As most Master swimmers, we all have taken breaks from swimming at one time or another in our long career. The reasons have been numerous: either burnout from the long exhausting practices of our teen years or to explore new horizons such as studies, jobs, families, pregnancy. As we got older, it might have been injuries or health issues that sidelined us for a while. But most of us went back to swimming and experienced the joy of being back in the water and loving it. The biggest thrill came from seeing improvements in our fitness level and technique.
The first two to three months are hard, no other way to say it. We have to relearn our feel for the water, we have to acknowledge and accept that our level of fitness is nowhere where it used to be. For the competitive swimmer, it might be a little depressing. So the first thing to do when you are allowed back in the water on a regular basis is to assess your current level. Forget about those teenage years performances or those pre-pandemic stellar swims; test your current level of endurance and speed. After a week back in the water, you need to know what your base send-off time should be. For example, maybe you were at a 1:30–100 yards free send offs base pre-covid but now you might be 1:40, 1:45 or even 2:00 base. To gauge that level, you need to swim at least 10 to 15 times 100 yds. On the first one, which should feel easy, you should take about 10 to 15 seconds rest to set your send-off time. Now keep swimming and see if you can hold that send-off time for the rest of the set. If yes, perfect. If not, you may have to add 5 or 10 seconds to it. If you are new to swimming, you may test yourself with 50 yards instead of 100 yards. Do the same with different strokes and with individual medley. For speed, time yourself in a 50 or 100 of each stroke and at least a 100 IM. Write your current time down. Now design your workout sets based on that up-to-date sendoff time you just figured out.
In addition to those endurance sets, work on your technique: that feel for the water. How is your position on top of the water? Am I in alignment or am I wiggling around? How is my head position, am I looking towards the bottom of the pool? How is my catch in all my strokes, am I really pulling water towards the end of the pool, am I keeping my elbows up? How is my kick? Our USMS website has a lot of interesting articles on technique. I also wrote a few articles in past issues of our own Aqua Master. Review some of them, but also keep it simple. If you are new to swimming, the major goal is to stay on top of the water to avoid water resistance as much as possible. The key thinking points are extending your body using your core, breathing by turning and not lifting your head, and by a small and compact kick.
For the competitive swimmer, it is also nice to train your body to have some speed. Progressively reintroduce some sets which will reactivate those fast-twitch muscles. Do sets which will alternate some slow and fast swimming. This will help with recovering some speed, but also elevate your heart rate, and recoup your general level of fitness quicker.
Now comes the best part, the thrill of improvement. The pandemic put all of us in a forced break from swimming. Our level of swimming fitness has gone down and now can only go the other way: up and up and up. We are now ready to ride the wave of improvement. This is the best part, it is thrilling, motivating, and exciting. Enjoy. If you are not able to swim again, do not worry. Your time will come and it will be even more exciting.
Thanks for the encouragement! Although it feels wonderful to be back in the water, it is a bit depressing to see how slow I have become. It’s ok. It’ll get better.
I liked your comments about technique. I especially was interested in the tip about staying on top of the water as much as possible. For me, pulling is faster and much less effort than swimming. I am pretty sure this has to do with body position. I have a weak freestyle kick. Any tips on how to improve my body position so I have less drag from my “back half?”