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Dive Into Swim Diversity

By John Murray | Jan. 08, 2018, 1:06 p.m. (ET)

pool swim

I’m on a mission to help adult-onset swimmers learn skills in the pool that not only help with swim efficiency but also add some variety. When I ask newer triathletes what they do when they get to the pool, they often respond saying, “I just jump in and see how long I can swim before I get tired and have to stop.” This, to me, is not only mundane but also can continue to solidify the muscle memory of incorrect swimming technique.

Here are a few options for adding variety into your time at the pool.

Learn to use the clock.

Swimmers love to use the clocks at the pool. Nearly every pool has either a digital or analog clock that you can use to see how fast you are swimming or how long you are resting.

Bring a swim set with you to the pool.

Choose a swim set that is appropriate for your level, and have fun completing the set as written with the help of that timing device. Over the course of several months, you can adjust the time of the swim, or the rest and revel in your improvement.

Example: 8 x 50 swim (moderate effort level) on 1:00 (one minute)

For some this set is too easy; for others it’s too difficult. An athlete can adjust the distance or time to make the set make sense for their ability. If this set is perfect for you, consider repeating it regularly. After a couple months, the 1:00 may seem too easy and an adjustment to :55 would be appropriate.

Add swim drills.

Swim coaches all around the world are using swim drills as a means of correcting or improving swim technique. These coaches realize that just telling a swimmer to make a change may not be the best way; however, teaching the swimmer to correctly perform a drill can facilitate the desired stroke technique modification. Mixing these drills with regular swimming can speed up the correction.

We live in a time of readily accessible videos including many of swimming drills. Consider spending some time researching a couple drills and then testing them out at your next swim. Try to grow your library of drills and incorporate them in most swim training sessions.

Bring some toys to the pool.

Swimming with training aids can be fun for some or frustrating for others. Regardless, they’ll help you learn about how your technique is great or how it still needs a bit of work. For my masters group, we regularly use a bag of tricks:

  • Hand paddles
  • Pull buoy
  • Swim fins
  • Kickboard
  • Snorkel
  • Wiffle balls

There are prescribed uses for these swim toys, but we also have some off-label uses as well:

  • Hand paddle: Take one hand paddle and place it on the top of your head as you push off the wall. The pressure of the water will keep it against your head as you swim freestyle. Try to keep it on your head for the entire length (breathe regularly).
  • Kickboard: Use the kickboard in place of a pull buoy.
  • Pull buoy: Instead of using the pull buoy between your upper thighs, place it at the ankles.

My hope for triathletes who do not come from an extensive swimming background, is that you will embrace the fun training that exists in the pool. Go outside the monotony of swimming laps and trust that swimming technique and performance will develop more quickly with these proven processes and using these tools.

John Murray is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach, ASCA Level II Certified Coach and a USA Triathlon Certified Race Director, who led the Portofino Tri Series super sprint races for seven years. John has coached competitive swimmers and masters clubs for over 25 years. He has completed over 70 triathlons through IRONMAN distance. John is the co-founder and head coach emeritus of Team MPI, who now travels the country in his RV. He can be reached at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.