forward
grabbing the wall with both hands and submerging their head, blowing
bubbles and then standing to repeat the process until the individual
is comfortable with this.
Add another step backwards, and repeat the above procedure.
Add another step backwards, etc. This time they will probably
have to give a little forward push off the bottom and glide to
Add another step backwards, etc. This time they may have to kick
a little to get back to the wall.
Introduce the kick board. Everyone must listen to the correct
way to hold the board and insure that this is the only way it
is held, always, unless you specifically tell them to hold it
a different way to facilitate a drill for some other advanced
Most kick boards have a squared end and a rounded end. The rounded
end is the front and the squared end is the back. Have the swimmers
put their elbows, one on each of the corners of the back of the
board and then grab the side of the board with their hands at
the corresponding position the length of their arm dictates.
The freestyle, or flutter kick is the most common kick taught
to beginners in the United States. Europe is different, or at
least has been in the past.
The flutter kick requires a relatively straight leg with pointed
toes. The feet travel in an up and down motion, alternating left-right,
left-right in rapid fashion, making a slight splash in the back.
It is important to keep the kick below the surface of the water
for maximum propulsion. Extraneous splashing looks effective but
it is really wasted motion.
After 2-4 laps of flutter kicking have the students put on fins
(continue to use the kick board as well).
These will help the swimmer keep their feet in the proper position.
Insure that the fins bend on the down stroke, the swimmer's leg
stays straight and they keep the kick beneath the surface with
no splash. Additionally, this should be done with a maximum effort,
as fast as the swimmer can kick, at all times.
The swimmers quads will be burning during this exercise and cramps
are common at this point, in the arch of the foot first and the
calf muscle later. Stretch and move on.
Have the swimmer move both hands down to the middle of the back
end of the kick board, fingers on the top of the board, thumbs
on the bottom. Their hands will be gripping the board, together,
in a relatively streamlined position. This time when they kick
they will be kicking with their face in the water blowing bubbles,
raising their head only to breathe in.
In the same position, in a progressive drill, have the students
take a freestyle stroke (like climbing a ladder one rung at a
time, with an over water recovery) when they have to breathe,
alternating arms. Have the swimmers breathe on the side of the
arm that is stroking. Remember, the hand that is not stroking
is holding the board.
Do the same drill as above, but this time use fins only. Do not
use the board, but have the swimmer keep their hands and arms
in the same position as when they were using the board.
Take the fins off and do the same drill with the kick board this
Do the same drill as above with no equipment.
(Fins optional) Increase arm turnover rate by having the student
start the next stroke as the previous stroke is entering the water
after the recovery (above water) phase of the stroke. The breathing
pattern can be adjusted but it should always alternate sides,
every 3, 5, or 7 strokes.
This is 6-10 weeks of training at three sessions per week.
By the end of this period all of your athletes should be training
in the deep end of the pool, swimming 25yard laps. Be your own
judge though. Do not rush any one.
Let the weakest swimmers always swim closest to the wall and keep
your faster, more confident swimmers in the center of the pool.
For the first few sessions that your previous non-swimmers are
in the deep end of the pool maximize the use of kick boards and
fins. They are physically capable of swimming in deep water, as
they were not using the bottom in the shallow end before, but
the psychological aspect is still a huge factor.
up for a swim workout always start with between 200-400 yards
of easy freestyle, followed by a like distance of easy freestyle
are some basic interval sets for average to good swimmers.
one 50yard freestyle kick every 1:20 ten times.
(An excellent swimmer would repeat on: 50 or faster).
Repeat one 50yard freestyle swim every 1:00 ten times.
(An excellent swimmer would repeat on: 45 or faster).
Repeat one 100yard freestyle swim every 2:00 ten times.
(An excellent swimmer would repeat on 1:10 or faster).
(See Addendum for sample workouts).
rule of thumb for swimming/running conversions to remember is
that swimming a distance takes approximately four times the time
as running that same distance.
Example: The world record for swimming 100 meters is approximately
the same as the world record for 400 meters on the track and the
world record for 400 meters in swimming is roughly equal to the
world record for running the mile.
will be different of course due to the low impact nature of swimming,
and cardiovascular conditioning is related to the sustaining of
a high pulse rate over a set amount of time. The power curve on
swimming degenerates, like any other activity, the more comfortable
an individual becomes in the water.
200yard/meter freestyle and 200yard/meter freestyle kick
Workout (interval training)
8x50yard/meter freestyle kick on ________ (pick an interval)*
4x100yard/meter freestyle on _______ (pick an interval)
4x100yard/meter freestyle kick with fins on ______ (pick an interval)
8x50yard/meter freestyle on _______ (pick an interval)
400yard/meter freestyle (easy)
Total yardage 2400 yards/meters (cardio-vascular equivalence to
a 6 mile run workout)
Level of difficulty for moderately good swimmer: easy to medium
400 freestyle and 200 freestyle kicks
Workout (interval training)
12x50 freestyle kick on ______
6x100 freestyle on ______ descending (easy to hard) effort on
#'s 1-3, 4-6
3x200 freestyle on ______ descending (easy to hard) effort on
300 freestyle (easy)
Total yardage 2400 (cardio vascular equivalence to a 6 mile run
Level of difficulty for a moderately good swimmer: medium
400 freestyle and 400 freestyle kicks
Workout (interval training)
8x75 freestyle kick on _______ hard (go for lactic acid burn in
quads) on lap 3
8x75 freestyle on _______ breathing every third stroke on lap
one, every fifth stroke on lap two, and every seventh stroke on
lap three. Follow this pattern on the odd #'s (1,3,5,7); reverse
it for the even #'s (2,4,6,8).
6x200 freestyle on _______
400 freestyle (easy)
Total yardage 3000 (cardio vascular equivalence to a 7 mile run
Level of difficulty for a moderately good swimmer: medium to hard
* Build in rest intervals of no less than 10%, or no more than
50% of the total swim time.
Example: if it is taking the swimmer 60 seconds to swim 50 yards
the interval should be no less than 1:06, or no more than 1:30.
monitor pulse rates, and always stretch after workouts. Cross
training is always beneficial, physically and psychologically,
and learning to swim and becoming comfortable in the water has
no down side. I hope this gives you some ideas and motivates you
to get in the swim of things.
feel free to email me at
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