Choosing the Right Swim Gear: Caps and Goggles


If you’re new to swimming, one of the questions you might have is how to pick out the proper swim gear. It can be overwhelming to browse the various swim equipment websites and try to decide on the perfect pair of goggles or the right style swim cap, and the added pressure to make sure you’re making a “good investment” can push some swimmers to buy outrageously expensive gear that doesn’t meet their needs.


Never fear, there’s a method to managing the madness!

Aside from choosing your suit (which will be addressed in a forthcoming blog entry), choosing your goggles is the most important decision you’ll make. A good pair of comfortable goggles won’t necessarily improve your swim times, but a bad pair will seriously hamper your ability to make it from one end of the pool to the other without stopping to empty your goggles.


After having bought more than my fair share of goggles that didn’t work, I have three recommendations for picking out your own pair.


  1. Try them on. Buy your goggles somewhere that you can try them on before you buy them. If you can’t do that, then make sure that the online site you buy from has a fair return policy.
  2. Choose comfort. When you try on the goggles make sure they are comfortable. Check the eye area by pushing them against your eye sockets (where the padding will rest when you’re wearing them) and letting go. The padding should feel soft and pliable, and good goggles will have a mild bit of suction that keeps them in place for a few seconds. If your goggles don’t have this quality, they will leak. Also, make sure the nose piece is comfortable and not cutting into the bridge of your nose.
  3. Check the adjustments. Make sure the straps and nose piece are easily adjustable, and that they stay in place once you’ve adjusted them. Straps that slip and/or slide out of their clasps can ruin your workout.


Another choice involves lens color (dark or clear) and is mostly personal preference unless you’re swimming outdoors, in which case you might want to consider a darker lens to cut down on the brightness. You’ll probably also have the choice between anti-fog and non-anti-fog lenses, but most experts (swimmers themselves) agree that there’s really no fool-proof way of keeping goggles from fogging up (as a kid I, and my teammates, swore by the spit-cleaning method, but as an adult I consider it, at best, questionable), so this also comes down to a personal preference.


After the goggles, comes the choice of a swim cap. Swim caps reduce drag and protect your hair from chlorine (though, it’s important to note that no cap will keep hair dry). Many view swim caps as optional, but these days, many swimming facilities are enforcing the mandatory cap rule in order to save the drains and filters, so it would be wise to carry one just in case.


Choosing a cap boils down to fabric and function, and the three choices are:

  1. Rubber/latex. These durable caps are fairly inexpensive, easy to print logos on or write on (for those who participate in triathlons). The drawback is that they can be difficult to put on and they won’t work for swimmers with a latex allergy.
  2. These caps are the most popular with competitive swimmers because they’re easy to put on and offer a great alternative to latex caps. They come in a wide variety of colors, but they’re more expensive than latex caps and have a tendency to slip off the head more easily.
  3. Many swimmers prefer Lycra caps simply for the comfort factor. Since these caps are made of the same material that swimsuits are made of, they’re more flexible and easier to get on and off. However, Lycra caps are also more expensive, won’t protect hair from chlorine and have a tendency to slip off more frequently than latex or silicone caps.


Choosing the right gear should help you focus on your workout and improving your times, rather than on making adjustments once you’re in the water. Just keep in mind that whichever goggles and cap you choose, you should take your time to make sure they are the right ones for you!



Eliminating the S Pull


I’m an advocate of teaching skills the correct way from the get-go, so it does my head in when I see or hear young swimmers being taught a technique that will undoubtedly need to be undone in the future. We’ve all overheard instructors who encourage kids to keep their hair dry during breaststroke, or to lift their head and look at their toes during backstroke, but one instruction that often goes unnoticed is the S pull in freestyle.

Because it happens underwater, it can take a long time to notice and even longer to fix. Young swimmers are told to “draw a big letter S” with their hand during every stroke, but that instruction goes against one of the fundamental rules of competitive swimming: Always take the path of least resistance!

Why waste time, energy, and streamline just to trace an arbitrary path through the water? 20 years ago we thought the S pull was beneficial because it added an outsweep and an insweep, supposedly increasing momentum by allowing for a “longer” pull. Luckily, physiology and biomechanics have taught us that the S pull actually causes more problems than advantages. Early vertical forearm, high elbow recovery, and straight-line pulls are scientifically more advantageous than the S pull, so we should all be taking steps to move to this method. Here are some suggestions for eliminating the S pull:



This one is simple. When you wear a snorkel, you can watch the path of your pull. Your hands should never be under your chest, and they should never cross over the midline of your body. Instead, the fingertips should plunge into the water in alignment with your shoulder and draw a straight line along the bottom of the pool until they reach past your hips. For young swimmers, it helps to use some fun imagery, like “paint the pool bottom with your hand.”



Have swimmers lie on the deck parallel to the pool edge with one arm in the water. They can then do repeated single arm pulls, aiming not to touch the wall with their working hand. This drill is great because it allows for constant feedback, and swimmers get a bit of a rest while they focus their attention on the drill.


Black line

If space allows, another good option is to swim down the middle of the lane while making sure your arms stay on their respective sides of the black line. Swim teams can even turn this into a game by pairing up the athletes and having one partner in the water while the other is on deck deducting points each time a hand crosses onto the black line!


The easiest way to eliminate the S pull is by not teaching it in the first place. I realize that this advice will not reach the majority of swimming instructors and coaches, but little by little, I have faith that we can improve this skill on a grand scale. Do not teach any skill that you or another coach will have to change in the future – teach little swimmers to pull in a straight line and eliminate the need to undo a future bad habit! Spread the word to other coaches, or offer to run a clinic for your facility’s lesson instructors! There are countless ways to affect change in this sport. I’ve done my part by relaying this information to you, now it’s your turn to pass it along to other swimming professionals!



Sarah MacDonald

How to Be A Great Swim Parent

One of my favorite memories of swimming is the morning that my dad woke me up before dawn and made me a fried egg sandwich before driving me to a Saturday morning swim meet. We were singing along to Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” as we pulled into the parking lot, and at the end of the chorus, my dad turned and said, “Do you feel fast today, Ace?” I gave him a big smile and sang (shouted) as loud as I could, “YES I DO!”. 


More than forty years have passed since that morning and I don’t remember how I did in that meet, whether I was first or last or set a personal record. What I do remember is how much fun swimming was because my parents did everything they could to support me – and then simply let me swim. If you are a parent who wants to help your child achieve their best and yet still have fun swimming, here are four tips for being a great swim parent.


Know your role

You are not your child’s coach. One of the biggest complaints coaches have is that well-intentioned parents often give their swimmers advice on how to improve their performance without realizing that the advice runs counter to what the coach as said.


Trust your swimmer’s coach. They have spent countless hours learning stroke techniques, methods for constructing workouts and drills, and they want to help your swimmer turn in their best possible performance. When you offer your swimmer pointers about their performance, you are setting up a situation in which your swimmer is forced to choose between you and the coach – and it will not benefit your swimmer. You will teach your swimmer that their coach is not trustworthy, and you’ll make it harder for the coach to do their job. You’ll also set yourself up as a “difficult parent,” which will not earn you or your swimmer any points with coaches, teammates or other parents. Leave the coaching to the people who are being paid to do it.


Encourage responsibility

If your child has chosen to swim, let them be the one to take responsibility for it. You should support their efforts, but you should not be the one taking ownership of the experience. My parents would get up at the crack of dawn for practice or meets, and would drive me almost anywhere for them. They would sit in the stands for hours on end waiting for me to swim my races, and they would enthusiastically cheer for every swimmer. However, they left the decision to swim up to me.


I can remember days when I didn’t want to go to after-school swim practice or compete in a meet. I would whine and drag my feet, hoping that my parents would get me out of practice or make an excuse for why I couldn’t go to the swim meet. My parents were smart about it, though. They’d tell me it was my choice whether I wanted to go or not, but that if I didn’t go, then I was going to have to be the one to explain why I wasn’t participating. This lesson served me well not only in swimming, but in many other areas of my life because it taught me that while I have the right to make choices, I also have to take responsibility for my choices.


Listen and support

As a parent your job is to support your swimmer. This means asking questions and listening to the answers rather than doing all the talking. I was twelve-years old when I realized I was never going to be an elite swimmer. I knew I loved swimming and being part of the team, but I recognized that I just didn’t have the drive to push beyond being “good” in order to become “great.” One weekend morning, before a big meet, I asked my parents if I should keep swimming even though I wasn’t ever going to be the best at it. I told them that I felt bad that they had to drive me to practice and get up early on weekend mornings if I wasn’t going to be able to win every race. I said that I felt bad about all the money they were putting into my swimming when I wasn’t the very best.  I told them I thought that I should quit.


My parents quietly listened as I spilled everything I’d been thinking, and then my mom asked, “Do you enjoy swimming?” I nodded, and my dad asked, “Do you want to keep swimming?” I nodded again. They smiled, and my dad said, “Then keep swimming, Ace. You don’t have to be the best at something to participate in it; you just have to want to do it. If you enjoy it, we’ll find a way to make sure you can keep swimming.” This was the best possible response they could have given because I did love swimming (and still do), and by letting me know that they’d support me even though I’d never be the “best” they taught me that doing things I enjoy is more important than winning.


Model good behavior

In an era when “winning is everything,” sometimes good sportsmanship gets shoved to the side. As a parent your job is to teach your swimmer how to be a generous winner and a graceful loser.  The best way to do this is to model good behavior by cheering for every swimmer on the team (not just your own), by supporting the coaches rather than arguing with them, and by emphasizing the importance of being a good team member.

My parents modeled good behavior by getting involved with the team and volunteering when needed. They took their turn at bringing snacks to swim meets and being race/lane judges when our team hosted a meet. My dad volunteered to be the announcer at meets (even ones I wasn’t swimming in). Looking back on my decade of competitive swimming, I have some incredibly good memories and can see how my participation in the sport shaped the way I approach life in general. I owe my parents a great deal for being such a wonderful support system and for teaching me life lessons that have stuck with me.

And with a little effort, all parents can do the same!

The quick and the dead…. (improving reaction times)

I am going to run through a few reasons you want your athlete to improve reaction times and then I will give a couple of examples of fun activities to help coach them for it and keeping them engaged while doing so.

So obviously getting off the starting block first in a race of any kind is an advantage but if we are talking about any race over a 50 freestyle you might be thinking, “it’s not THAT important”, having witnessed a tie for first place in a 1500m at the UK School Games when I swam I feel in every race there is a need for a fast reaction, here are the top reasons why it is important.


Number one, confidence. There is nothing that will ruin a race quicker than a bad start, it can be a slight hesitation or a mistake like a slip on the block itself but a swimmer mentally will not fully recover. It changes their mindset from their first underwater to their first few strokes and can literally ruin any race. I have seen 200 freestyles where a bad reaction led to a misplaced first 50 and then the swimmer was too tired to complete their race at usual speeds. The nerves of a swimmer are settled with a good reaction and once they are in the water they can go about their business, if the start is a worrying area then it can drain their confidence on the entire event.


Number two, waves. A hesitation on the start can put you in the worst position in swimming, just behind enough to catch every wave from the opposition. This can make the beginning of a race mush more hard work, cause you to miss a breath or take in water and in shorter races it can be an unsurmountable deficit.

Number three, it’s free time. If there is a way to go faster in the pool by exerting no more effort, you would be foolish to not take advantage of it. That is what a fast reaction does, with the amount of time spent on perfecting turns, underwater kicks and finishes just to drop a fraction of a second this free time available needs to be utilized by every swimmer.

Constantly forcing swimmers to learn skills in the pool can cause mental fatigue and they switch off and perform worse so I believe the best way to work on things like this are to try fun activities outside the pool where they don’t even realize they are working on it. As a finisher to a dryland practice is the Tennis Ball Biggest Fan game.

How to Play;
Split the team into pairs, each pair is given two tennis balls. Swimmer 1 holds their arms out straight in front of them with one ball in each hand and Swimmer 2 takes up the same position with their arms straight in front of them and their hands placed on top of the other swimmers hands. Swimmer 1 then randomly drops one tennis ball and swimmer 2 must react and catch the ball before it hits the ground. Once they have practiced this a few times they each take three turns and the best score of successful catches wins, in the event of a tie they play sudden death taking one turn each until one drops and one catches. Then the winning swimmer will find another winner to challenge, the losing swimmer becomes a fan for the swimmer they lose to cheering them on in the tournament. If you are cheering for someone and they lose you then join the fan base for the swimmer who beat them.

Eventually you end up with a grand finale of your last two swimmers and your team divided into two groups all cheering on their team mates to catch tennis balls. It gets competitive, it gets loud and it is really fun to end a session with all while working on swimmers reactions and also developing a great team atmosphere to lead them into their pool session.

So, You Think You Can’t Swim? Guess Again!

I was eight the first time I dove in and swam a full length of the pool. Since then, I’ve swam competitively and non-competitively, and racked up more laps than I can count – or remember. While I have never been fast swimmer, I have always loved the feeling of being immersed in the water as my arms and legs work in tandem to propel me from one end of the pool to the other.

Simply put – I love to swim.

When I talk or write about swimming, I tend to get two distinct responses. The first is from other swimmers who smile, and then add their own description of what it feels like to slice through the water as they accumulate yardage and test their speed. The other response I get is from people who wistfully say, “You make swimming sound like so much fun. I wish I could swim, too.”

This article is for those folks.

Swim Lessons

For those in the U.S., the American Red Cross offers adult swim lessons in locations around the country, as does U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS offers a list of individual swim instructors as well as pools where adult lessons take place). In Australia, State Swim Swimming Schools offer lessons for all ages, and the Aquatic Center in Sydney offers adult swim lessons.

For many folks, swim lessons that cover the basics are the first places to start. While it may initially feel strange to sign up for lessons, the investment in learning how to properly perform the basic strokes will be worth it. It will make lap swimming much more enjoyable, and lower the risk of swim-related injuries.

DIY Swim Programs

For those who may have a little background in swimming or those who aren’t keen on signing up for lessons, there are other options. One of the most touted programs is renowned NCAA coach Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion Swimming Technique. The program is based on the premise that there is more benefit to approaching swimming as a skill, rather than as a test of endurance.

Butterfly Stroke - SwimbetterLaughlin’s program focuses on the three C’s (comfort, control and confidence), taking the path of least resistance (streamlining form and not making waves), and moving from the core (better integration of strokes and core support). One of the most compelling testaments to Laughlin’s method can be found in Tim Ferris’s blog article detailing how he learned to swim in ten days using the Total Immersion method.

Swim Clubs and Clinics

If you’re someone who has a little more experience swimming, but just doesn’t know where to start in terms of training, there are many local clubs that welcome swimmers of all abilities. The benefits of joining a swim club are that you’ll get coaching support and regular workouts designed by someone who understands the need for adapting workouts to different levels. You’ll also be swimming with swimmers of varying levels, and who will often offer advice regarding stroke and breathing techniques. Swim clubs can also provide additional motivation for those who want to get into the pool, but have trouble making time for the workouts.

For those looking to improve their skills, but not able to invest the time in lessons, U.S. Masters Swimming offers regular stroke clinics around the country. Designed for every level of swimmer, the stroke clinics offer an evaluation of all four strokes (though swimmers aren’t required to swim all four strokes) by top area coaches. The goal of the clinic is to help swimmers improve stroke technique and to teach them drills that will enable them to continue to refine their strokes as they swim.

No matter what level swimmer you are, there is a program that can help you find a way to enjoy swimming, and reap the benefits of what many consider to be the perfect exercise!  

Do you know how to get better turns?

Swimming faster than your opponents is a great way to win races, unfortunately there are many races where the fastest ‘swimmer’ loses. How is this possible? Simple, they have bad habits on their turns. You will see this more so in distance races as a swimmer will move past their competition on each lap only to be pegged back or even passed on each turn. This means you are expelling more energy than your opponent each lap only to lose all of your advantage on a simple flip turn. In a sprint race it happens as well, a 50-yard freestyle can be won on a great flip turn regardless of anything else you do in that race. Many contributing factors affect the quality of a turn, it can be from poor streamlines, breathing in or out of the turn and losing momentum or gliding into the wall and treating it as a rest period.


A swimmer spends may hours every week in the water, depending on their volume and their size of pool they perform anywhere from hundreds to thousands of flip turns in varying degrees of tiredness and so it is inevitable that they get a little bit lazy on their turns. This is not the end of the world and as a coach you have to expect it, however, you need to make sure there are adequate high performance sets and training where you really hone in on the turns and focus on them so that in races the laziness does not creep in.

A great way to do this is by doing lower volume work with a high focus on turn performance. An example would be 75-yard freestyles on a slower interval than usual but high focus on;

  • No breathing 2 strokes in or two strokes out of the wall.
  • Long walls (underwater kick a minimum of 10 yards fast).
  • Fast flips with tight tucked body position.
  • Perfect streamlines out of the wall.
  • Building speed into the wall to replicate race speed turns.

As a coach you need to be very strict on this type of set or it completely loses its purpose. You cannot be on every swimmer at every wall in every practice and although they should always be focused on good turn practice it cannot be expected that they keep this level every time. However, setting up a small set to really focus on racing turns allows them to aim for perfection and feel how it should be in their swims. Then from this set you can implement one or two of these into longer distance sets. Making a longer swim where there is no breathing allowed two strokes in two strokes out for example or only focusing on long walls or only focusing on building into the turns allows the swimmer to think about one aspect at a time in a lower intensity set which will develop into good habits. Once they get the individual skills locked in their overall performance will improve and they will begin to use the skills they feel improve their usual turns best in sets. If a swimmer realizes their 10-yards underwater kick is faster they will use it even when they are tired to save energy or keep up with their team mates on tough sets.

Overall a fast turn can make a good swimmer great, shave seconds off their times and is not a very hard skill to improve. In the same respect if neglected by a coach or a swimmer it can turn into a huge weakness that will be exposed in a race. Put in the work and explain the importance of it to your swimmers and they should be excited to work on them.

From seven years old to Olympic glory. What drives Katie Ledecky


When Katie Ledecky was seven years old, she was not the fastest swimmer in the pool. In fact, her main goal was to compete in a 25-meter race without stopping and hanging on the lane line.


That summer she practiced hard, and by the time she felt confident enough to attempt the feat, she’d developed an ear infection. When the doctor told Katie and her mom that the little swimmer wouldn’t be able to compete that weekend, he was unprepared for Katie’s response. She wailed so long and loud that the doctor finally gave in and simply told her mother to pack Katie’s ears with cotton before the race. At that meet, Katie didn’t win the race or set any records, but she did complete the 25-meter lap without stopping.

Over the years, many people have asked Katie, her parents and her coaches about when and how she became the fierce competitor she is. They want to know how and why she does what she does, and how she manages to continue setting records and winning. But even more than that, people want to know what drives Katie Ledecky to do the amazing things she does in the pool. When reporters ask her these questions, Katie usually offers her trademark smile and shrug, and when these interviewers turn to her parents and coaches, they admit that they aren’t sure either.


However, when you look at Ledecky’s family history, it becomes a little more obvious that she comes from head down, work hard people who have consistently done what was necessary to get the job done. Her grandfather, Bud Hagen, served in World War II as a doctor and was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for saving soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa (despite his own broken ribs) was her role model for endurance. He was the one who advised his granddaughter to “Take the lead, keep the lead,” and it stuck. Ledecky’s mother, Mary Gen, swam competitively in her youth, and often swam so hard she would retch and struggle to draw a breath by the end of a race, and she passed on the “give it your all” gene.

Katie’s coaches have consistently said that they aren’t the ones motivating her – she motivates herself to perform at her absolute best in every practice and every race. Her coaches provide her with the skills needed to improve her strokes and breathing techniques. Coach Yuri Suguiyama has been credited with helping Ledecky develop and refine her long loping stroke, one-side breathing technique and high-speed kick, and he says that discovering the right stroke and kick for her was the key to opening up her winning potential.

Every other coach that has worked with Ledecky says that her internal motivation and her ability to bounce back quickly (from a less than ideal practice or race) is something they rarely see in swimmers. She takes the good with the bad and comes back stronger and more determined the next time she dives in. Part of her internal motivation comes from a practice she began at eight years of age – setting her own “Want Times,” and is something she continues to do.

What Ledecky herself says it comes down to is simply wanting to swim. She’s said in interviews that she loves being in the water, and that often, during a race, she blots out the other swimmers and races against her own times. During the 2016 Olympics, she told Sports Illustrated reporter, S.L. Price, “I love being in the water. I love training. I hate when I have to take a week off. At the end of the season I always take a week or 10 days off or longer, and I really don’t like it. That’s when we go to Palisades the most and sometimes I have to do laps because I just get way too anxious.”

For those who are curious about what drives a champion like Katie Ledecky, the answer might come down to something straightforward and simple – this swimmer lives to swim.



By Mary Gebhart

Your body can handle it. Well maybe not….. (Over training)

Overtraining in a Swim Season

Once a base of swim skills has been built up it never completely disappears, this is why we have athletes like Michael Phelps who can take an extended break and come back to win gold medals and also why we have collegiate athletes who can take entire summer off out of the pool and come back in and compete after a few weeks of training under their belt. The danger is that in an effort to regain their ability quickly they try to do too much in order to get there faster and fall into an overtraining phase where they struggle to recover.

You see this in early season collegiate athletes, they get back with high levels of motivation and do more than they need initially. Their coaches will give them higher volume training in the pool than they have done all summer and then they will begin their weights sessions and look to do additional sessions on their own. The issue with this is the push themselves too far too soon and as their season progresses their motivation can dip, their workload in the classroom increases, their performance can stall and by the end of the season they truly are running on fumes because they started with too much of a workload. Eric Helms is a professional powerlifter and natural bodybuilder who holds two Masters degrees, one in philosophy in sports nutrition for energy restricted weight lifters and a second in exercise science in performance enhancement and injury prevention. performance enhancement specialist with the NSCA, NASM and USAW. Eric is also pursuing his PHD in strength and conditioning from AUT in Auckland, New Zealand. It is through his research that I have been able to truly understand how to effectively train athletes in the pool and gym. The main goal has to be progressive overload for the athlete, this means that the optimal amount of training volume and frequency is the minimum amount possible in which you see good progress. Helms states, “I advise people start on the low end range of what seems to be in the range of optimal, and then only increase if performance is not increasing”.


So with swim training, especially when a strength program is included in their schedule you want to start low. This could be two or three gym sessions a week and 5 swim sessions a week and as the season progresses you can add another gym session add some swim mornings and obviously increase both volume and intensity within the sessions. While doing this there also needs to be deload weeks in the weight room, recovery sessions in the pool and overall great nutrition and recovery methods used by the athletes. As a coach it must be your priority to continually make progress with your athletes, it is sometimes hard to judge due during the course of a season as not every swim will be a personal best but progress in their sessions is a great marker. Being able to perform more intense sessions, holding better averages and generally lowering intervals throughout the season are all measurable areas to look at and if they can’t do this it may be time to look at how you have increased their volume and if it needs to be altered for their benefit.

Is Open Water Swimming a Good Alternative to the Pool?

For swimmers who practice and compete in pools, getting away from the black line on the bottom of the pool might never have crossed their minds.

Over the past several decades, open water swimming (the practice of swimming in oceans, lakes and/or rivers) has gained popularity. The practice officially began in 1810 when Lord Byron swam several miles from the Dardanelles to Asia, and, in 1896, open water swimming made its first appearance in the modern Olympic Games (in Athens) with a 1500m swim. Since 2008, a 10k open water swim has been an officially sanctioned Olympic event


Embraced on a global level, open water-swimming events now take place everywhere from Istanbul to Copenhagen to Lake Zurich. Competition is fierce and swimmers brave a wide range of conditions to compete in events and claim bragging rights. Event distances range from 2.5K to the staggering 193K Eight Bridges Hudson River Swim, and require a great deal of training and planning in order to account for a wide range of possibilities.  


Getting ready for the race in Chicago at Ohio Beach, September 2016. (Photo by Mary Gebhart)


In Chicago, the Big Shoulders Open Water Classic has become a beloved tradition on the first Saturday after Labor Day. Founded in 1991 by the late Bill Mulliken, Olympic Gold Medal winner (’60 Rome breaststroke) as a fundraiser for the University of Illinois at Chicago swim team, Big Shoulders has grown to be one of the premier open-water races in the United States. The race is limited to 1200 registrants (800 for the 5K and 400 for the 2.5K), and every March registration closes earlier as swimmers log on and sign up to swim (in 2017 registration closed in just four hours).  

Most open water swimmers choose freestyle as their stroke because it allows them to sight the buoys or triangulate (looking for two aligned, easily visible objects behind the destination) when the race is a straight swim between start and end. The Big Shoulders swim is set up as a 2.5K course marked by four large buoys so that 5K swimmers take two trips around the course. The swimmers are assigned a swim cap color based on their entry times and are started in waves with the Elite 5K swimmers taking off at 8:00 am and ascending age groups following every four minutes until 8:28 am when the 46 & Over 2.5K swimmers start.

It’s a grueling course and it can be more than some swimmers can handle. Part of the challenge is the water. Lake Michigan temperatures can fluctuate widely and rapidly based on the changes in weather and wind. As a result, the rules for Big Shoulders state that if the water temperature drops to 60 degrees or below, all swimmers are required to wear wetsuits (however, as in competitive pool swimming, wearing a wetsuit disqualifies swimmers from posting any official open water swim times). More often than not, the water is warm enough for swimmers to skip the wetsuit, but occasionally swimmers will still find the water too cold and be unable to finish the race.


On the Big Shoulders Open Swim Classic course. September 2016. (Photo by Mary Gebhart)


This is when the race monitors and lifeguards are essential. Lifeguards are positioned at various points on the course in rowboats to help swimmers stay on course and to pull out anyone who can’t make it to the finish line. The race monitors circle the course in motorized boats ensuring that all swimmers stay outside the buoys, and picking up swimmers that can’t finish and depositing them near the beach.


At the end of the race, organizers award metals to the fastest swimmers in each group and host a huge barbeque on Ohio Beach!


By Mary Gebhart


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