Get the most out of your time in the pool

Swimming with fins allows you to work on your leg strength. Using different equipment in the pool, such as hand paddles, can also help you to work on your upper body.
Swimming with fins allows you to work on your leg strength. Using different equipment in the pool, such as hand paddles, can also help you to work on your upper body.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Always go into a session with a plan and keep mixing it up to get a whole-body workout

Love swimming but bored with ploughing up and down the lanes?

Here are some tips to make your time in the water more profitable.

Remember to start on land: Before training, you should activate muscles, and afterwards you should stretch to remobilise.

Mix it up with different strokes. Swimming is a great whole-body workout because it targets muscles in a way that you can't replicate in day-to-day life.

Try to use different equipment.

  • Swim freestyle like an Olympian

  • •Keep a relaxed arm on your recovery phase (when your arm is out of the water). This enables you to use less energy when you are swimming.

    •Never cross the centre line of your body with your arms. This will force your body to swim in a snake-like motion as you are not pushing water in the direction you want to travel in.

    •The last bit of your underwater pull should finish around your hips. This will enable you to keep a long stroke, which will in turn be more efficient.

    •Try to keep your body as streamlined as possible while swimming freestyle. You don't want to have your feet dragging across the pool and be swimming at an upwards angle. To make this easier, you need to work on your freestyle kick to allow a more streamlined stroke position.


Fins are a great way to work on leg strength and hand paddles are great for your upper body. By trying out different equipment, you can work on specific parts of the body and then target any weaknesses.

Kicking, in particular, is always a tough exercise to do, but it is great to focus on your lower body and strengthen the kick part of your stroke.

Remember to mix up your session with different speeds: This will allow you to spike your heart rate, which in turn will help you achieve better fitness gains.

For example, try 10x100m, doing the first 25m with hard effort, then 75m easy to medium.

When working on your endurance fitness, change up your intervals and test yourself to see what times you can achieve. Try to have only five to 10 seconds' rest between repetitions.

For example: swim 100m/75m/50m/25m x 4, with five to 10 seconds' rest between each.

Always go into your session with a plan: If you turn up to train and don't know what you're aiming for, it can feel quite tedious and boring. Mix it up each week with different types of training.

If you have access to a heart-rate monitor, use it in the session and you can work in different training zones. It will also give you an idea of how different strokes or speeds can spike your heart rate.

The general rule of thumb is that your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. For example: If I am 35, my max heart rate would be 185. This will arm you with the knowledge of training according to your beats below max (BBM).

In training, I work in these zones:


I normally use this heart rate to allow my body to recover after a tough session. This could be a set of:

•200m freestyle

•3 x 100m - one just kick, one just "pull" (arm strokes), one normal swim

•Repeat this two to four times.


• 200m freestyle - backstroke

•4x100m alternating one kick, one pull

•4x50m mixed strokes depending on how confident you are

•Repeat this accordingly and try to keep heart rate 40-50 BBM.


You can make big endurance and fitness gains in the pool by working your heart rate in this zone. It is quite tough, so it is always best to start small and build up.

•200m freestyle with fins

•3x100m IM (individual medley: comprising breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and freestyle)/mixing strokes

• 4 x 50m with paddles

•Repeat 2-4 times depending on how comfortable you feel.


This is the hardest zone we train in. This would typically be what race-pace swimming falls into. As it is such a hard zone to train in, you will need to rest. Do some easy swimming to recover and have more rest with each repetition.

•4 x 50m race pace/heart rate

•100m easy

•2x100m race pace/heart rate

•100m easy

•Repeat this two to four times.


Another great way to get good training benefits is to do a session mixing all of the training zones. That way you would drop both speeds and efforts.

This would look like:

•200m at aerobic (50BBM)

•3x100m at threshold


•4x50m at heart rate/race pace


•Jazz Carlin won silver medals in the 400m and 800m freestyle at the Rio Olympics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Get the most out of your time in the pool'. Print Edition | Subscribe