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

What awesome Life Lessons can you get from Swimming!

Participating in sports is one of the best ways to learn about yourself and life in general. In most sports, you get the chance to learn about teamwork, competition, success, and failure. But, swimming provides so many more lessons that can be used later in life. Unfortunately, these lessons will not help you get into your dream college or help you find that ideal job; but, you can use these lessons to succeed in whatever college you attend and whatever job you get. You can also use them in other areas of your life whether you are in the pool or not.


Patience pays off.

Anyone who is competitive knows that patience is difficult to manage. But, as with anything valuable, patience is important to value. If you want to be good at anything, you need to take time and work hard. The only way to do this is to be patient and move step-by-step through the process. Time can be frustrating, but there is nothing that can be done about it. Not every day will be perfect. Not every lap will be perfect. But, with patience, you can overlook those imperfections, because it is the long term success that matters.


Crawling before you can walk.

Babies do not walk before they roll over or crawl. The same goes for swimmers. You have to learn to maneuver in the pool before you can be a successful competitors. So, if you think you can win big races without taking the necessary steps to be a good swimmer first, you will not succeed. You have to practice paddling, kicking, breathing, turning, finishing, and so much more before you can even get into that first race. Otherwise, without the right practice steps, you cannot expect to do very well. If you are not willing to put in the effort, you will not get the rewards. So, if a baby does not want to learn to walk, he doesn’t have to practice.


Learn how it feels to lose.

This may not sound like a thing that anyone wants to do, but it can be liberating. Many people are afraid to lose and they do not know how to handle losses. But, if you learn how it feels to lose, you know what you never want to do again. There are some outstanding swimmers out there and they might practice more than you do, but once you feel the loss, you can make the decision about the rest of your practices and your effort. You can also learn how to stay calm in situations that hurt. It is so much better to be calm and thoughtful after a lose than to become violent and frustrated. In real life outside of the pool, you might not win everything, so learning to respond calmly to a loss will help you in many ways.


Perfection is impossible.

As humans, we might strive for perfection. But, as humans, we cannot achieve it. We have flaws and they will show up when we least want them – like during an important race. Remember than things will not always go perfectly and in the same way that you have to learn to lose, you have to learn to be imperfect. Because of this, you cannot base your reality on whether you are 100% awesomely perfect. Your self-esteem has to be based on your work ethic, rather than being perfect. Your self-esteem should be based on your goals, rather than the perfection of achieving them.


Being mentally tough is important.

Recovery from set backs, patience during hard work, and staying calm is mental toughness. Having this fortitude will help you succeed in the pool and out of the pool. While the physical fitness that comes with swimming is a fabulous reason to keep swimming, it is the mental toughness that really shows how much you have learned in those hundreds and thousands of hours and laps.


6 awesome reasons why you need to do backstroke.

Backstroke is one of the most under appreciated swimming strokes. Most people spend their training sessions working with freestyle because it is the preferred stroke in most races. Freestyle swimming is a good stroke to use to build strength and endurance in the pool. If you specialize in a stroke, like backstroke, breaststroke, or butterfly, you will work on that stroke during your training. But most of your work will still be with freestyle. Interestingly, it is a good idea for every swimmer to include some backstroke work in every training session – even if you never swim backstroke in competitive events.


Avoid Repetitive Use Injuries

One of the most common problems that athletes experience are repetitive use injuries. These happen when athletes only work on one skill. So, athletes who play baseball often develop overuse injuries to their shoulders and elbows because they only throw with one hand. Swimmers who only swim with their faces down in the water can actually develop overuse injuries, too.


Use Complementary Muscles

Backstroke can take care of overuse issues. Because backstroke uses muscles in a different way that freestyle does, overuse gets reversed. When people swim backstroke, the chest muscles get to open up as the back does more work. During backstroke, the shoulders end up in a helpful position for improving posture – the shoulders are back and the belly is engaged. Doing backstroke on a regular basis can also reverse the pain that can develop in the neck and shoulders from arching over a computer screen.


Strengthening the Core

Another benefit of swimming backstroke regularly is the work it does on the core. The slight hip rotation helps to strengthen the core in a way the other strokes do not. The kicks also help with the core because they activate small muscles in the lower back. You might start to notice your oblique muscles getting stronger as you continue to practice this stroke.


Use with Running and High Impact Sports

Cross-training is another way to avoid overuse injuries. For people who do other athletic activities that involve high-impact, swimming will help reduce the negative effects that come from pounding hard into the ground. Runners, especially, can benefit from any type of swimming, but backstroke is the most therapeutic. Swimming backstroke gives the feet a break while focusing on the glutes and legs. The water provides resistance and lets the body heal from all of that impact. Because backstroke is done in such an unconventional way (there are very few exercises that are performed on the back), it is the perfect cross-training option for nearly every athlete.


Build Balance

Balance is the key to success in nearly every exercise routine. No one wants to suffer from overuse pains. Since most swimmers do spend the majority of their time facing down in the pool, backstroke is about the only complementary activity that can help instead of hurt them. Of course, swimmers can add weightlifting and running to their cross-training plan, but backstroke is the only activity that can be done with little-to-no risk of further injury. Mixing up your laps can actually improve your dominant stroke because you work more muscles – especially opposite muscles. If you are unsure of how to add backstroke, try using it as a cool down stroke. Take a slow and steady, so you can really focus on the muscle activity during the stroke.


Develop Different Muscles

You will also notice that backstroke work helps you in other non-swimming exercises. Since many competitive swimmers spend time in the weight room, they will see the benefits of backstroke on their upper body. Backstroke is one of the few strokes where the arm can fully extend. This helps build strength in the upper body and the bicep muscles. You will also see the triceps get stronger, too. You will have more flexibility in the weight room and in your neck and spine.

How to Make Breaststroke Your Best Stroke


Of the four competitive strokes, breaststroke is the most unique. Unlike the other three, it is swum entirely underwater and requires swimmers to break their streamline over and over again to propel themselves forward. By focusing on preserving the streamline through all the phases of the stroke, breaststroke can easily go from being your worst stroke to your best.


Why swim more than you have to? The easiest way to preserve your streamline is during your push-off. Hold your streamline until you begin to lose momentum, then initiate your fly kick and pullout, making sure to keep your body position the same throughout. Hold this final glide until your momentum slows again, then move into your breakout.

How to train it: Double your pullouts off of each wall, and focus on keeping your eyes locked on the bottom of the pool. Prove to yourself that it works by trying a few pullouts wherein you lift or lower your head halfway through the glide and compare results!


A lot of efficiency is lost during the breakout when swimmers recover their arms underwater without thinking about preserving their streamline. Rather than dragging your bent arms through the water beside your torso, sneak your arms underneath your chest by crossing your forearms and pushing your hands forwards into your streamline. Adam Peaty (GBR) was seen doing this during the 2016 Rio Olympics, and we all know how it worked out for him!

How to train it: Do it on deck! Stand in your tallest streamline, pull your arms down to your sides and mime a fly kick, then initiate a breaststroke kick as you “hug” yourself while stretching your arms back up to streamline. Then, go do it in the pool.


Believe it or not, breaststroke kick can be made more efficient. Preserve your streamline by keeping your knees aligned behind your hips; the angle between your torso and thighs should be no less than 120 degrees. Think about bringing your heels up to your buttocks with your ankles flexed and toes outwards, then push back and down to propel your body forwards. This kick is much more narrow, reducing drag and allowing swimmers to maintain a more streamlined position in the water.

How to train it: You’re going to get up close and personal with the wall, that’s how! Get in the water, place your chest and legs against the pool wall and rest your hands on the deck. Practice bring your heels up to your hips without poking your knees into the wall, and kick! To challenge yourself, try to kick hard enough to get your chest out of the water, then finish with a push-up.


Finally, your pull can be a major player in a more efficient breaststroke. A common mistake swimmers make is taking their outsweep wider than their shoulders and pulling their hands underneath their chin before recovering into streamline. Preserving streamline means keeping all motions within the line of the body, so it would serve you better to outsweep to shoulder width, keep the elbows high, and pull the hands down only until they are perpendicular to the pool bottom before recovering into streamline.

How to train it: Sculling. Lots of sculling. Put on your snorkel, stretch your arms out in front of you, and take a look at how wide you sweep your hands outwards. Make sure that you have your arms rotated so that your elbows are at the surface and your fingers are angled downward, then switch to full breaststroke pulls. Palms should face outward during outsweep, towards you during during the pull, and at the bottom during recovery.

There you have it: four simple ways to make breaststroke your best stroke, all by preserving your streamline in every move you make. If any aspect of your stroke feels too wide, it probably is. Breaststroke is all about being as narrow and flat as possible to ensure that all movements produce forward momentum, so think “streamline” all the time.

From Sarah MacDonald

If you want more content like this then sign up for our


featuring articles like these and more

and Email “I’m in” to

5 Tips to be great swim parents!

Parents who have their children in competitive sports have a bad reputation. They are often described as being overbearing and obsessed. If you are a parent of a competitive swimmer, it is easy to get caught up in the drama of the races and the competition between teammates. Everyone wants their own children to succeed, but at what cost? It is possible to be a swim parent who contributes to the success of your child without being overbearing to the coach and the other parents.


Swim parents are extremely dedicated to their children and their love of the pool. But, like parents of all young athletes, swim parents can be difficult for coaches to handle. In most cases, youth swimming coaches are volunteers and the do the job because they love the sport and they love working with kids. When parents become unruly, it makes it difficult for even the best coaches to keep doing the job. To help their children keep swimming and the coaches keep coaching, here are a few tips for parents to be the best swim parents possible:


Great swimming parents are encouraging.

And not just for their own children. They encourage the entire team. They listen to their children and their coach. They do not get involved in drama, even if it does arise. The most encouraging swim parents will share their children’s progress and listen when other parents do the same. They cheer on their own children and the other swimmers on their child’s team.


Great swimming parents are dedicate to the sport and the team.

They continue to learn about the best practices for improving in the sport. They also work hard to help the team succeed financially by participating in fundraisers and recruiting events. They make sure their children get to practices and they bring teammates to practices if their parents have difficulties with transportation.


Great swim parents share their knowledge with teammates.

When swimmers are getting ready to apply to college and for scholarships, the parents who have experience will help other parents who do not. They will share information about the best places to buy inexpensive, but high quality gear. Sharing knowledge does not mean overstepping the coach, however. It means bringing your expertise to the whole team with things that help the coach, too. Parents who have knowledge about complementary exercises like yoga or weight training can be helpful to the team, too – but only after asking the coach first.


Great swim parents are also generous.

This does not mean that they have to be financially generous, but they do what they can to help the team. This spirit of generosity can involve helping the coach with timing during practices or volunteering to drive children to meets. It could involve sharing delicious and nutritious recipes that satisfy a hungry swimmer. Generous parents do not complain about doing what they can to help the team be a team.


Finally, a great swim parent is a nice person.

Some parents can be judgemental and harsh to their own children and this can scare other children. There is a right way and a wrong way to cheer on a child; being nice is the key. Friendly swim parents are not just nice to their children, but to all of the children and their parents. As seasons change, families will come and go, but the veteran families should always be nice and welcoming to the newest ones. This makes the whole team cohesive and it helps new families know where to go for questions and answers. Friendly swim parents can set a positive tone for the entire season and for an entire club.

Swim Smart not hard – be a lazy swimmer

Yes, this headline is a big misleading. No swimmer is lazy, otherwise they wouldn’t be swimmers. But, many swimmers work extremely hard and that excessively hard work does not payoff in expected gains. Instead of working harder to small gains, why not think about working smarter. With a smart swimming program, your should be able to see more improvements. Many times, young and old swimmers get burned out with excessive training sessions. With smarter swimming sessions, you will be more likely to enjoy your training and get more out of it.

Adjust Your Pool Time

The first thing to do is consider how much time clockyou need to spend at the pool. For most swimmers, working out everyday is the best option. Instead of spending several hours just a few times each week, it is smarter to spend a shorter amount of time in the pool, but to visit the pool more often. These shorter workouts are more beneficial for swimmers because they do not have as many days off in between. Muscles do not need to recover from swimming like they do from weightlifting, so it is perfectly ok to swim every day. Swimming for shorter sessions more frequently will help you see improvements in your body and your strokes. It is one sure way to work smarter.

Swim with Mindfulness

Another smart way to swim better is to swim mindfully. Too many people will swim fast, but not pay attention to the quality of their strokes. If you are swimming for exercise, it is a good idea to pay attention to every stroke, so your body can get the fullest benefits. If you are not using your body the right way, you will not better your strokes, your strength, and your flexibility. You might get a good cardio workout, but you don’t get the other benefits. It is better (read that as smarter) to swim slower while paying close attention to the technique of your strokes. Are you pulling the water with power? Are you kicking with more than just your calf muscles? Are you breathing on both sides? Make smart adjustments to get the most out of your swimming.

Drill During Your Workouts

No matter how often you swim and no matter how long you swim, it is a good idea to add some swimming drills. These can be sets of laps that should be completed in a certain amount of time, or it can be something as simple as using kickboards or paddles. It is always a good idea to try to do something intentional while you spend time in the pool. Drills can help you focus on strength, speed, stroke, or breathing. Make your workout smarter by actually swimming with a purpose.

Swim with a Purpose

Another helpful way to intelligently build up your swimming sessions is to have an occasional challenge. Runners often do this by training for a race. Swimmers can do the same. This doesn’t mean that you have to race against anyone, but you race against yourself. Every so often (once per week, twice per month, whatever works for you), you should challenge yourself in the pool. This could be timing yourself going all-out and keeping track of your speed. It could be pushing yourself to breathe on the other side. It could even be swimming a little longer than usual on occasion. Whatever you do to challenge yourself, be sure that you push as hard as you can so you can really see what you are capable of doing.

Occasionally, Take it Easy

relaxFinally, give yourself some time to recover. Even though swimming is an exercise that can be done every day, there will be times when you should give yourself some easy workouts or even a day off here and there. It is always helpful to give yourself a short cool down at the end of each swimming session. You should also know that you do not have to push yourself to the edge in every single workout. There might be a workout where you just feel like kicking – so do it.

Should you question your coach?

The relationship between a coach and an athlete is certainly unique. In the best situations, the coach and athlete are not related, but their relationship is often like that of a parent and child. But yet, the relationship is still different than that. The goal of the coach is to prepare the athlete for success, both physically and mentally. Especially in swimming. In the best-case scenario, the coach understands the game from several perspectives and can steer the swimmer in the direction that is best suited for his or her ability in the water. When this is the case, the swimmer rarely has to question the coach. But, there are moments when questioning the coach is in the best interest of both parties.

Walking a Fine Line

When it comes to questioning the coach,coach there is a fine line that the athlete should walk. Coaches feel like they know what is best for the athlete and they trust that the athlete sees this. But, there are times when it is acceptable for a swimmer or any other athlete to question a coach’s decision. Swimmers should know that there is a right and wrong way to go about questioning a coach. And an athlete should take time to consider whether or not questioning the coach is the right thing to do in any situation.

The 24-Hour Rule

A swimmer should wait to question a coach for a few reasons. The first is that many athletes get caught up in the moment and they might say something to the coach that will be regretted later. By waiting, the swimmer can also reflect on the situation to see if it is necessary to discuss it with the coach. Many coaches appreciate when their athletes wait 24 hours before questioning a situation. This 24-hour rule has helped maintain many relationships.

Talk about Goals

One of the most important questions to ask your coach is what your coach’s goals for you are. If the goals are different, then it is time to have a heart-to-heart talk. coach3The goals should be realistic and reachable through hard work and dedication. If you feel like the goals are too far-fetched, then the relationship will suffer and your swimming will, too. If the goal is too easy, then what is the point of having the coach in the first place?

Talk about Listening

Another reason to question a coach is when the coach does not listen to you. Coaching not a one-way street for the coach to deliver and you to accept. The coaching relationship needs to have good communication where the coach listens to you, too. If you feel like the coach is not doing this, then you need to speak up. Your coach needs to understand your value as an athlete who knows his own body.

Work with the Coach

You should not question your coach when he is trying to get you to swim hard or to fix an aspect of your stroke. It is never appropriate to talk back to your coach or to give your coach attitude. Unlike your parents, you coach can easily stop working with you and find someone else who is willing to work hard and get to the next level. It is never appropriate to disobey your coach during practice or at a meet. The best attitude to take with a coach during practice or a competition is to do what the coach says and work hard to be the fastest.

How to Ask as a Parent

If you are a parent of a swimmer and you noticecoach2 that your swimmer is not progressing, the best thing to do is to talk to the coach without blaming the coach. The best way to question the coach is to ask what the swimmer can do to improve or what can you do to help your child swim faster. The coach will be more than willing to offer suggestions and it might even get the coach to spend more time with your child.