How to build a Workout when You Don’t Have a Coach

When I returned to the water after a lengthy absence, I was excited just to be in the pool again. Swimming laps was satisfying as I worked to regain my strength, but after a few weeks, I found myself feeling bored with the challenge of increasing just my distance and I yearned for something more challenging.


The problem was that I didn’t have access to a coach nor did I have the first clue as to how to build a suitable workout for myself.


I’d spent years in the pool doing drills (and grumbling about my various coaches’ expectations), and, as I tried to figure out how to construct my own workout, I quickly realized that I’d taken my workouts (and my coaches’ skills) for granted. I was fortunate in that I swim in a community pool that the Master’s team uses, and, as a result, I was able to pick the brains of the swimmers who showed up for mid-day practices. They directed me to their club’s website where coaches keep a Swim Practice Vault of all the current season’s workouts.


These workouts were more than a bit beyond my ability, but I was able to modify them to meet my needs and provide me with a challenge.


After a little more research, I discovered The Random Swimming Workout Generator. This site asks for swimmer specific information regarding current times, desired focus and workout level, and time available, then generates a personalized workout with explanations and helpful hints.


The only drawback to this and the Swim Practice Vault was that I had to find a way to bring the workout sheets to the pool and keep them dry. For a while, I tucked the workouts in sealed sandwich bags, but they weren’t waterproof and after a few workouts disintegrated in the bags, I knew I had to find another solution.


The solution came in the form of Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Workouts.  Taormina’s 16-week training program comes printed on waterproof cards and includes sets of cards that demonstrate all of the stroke and tubing drills she incorporates into the workout and provides a set of Took Kit cards that clearly explain all of the terms she uses (i.e. build, negative split, and descend).


What I’ve loved about this set of workouts is that once wet, not only do they stick to a propped up kickboard making it easy to read and follow the workout, but they are also geared toward multiple levels because Taormina provides options for longer and shorter workouts with adaptations for varying speeds. I also like the fact that each workout begins with a description of its purpose, which makes it easy to choose the skills I want to work on in any given workout.


I also appreciate the fact that Taormina breaks down the workouts into three workouts per week that hover around the 2,000 yard mark and then includes an additional workout (called a “She-Ra” after her college swimming nickname) that is more training oriented than technique focused and is also substantially longer (around 4,000 yards). The cards can be easily arranged and rearranged to meet different swimmers’ needs, and after more than a year of use, mine still look brand new.


No matter what level you’re at, with a little research and a few resources you can create a workout that meets your needs! And while it will take some time and effort to create a suitable workout for yourself, seeing the results will make it all worthwhile!

By Mary Gebhart

Do you know how to condition your mind & body ?

When we train, we have to remember that there is more to it than just doing the routine. There are certain aspects of our being aside from our physical body that we have to consider conditioning. Our mind is a very powerful weapon that can be used even in training. Among many things, it controls our feelings, emotions, and perspectives.  Let’s take a look at what can help condition both your mind and body to help you get more out of your training, specifically for swimming.

The Body

While it is true that swimming has a lower impact on your body than other sports, this does not mean that your body needs less attention. Your body still gets tired. Swimming is highly recommended as it works on all aspects of your body but it still adds on a great amount of stress. A lot of athletes push themselves to the limit and use up a lot of that energy by training overtime with heavy workouts, putting themselves on a diet, and sacrificing hours that should be used for a bit of socializing. What do we do to refuel that energy? Refueling your energy and keeping yourself from being “burnt out” takes more than physical needs. What usually comes to mind is food, water and rest. While food can be perceived as a reward for your body, the mind is in control of the discipline. Your mind has to want to keep that discipline or else the urge to have extra junk food will kick in. Once your mind is conditioned for a proper diet you will notice that the cravings for unhealthy food will decrease.  Keeping yourself hydrated is very important. You’d be surprised at how many athletes forget to drink enough water. Water helps maintain strength and a clear mind. Make it a habit to drink water after a few laps until your body gets used to it. Resting is the easiest but not the least important. Without proper rest, it does not matter how good you are at keeping a diet. You have to get ample amount of sleep (usually set at 8 hours a day). Insufficient rest hinders the detoxification and repairing tissue damage in the body and your mind suffers too.  

The Mind

Stress takes a toll on both the mind and the body. Your mind and body tend to go into overdrive when you are stressed. Mental stress is seen having a greater effect on people than physical stress. This is because your mind is your processor. It controls your emotions and then your body reacts to it. Keeping a healthy, happy mind set will help keep you fully functional.  If you don’ beat your record today don’t stress out and train an extra hour. Explore a healthier mental approach. First, clear and ease your mind. Check yourself once in a while to make sure that there is a balance. Keep your mind and body clear from negativity. This way you can focus more on the goal at hand. Attracting negativity will only hinder you from what you want to achieve. Unwind by giving time to social activities. Being around your loved ones nourishes you and calms you on a deeper level. Relaxing is important too, so don’t sacrifice it. When you give yourself a good dose then you may revisit your workout and strategies to improve. Endurance does not come easy. Don’t be too serious about your training all the time. Swimming can also be similar to meditation. Studies show that being around the water has a powerful effect on the brain. It is said to make you happier, healthier, more connected to yourself, and rejuvenates a tired mind.

The Injuries

Being an athlete comes with physical and mental injuries from time to time. When struggling with a physical injury don’t brave it out and use the line “mind over matter”. In this case, if you don’t mind, it does matter. Tend to the pain and rehabilitate before continuing your work out. You might make things worse by ignoring it. Give your body some tender loving care from time to time. Same goes for dealing with problems that life throws at you. Deal with it before it eats you from the inside out.

Balance is the key. Being aware of your needs versus your wants can strengthen you and help you achieve your goal and sometimes even beyond what you expected.

The 50 Freestyle; Optimal Starts and Breathing

The 50 Freestyle is one of the most anticipated races in competition, it is the truest test of speed and puts a microscope on swimmers skills. A slight hesitation on a start, a poor turn or an extra breath can be the difference between gold and mediocrity. Although this is obvious it is unbelievable how many swimmers and coaches still believe a 50 is something you can’t really coach. I have heard coaches state, “It’s just a 50, go bash it out and try not to breathe too much”, and as a former sprinter this annoys me to no end. If you look at some of the truly great sprinters – yes they are over 6 foot, yes they are big and powerful but they are also technically very good swimmers. Anthony Ervin is a fantastic example of this, the Rio Olympic Champion was up against some huge powerful swimmers but stuck to his flawless technique and ultimately bested them when it mattered and at 36 years old no less.

How to calculate your start:

Training for a 50 freestyle exclusively is almost never the case, you will usually swim other events including 100 and 200’s of freestyle but within the training there should be some 50 specific work. Obviously starts are important for all races but for a 50 working in different length sprints and timing each of them can be a great advantage. Within a start there are many different options, how many underwater kicks is the main area I believe should be worked on. Timing splits to 10 and 15 yards with varying kick choices giving the athlete adequate rest between each can tell you how many kicks is optimal for each swimmer. A practice may look like this:
Sufficient warm up
3 x 10 yards with 4 under water kicks
3 x 10 yards with 3 under water kicks
3×15 yards with 4 under water kicks
3 x 15 yards with 3 under water kicks

This is a highly unique area as some swimmers will kick to 15 yards optimally and others it can be two kicks and up into their stroke for the best result, once you know the type of dive and number of kicks it should be practiced and practiced. It should be possible for the swimmer to complete the start, underwater phase, break-out and first few strokes with their eyes closed. Where swimmers fail is they change their start in every practice and then when they get to their races they are still unsure as to how to perform their optimal start. Throughout the season you can revisit this protocol and adapt their starts but until this is done it should remain the same.

Many swimmers through their season of training get reliant on breathing patterns. The most common is a swimmer breathing every stroke but any breathing pattern can become an issue in a 50 freestyle. For the best hand speed possible breathing should be limited yet rotation within the stroke should still be complete and this is where swimmers who rely on a breathing pattern to get that rotation struggle. Longer distance training for sprinters should include a lot of odd pattern breathing so their rotation stays even when breathing becomes limited. 200’s using a 3,5,7,3 or 3,5,7,9 by 50 breathing pattern is a way to include this. On top of this there should be a lot of sprinting preformed with limited breathing. Last season our team adopted 50’s with no breathing on lap 1 and 75’s with only 3 breathes per lap while sprinting and it worked excellently. Our sprinters firstly realized they did not need nearly as many breathes as they thought and also that the oxygen debt they incurred did not catch up to them during the race. This is where a 50 becomes so different, in a 100 free limiting breathing too much on the first half will dramatically affect the finish but a 50 can be completed by the right individual optimally with no breathing. Through my experience one to two breathes is usually optimal for most swimmers but these breathes should be pre planned. For example, one breathe at the flags on lap 1 and one breathe 4 strokes after the break out, after that second breathe the only thing in the swimmers mind should be holding prefect form and swimming through the wall. This can also be practiced even in lower level meets by the athlete, if they take one breathe and still feel gassed at the end they need to add in another somewhere. These are just two facets of the 50 but will help a swimmer feel more confident in what they are doing in this race, having a game-plan is key.

By Kevin Dickson

Are swim coaches allowed to be nice?

The feeling of my swimming bag, stuffed to bursting, hanging off my shoulders is one that still haunts me from time to time. I recallImage result for sad school child carrying backpacks swim walking from school to practice every Friday after I was finished at jazz choir rehearsals, often through a foot of snow, each step causing a feeling of dread to grow inside me. The burden of that bag and the equipment it contained wore on me a lot as a teenager. The sport took a lot from me but gave very little. No matter how hard I trained, I didn’t see results in competition. Our relationship was completely one-sided, and I had a hard time dealing with that. I missed out on having a normal social life, I had difficulty focusing on school work, and let’s face it – my hair will never be the same again.

I was the swimmer that all coaches have trouble with. Not only did I dread practices, I made it well known to my coaches and teammates. I was the type of swimmer that would just do whatever I wanted if I didn’t like the workout the coach had provided. Even worse, I often convinced teammates to join me. If I was feeling particularly disillusioned, I would sit out whole sets on the edge of the pool while my peers worked themselves to the bone. A combination of hindsight and over a decade of coaching have taught me a lot about how to handle this:

Don’t take it personally

A swimmer experiencing disillusionment in the sport will likely say things to coaches or teammates that are inappropriately negative. Keep in mind that these words are not personal, they’re a reflection of the athlete’s feelings about their swimming, not about you as a person.

Allow breaks

Image result for swim clock on wall at poolMost coaches hate this, but I allow my swimmers all the breaks they want. If they need six bathroom breaks just to get through a practice – go for it. I’d rather they take the five minute break to regroup and come back into the set refreshed than pound through every metre and hate every moment of it. Long-term athletes are happy athletes, so give them what they need to feel happy.

Find alternatives

I may have absolutely hated training from 2005-2008, but I have loved coaching from the moment I started in 2004. My coach clearly recognized a desire in me to lead and teach, so I was given the chance to work with our youngest development swimmers. That worked for me, and I‘ve seen other “future swimmers” find their happiness in leading stretching or activation, keeping club records, decorating the team bulletin board, or being responsible for the shared equipment. There is a way to increase engagement in athletes who have a foot out the door – get creative and find it!

Know when to call it

I sometimes reflect on my swimming career and wonder what more it would have taken to get kicked off the team. Part of me even wanted it, just so there was no possibility that I could go back. I quit three or four times in my high school years, but I always missed it, returned, and quit again. As a coach, your number one responsibility is to “Do No Harm.” When you have a swimmer on your team that is so unhappy they start behaving like I did, it’s important to have a conversation with them and their parents to discuss options. If swimming is decreasing an athlete’s quality of life, they need to stop swimming. As much as we all want to retain athletes, we can’t be selfish. Let them go, let them be happy.

I look back on those last few years in the sport with a great deal of regret and guilt. As a coach finishing up my 13th season on deck, I often see in swimmers the same qualities I had, and I feel terrible for having put my coaches through that turmoil. The thing is, I understand completely what they’re going through and I empathise. The coaches I had when I competed were all highly accomplished athletes and had little patience for anyone who didn’t share their passion wholeheartedly. Because I’ve felt the internal struggle that accompanies a decreased interest in swimming, I have been careful in recent years to be Image result for coach and swimmer talkingsupportive of athletes whom I notice are facing similar challenges I did. And for that reason, I advocate for a soft approach in coaching. We hear all the time that “tough love works,” but I know that for me, it didn’t. And so I implore you: BE SOFT.

From Sarah MacDonald