Monday, February 1, 2016

A Case for Masters Swimming

by Gina Kehr

I am a swimmer at heart. It is what helped me be the athlete I am today. It is what I go to when I need to get my mojo.

I started swimming because I wanted to do a spring sport in high school. Not having any swim background other than playing in my backyard pool I was totally new to the sport. It was my dad who encouraged me to go out for my high school swim team. That was the start of my swim career.

I remember those first days on Highland High’s JV swim team. I only knew crawl stroke (that is what they called it back then). My first practice: I was 14, I had long hair, I wore a turquoise Dolfin swim suit that was more of a fancy suit then a competitive swim suit, and I had no goggles or cap. During practice I was completely lost; I couldn’t read a clock and didn’t even understand that I was supposed to read. I would just swim to one end, get lapped, then swim back. The coach would talk all this stuff on the deck: hand placement, the catch, the S (which no longer exists) the exit and on and on. It was so overwhelming I basically just swam under water a lot.

Sound familiar? No matter who you are and what age you are, that is how we are introduced to swimming. It’s no wonder so many people get frustrated when they start out swimming. At 14 years of age that organized chaos seemed fun, but at 30, 40, 50, and older, I am sure it can come across as intimidating. I am writing today to say, even with all that, I think everyone should be part of a Masters swim program. I want to be that person that encourages you to join and be an active member.

Why Masters swimming? Four reasons:

  1. Your are in a group environment and there is always someone your speed. I coach Stanford Masters and I have all levels who come to my workout. 10 lanes in a 50 meter pool and I have lanes ranging from 1:20 to 2:30+/ per 100 meters and I have five to six people per lane in every lane.

  2. You will have pace variation. When swimming on our own all the time it is tough to change up the speed. Due to the group environment it is easier to change your pace because of the sheer dynamics of the group. Just like biking and running it is important to add pace variation into your swim training.

  3. There are many workouts from which to choose. Most decent sized programs offer two if not three workouts Monday through Friday and then one or two workouts on the weekend. Early morning workouts are a great way to get your swim done before you go to the office, noon workouts are for those who like to workout at lunch or have flexible schedules and evening workouts make it easy to always be able to fit in a swim.

  4. There is a coach on deck. Need help with your stroke? Ask the coach on deck to give you a few pointers. Any instruction is better than no instruction. Ask your coach if they have the “Coaches Eye” app on their phone or tablet. It is an easy way to get a quick video of you swimming and quick feedback on what to work on.

You may be asking yourself, how do I train as a triathlete with a Masters swim program? Just find the themes of the week and place them into your training. Let’s say you show up on a day where it is threshold and you just want to swim aerobic. Simple, just swim one or two lanes slower. This goes for a day when you need to go harder and you show up and it is aerobic day. Just swim a lane faster or lead your lane and be ultra speedy.

Another question you may be asking is how much should you swim with your Masters group? For a seasoned swimmer I would recommend two to three times a week. For new swimmers I recommend one to two times a week to start, with all other swimming on their own. Eventually I like to see all triathletes swim three to five times a week.

The frequency and level of swimming that a Masters swim program can provide is key for swimming better. I would rather have an athlete swim five times a week that makes up 2:30 hours of swimming then swim twice for 1:15. With swimmers who are new, shorter time in the water with good technique will get you farther along than with a longer workout where technique breakdown can happen in the back half of the workout. You may now be saying it is not worth the time it takes to get to the pool for a 30-minute swim workout. To alleviate that, schedule a run after a swim so you can make the best use of your time.

What you may not realize is not only are you becoming a better swimmer by swimming more, but now you are going to become a better runner by cross training with swimming. It’s amazing how it all works out. Now, go hit the pool, join a Masters team and get swimming!


Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at AffinityMultisport.com.
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