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Category: Simple Fitness

Simple Swim Workout

Simple Swim Workout

Guest Post by Caleb Grinter.

Man requires water deeper than his arms are long to swim. Nothing more, nothing less.  However, most pool-goers have probably noticed a gadget savvy swimmer hogging the center lane with a bona fide yard sale of “pool toys” set up on deck.  Fins, paddles, pull buoys, fancy kickboard, front mount snorkel, waterproof MP3 player, water bottle, sport drink bottle, and a dry erase board with a seven part workout scrawled out on it.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a gear-enhanced approach to swimming.  Used correctly, training aids can shave some extra seconds off your time if you have the time, expertise, and resources.  But for me, the more complicated I make my workouts, the less I actually do them.  More importantly, the less I bring to the pool the more focused I feel once I dive in.

Speedos, swim goggles, swim cap, lens-cleaner, and disposable water bottle. That is everything in the cheap mesh “swim bag” I have had stashed in my car for most of the last four months.  This bag has served me well as I traveled and worked across the greater Denver area.  I belong to both the YMCA and 24 Hr Fitness chains on discount rate memberships that cost less than a combined $60 a month.  With this set-up, I can almost always find an open pool within a 15-20 minute drive.  Both gyms keep pull buoys and kickboards on deck so I have no need to lug around my own.  I use them sparingly anyway during my workouts.  I do have snorkels, fins, and paddles tucked away in storage but honestly feel like they cause more distraction than they are worth in technique benefit.

I swim five days a week.  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Some weeks I switch Thursday’s workout over to Friday.  As a rule, I don’t swim on Mondays so I can concentrate on getting work and family routines off to a good start.  I normally swim in the afternoons after work and in the mornings on the weekend but adjust accordingly as needed.  I do variations of the same five workouts every week as follows:

Tuesday-  TEMPO SWIM

200 WU, 400 drill, 600-1200 cruise at or just slower than 1500m/1650 race pace, 200 CD   1400-2000 yds


200 WU, 400 drill, 8-12 x 50 at/ or under 200 race pace, leave on the minute, 200 drill, 100-400 fast, pace varying by distance, 200 CD  1300-1800 yds


8-10 x 200 at 1500m/1650 race pace w/ 20 secs rest. No WU, No CD  1600-2000 yds


2000-3000 continuous swim at comfortable pace. No WU, No CD  2000-3000 yds


200 WU, 400 drill, 10-16×100 at 500y race pace with 20 sec recovery, 200 CD.  1400-2000 yds

WU = Warm-up. CD= Cool-down.

400 drill= 50 pull, 50 kick, 50 pull, 50 kick, 50 one-arm, 50 fist, 50 fingertip, 50 freestyle strong but relaxed. 15-20 secs rest between drills

This is a 7,500 to 10,000 yard a week  routine which is decent but certainly nothing special.  A lot of masters swimmers might try to squeeze a similar workload into 4 or even 3 workouts.  However, I like to feel like I have something left at the end of each workout rather than dead exhausted and dreary.

As far as my actual routine, I try to swim on a relatively empty stomach but often have an orange and maybe a granola bar when I get to the gym parking lot. Then I check-in, change, and go the deck area.  I apply lens-cleaner to my goggles about once a week, which takes about 15 seconds to apply and wipe clear.

Then I go through a rigorous warm-up of sitting in the hot tub for five minutes.  Does this help me swim faster? Probably not.  Does it make me swim slower? I don’t know and don’t care.  I do know that I look forward to the quick hot dip in the hot tub and the hot water settles me down after a bumpy day at work. However, I am pretty strict about getting out after five minutes and do actually go through some shoulder stretches and take in a decent amount of water while I soak.

Then I put on my swim cap and goggles, grab a pull buoy and kickboard, find an open lane and hop in. I do underwater bobs for 30 seconds to blow everything out, adjust my goggles and start swimming.  I swim my warm-up at an honest pace and go through the drills pretty efficiently.

I swim the last 50 of my drills as smoothly as possible, trying to balance rhythm with power. Then, I give myself a two-minute break to collect myself and focus before starting the main interval set. I swim all my intervals on fixed leave marks. For example on my CSS days, I hit my 200s anywhere between 2:45-2:48 but leave every 3:10 regardless. That makes the math pretty easy as I just have to add 10 seconds every interval for my leave mark.  After doing this workout cycle for several months, I am very diligent about sticking to my paces and number of reps. That said, I don’t blast the last interval and believe it is better to save that energy for time trials and races.

I don’t warm-up before my CSS swims to avoid going out too hard on the first interval.  For the long continual swim, a warm-up is simply unnecessary. Plus there is something nice about banging out a healthy workout in 30-45 minutes and going about your day without delay.

I keep the workouts the same for several reasons.  Most importantly, the familiar basic structure of each workout lets me focus on my form and effort rather than figuring out a new interval pattern every workout.  Secondly, repeating the same basic workout allows me to track my progression as my split times improve. Conversely, if I come down with a cold or am just exhausted from work I can dial the workout back, by cutting the number of intervals but keeping the pace the same.

I do some sort of all-out time trial about every two to three weeks. Sometimes, its nothing more than a balls out 50 with a dive and other times it is a test 500.  After shorter time trials I proceed through a normal workout after a short break of easy swimming.  I count the longer time trials as a workout in themselves and just do a long cool down with some drills afterward.

Using this basic schedule for three months, I’ve hit significant PRs at every distance and developed a newfound sense of rhythm in the water.  Would I be better off doing more technique or off-stroke work?  Maybe.  But I feel like each workout is a technique drill for me as I am so comfortable with each work-set in terms of effort that I can think and concentrate on my extension, catch, kick, etc.  That is not to say that the workouts don’t push me physically anymore.  Quite the opposite actually. Its just that my body knows what is coming in terms of heart rate and muscle fatigue so my mind focuses on the finer details rather than worrying if I can make it to the wall.

This type of schedule might bore more advanced swimmers to tears. However, it might fit the bill for busy adult onset swimmers who just want to stay fit and achieve respectable marks in a summer triathlon or open-water event.  The minimal gear and streamlined workouts are also great for a business traveler who only has an hour to squeeze in some laps.

Give it a shot for a four-week cycle and I promise it will keep your gym bag light.  I’ll also bet it will clear out some space in your head, at least while you’re in the water.

Mindful workouts.

Mindful workouts.

Mindful is one of those trendy words used a lot in yoga studios and self-help books, and while I hate to be that trendy, all natural, yoga pants wearing, hippy chick, I just sort of am these days.  I’m even wearing yoga pants right now.  So… I’m going to go ahead and just bite the bullet and use the word “mindful” even if I sound lame.  I’m not really even sure how other people use the word mindful but I use to  mean “in the moment,” like, you’re thinking about the task at hand and not the seventy other things on your to do list.  Here’s what I’ve learned.  If you’re not mindful about your workouts, you’re probably wasting your time at the gym.

Have you ever gone to the gym with no real plan and you can’t decide exactly what you want to do?  You start out jogging on the treadmill but you get sick of that, because it’s a treadmill, and then you decide to lift some weights.  So, you do a few squats but you haven’t lifted in a while so it doesn’t feel that great, and then you decide to do some push-ups.  You do about three push-ups and three sit-ups and then you realize you’ve been wandering around the gym like a moron for half an hour doing nothing whatsoever for your fitness, so you give up and sit in the steam room for another half hour. Sound familiar?  No?  Maybe it’s just me.  But here’s the deal.  Unless you’re way ahead of me and well on the path to a slower and simpler life, you’re probably pretty busy, and it’s probably tough to find time to make it to the gym.  So don’t waste the time you have.  Otherwise you feel really lame afterward.  Trust me.

If you haven’t already made a workout plan, make one as soon as you arrive at the gym.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  It could be “jog on the treadmill for 30 minutes.”  But commit to it.  Don’t quit after 28 minutes and call it good because 28 will turn into 26 will turn into 10.  If you’re going to lift, you need a slightly more in depth plan but it doesn’t have to be rocket science.

Here’s an example of a workout I might do at the YMCA.

Warm-up/cardio – On the treadmill (because I’m not allowed to leave the building while my son is at Kid’s Club) – Jog one mile easy, one mile at a fairly hard pace, and one mile at a moderate pace.

Dynamic stretching if needed – Generally, I’m not a huge fan of stretching before a workout but as I’ve gotten older, my body seems to need a little more loosening up.  I still don’t believe in doing long, static stretches before a workout.  It makes me feel slow and sluggish and if you’re too loose, you may actually increase your chances of getting injured.  Here’s an example of a short, simple dynamic stretching routine…

10 inchworms w/ 2 push-ups at the bottom

10 air squats, stay at the bottom of your last squat for one minute

20 lunges (10 each side) w/ upper body rotation

arm swings forward and backward until it feels good

That’s pretty quick and simple but if I get too complicated, I just won’t do it.  If I’m going to run hard, I do the dynamic stretching after the first mile of the run, but if it’s an easy run, I like to do it afterward because my muscles feel all warm and bendy.

Simple Strength Training –  I generally have an hour to workout including getting dressed and undressed so I make this part quick.  Unless I’m going to commit to doing at least a month or two of lifting, I stick to mostly body weight training, with maybe some light kettlebells or dumbbells thrown in there.  Something like this…

10 rounds, no resting, of…

10 tricep push-ups (elbows against your rib cage)

10 reverse crunches on the bench (Lay on the bench with your butt hanging off the end and your feet lat on the ground.  Hold on next to your ears.  Bring your knees up to touch your nose.  Slowly bring your feet back to the floor but don’t touch it.  Repeat.)

2 slow pullups

15 supermans

No, this does not come close to working out all muscle groups but I workout several times a week so  I will get to them eventually.  Plus, if I’m running a lot, I don’t need to do a ton of lower body work because running makes your legs pretty strong, especially if you include some sprints.

So, that’s a typical YMCA workout for me.  It’s not perfect but it’s quick and it’s simple.  When you take care of an energetic two year old all day, the super high-intensity, leave you puking in the corner, workouts are just not appealing.  James does not feel sorry for me if I’m sore and tired.  I throw in some higher intensity workouts on the weekend when my husband is around to share the load but during the week, I keep it simple.  My main goal right is now is just being healthy and feeling good so there’s no reason to kill it every workout.  The most important things are: (1) having a plan so you don’t look like an idiot wandering around the gym; and (2) being mindful of what you’re doing so that you stay focused and actually finish the workout you planned.

That’s my advice, for what it’s worth.  I’m not in the best shape of my life, and I haven’t won any races lately but I do manage to workout regularly and stay healthy and active.