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Technique & Tips

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Drills are a vital tool to improve swim technique and efficiency in the water. The drills below all have a focus and are designed to build into a full efficient stroke.

Freestyle Drills
Breaststroke Drills
Backstroke Drills
Butterfly Drills


Lane Etiquette

Work Together! Make sure you are swimming in the correct lane according to your ability. Work together so everyone has a good swim.

Keep space! Work out your order in your lane for each set. Set off at least 5 secs apart – if possible 10. DO NOT swim on someone’s feet – it is drafting and you get no benefit.  The person in front is doing all the work. If you stop during a set, be aware of others when you take off again - do not take off just before /straight after – leave space.

Turns: turn in centre or on RIGHT side of lane. When you have stopped or need a rest, keep on the LEFT (when facing wall) to keep out of the way of other swimmers! At the end of a set, make sure the people behind you can finish – move to the side.

If you any problems/questions – just ask your coach! Remember you know your own limitations and if you feel unable to do something just say. Remember we are Masters Swimmers!


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Lap Swimming Etiquette 101 (aka, "Don't Be a Fool at the Pool")

Take a look at the LSE 101 Curriculum ... something to think about whilst at training or swimming laps in public lanes ...

"Experienced drivers know that roads are safer and more efficient when everyone observes a few common courtesies and basic rules. ... So too in the pool when swimming laps. Just few shared conventions - observed by everyone - can go a long way towards making lap swimming safer, more pleasant, and more efficient for all."

Body Position

When coaching swimmers, one of the first areas to observe is the body position in the water. It is essential a streamlined body position is maintained to enable the swimmer to move through the water with the least resistance. A high head with dragging lower legs is immediately going to create resistance and make the stroke less effective.

Before entering the water, have swimmers practise the correct body position when swimming. Get swimmers to stand tall: shoulders back, long neck, head straight with eyes looking forward and importantly, a strong core with abs pulled in. When in the water, get swimmers to experiment with their head position:

  • Start in a jelly fish float – arms and legs hanging down, head looking down, gradually raise arms and legs until body feels streamlined on top of the water. Swimmers then start to kick and bring in arm strokes. Is their head position lower than normal? Do this drill over a few 25’s –ensure swimmers do not get a push from the wall.
  • When swimming, ask swimmers to experiment with their head – high, low and try to find the optimal position where their body is streamlined.
  • Remind swimmers of ‘1 goggle in, 1 goggle out’ when turning their head to breathe.
  • The other area to observe when trying to fix a poor body position is the catch. If the arms are pushing down instead of the hands grabbing the water and pushing it back, the result will be a high head position and thus, lower feet. Get the swimmer to work on catch entry and pull maintaining a high elbow position through pull, ensuring fingers are slightly lower than wrist and wrists lower than elbow. Drills to help this are: Sculling, long dog paddle and 6-1-6 drills practising holding the catch entry position.

Anne Smyth
MSNSW & MSA Coach of the Year 2014

Breathing. It's Vital!

One of the first areas to look at when you have a new swimmer joining your squad is breathing. Sounds simple enough but the holding of breath is a very common problem that many take through to adulthood. This can cause many problems- anxiety, quick fatigue, poor body position due to air in lungs, high head position and often a jerky head movement in breathing.

Some may hold their breath, exhale at the end but still be exhaling when their mouth is clear, meaning there is less time to take a good breath of air. It is also important to check the depth of inhalation and ensure that a swimmer is breathing deeply and using their full lung capacity. This is a significant factor in overall lung health of older swimmers. Breathing should be a steady release of air… like a sigh through either the mouth, nose or both ensuring all air is released by the time the swimmer clears their mouth to inhale.

Get swimmers to swim focus on their breathing: swim some 50’s breathing every 2, 3, 5 and as a challenge 7! In addition, encourage swimmers to bilateral, even if they do not do it all the time to bring balance into their stroke.

Anne Smyth
MSNSW & MSA Coach of the Year 2014

Bilateral Breathing

Why swimmers should be encouraged to breathe both sides.

Swimmers who only breathe to one side often have a number of stroke flaws which tend to develop when breathing to only one side. These include crossovers, scissor kicks, timing problems and poor catch technique. Rotation can be less on the non-breathing side and over-rotated on the other. It can be a cause of shoulder injury as the non-breathing side becomes weaker while the dominant arm is under more stress as it is in a constant state of having to make up for the weak arm.

Many elite swimmers do not race bilateral but they train practising bilateral breathing. An effective training method is to swim alternating breathing side every 25.

The advantages of bilateral breathing:

  • Helps to develop a symmetrical and balanced stroke with equal power on both sides, reducing chance of shoulder injury
  • Helps to swim straight in open water races and keeps options open – e.g. breathing away from swell, keeping eye on competitors
  • Gives you a tactical advantage in pool races – keeping an eye on the opposition
  • Breathing to non-dominant side may actually be faster and more efficient as bad stroke habits have had less chance to develop.

 Testing most efficient breathing side:

At a 3 day Swim Smooth Coaching Course Greg Gourley and I recently attended, the efficiency of each breathing side was tested with interesting results. You can do this set with your squad.

Breathing Side Test Set: (good pace with at least 30-second recovery)

6 x 100 as:

  • 1 & 2 to the right only
  • 3 & 4 to the left only
  • 5 & 6 Bilateral

Note time of each 100. Was one side quicker in time?

At the course was ex-world champion NZ Triathlete Sam Warriner who was very surprised at her results. She had only ever breathed to one side and after swimming the Test Set found she was actually faster in time breathing to her non-preferred side.

In conclusion, it’s so easy for swimmers to say that bilateral breathing is too hard and give up on it but encourage your squad members to give it a go, particularly in training.

Anne Smyth
MSNSW & MSA Coach of the Year 2014

Tempo Trainers to Enhance Training Sessions

Tempo Trainers are a valuable tool which can be used to enhance training sessions. They can be used in 2 ways: stroke rate and pacing.

1: Stroke Rate  

  • Average Stroke Rate is around 60 -65.
  • Stroke rates can drop off with age and fitness
  • Swimmers set tempo trainer on Mode 3 and experiment with different stroke rates:

48 – Should be way too slow for all
63 – about average
76 – Thorpe’s stroke rate
96 – Brownlee brothers (British Triathletes) stroke rate
110 – Janet Evans stroke rate

  • Experimenting with own stroke rate: Swimmers set tempo trainer a few beeps above or below stroke rate- what feels good? All about finding the sweet spot – swimming fast and efficiently
  • Coaches can find stroke rate using stopwatch. Stroke rate Mode “00” observe a swimmer – press start as hand enters the water count 1, on 4th stroke count 4 and press stop. The number is the stroke rate.
  • Ramp test: Used to find optimal stroke rate.  Swim a set of 50s increasing stroke rate each 50, starting at a rate below usual rate. What is the point where fastest speed is achieved without comprising stroke. This is optimal stroke rate.

 2:  Pacing using tempo trainer

  • Pacing is essential for distance swimming – need to maintain same pace over a long period (CSS)
  • TT can be used over shorter distances (200m) to practise maintaining pace.

Critical Swim Speed (CSS) is the pace you can sustain for a prolonged period of time.  Your CSS is the average time of each lap. CSS is also considered to be your aerobic swimming threshold. From a physiological point of view, CSS is a speed you can swim where your lactate production is equal to your body’s ability to dispose of lactate.

To improve your distance swimming, one way is to base your training on your CSS time. By using a beeper, your swim set can be configured to best suit your individual CSS time.

CSS pace (critical swim speed) can be easily calculated. Your CSS can be calculated from a 400 and 200 metre swim.

When doing a CSS training set with a beeper, you swim each lap at the pace of the beeper

e.g. if swimming 5 x 200 at a CSS pace of + 1 per 25, then as your toes leave each wall in a 25-metre pool, your beeper should beep.

  • if it beeps before your toes leave the wall, then you are swimming too slow
  • if the beeper beeps after your toes have left a wall you are swimming too fast

Using Tempo Trainers in squad

It is possible to use TT in squad even if only some have one.

TT can be used for all strokes too.

Stroke Rate: Put swimmers in pairs sharing TT. Swim together – swimmer with no TT matches stroke rate of swimmer with TT. Change every 50.

Pacing Sets: Give TT to lead swimmer. Following swimmers use pace clock leaving 10 sec gap as usual. The Tempo Trainer can be used over all distances – good for shorter distances to maintain pace or practise negative splits.

Sets: Pacing CSS swimming: Set tempo trainer on Mode 2 or Mode 1 to beep at CSS pace each 25. (Set to Mode 1 for finer tuning). There are two types of sets:

  1. Beat the Beep (BTB)
  2. Stay with the Beep (Stay)

With BTB, your beeper is set to a few seconds slower than your CSS pace per 50 meters (as specified in the set). As you swim the time you achieve in front of the beep (per lap) is accumulated into your rest interval.

Your beeper is set to a slower time per lap than you can swim.  For each lap swum, you will be accumulating time that adds to become your rest interval. e.g. if your CSS is for example 30 secs /25 metres, your BTB swim set may have the beeper set to CCS + 2 / 25 being 32 seconds / 25 metres.

Then when swimming say, 4 x 200 metres you will be gaining (or Beating the Beep by) approx. 2 seconds per 25 metres, so across the 200 m you will be approximately 16 secs in-front of the beep.

The time you gain (in this case 16 seconds) is the rest interval you get before you swim the next 200m. (no need to look at the pool clock).

With STAY with the beep, you are supposed to swim at the exact pace as the beeper – which may be faster or slower than your CSS pace. The rest period is until the next beep.

The Tempo Trainer can be used over all distances – good for shorter distances to maintain pace or practise negative splits.

Sample Sets:

CSS Set Stay with the beep

Goldilocks Set (from Swim Smooth)

4 x 100
1 x 200 (baby bear)
4 x 100
1 x 300 (mama bear)
4 x 100
1 x 400 (papa bear)
For example:
All with 1 beep recovery between each
CSS pace/100m: 1.37
Set in Mode 1/25m: 24.37
Stay with the beep

Beat the Beep Set

6 x 50   CSS +3/50m
4 x 100 CSS +5/50m
2 x 150  CSS +7/50m

2 x 200 CSS + 4/50m

For example:
CSS pace/100m: 1.54
Set TT Mode 2 at 57+ 3 sec/50m =60
57 + 5+= 1.02
57 + 7 = 1.04
Set TT at mode 2 at 57 + 4 = 1.01

Let's Get Sprinting!

Image result for sprinting womens 50m freestyleTime to shake swimmers out of steady pacing complacency with some sprint work!

It is great to have variety in training and even if swimmers are aiming for a long-distance swim, they need to be able to vary their pace.

There should be a small set of max quality efforts in the program. It may be a short set of 25s, if possible, with a dive start.

Increase the rest period in sets to enable quality sprints. The distance swum in the session will decrease, but the intensity and quality will increase.

It is difficult if your club only swims once/twice a week but can be done.

Sprint tips:

1.   Work your start and turns
2.   Increase your stroke rate
3.   Breathe less over short distances
4.   Increase the depth of your pull
5.   Increase your kick - a little quick 4 beat or 6 beat kick

Don’t forget to keep working on technique!
Efficient technique + sprint tips = fast swimming

Starts, Turns & Finishes

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Basic Guide to Starts, Turns and Finishes

Starts Turns Finishes Tips 2020 (PDF Download)


  • Starts - swimmer must be ready on whistle - no adjusting goggles on blocks!
    On take your mark - swimmers must be still in start position. Swimmers must surface before 15m
  • Breaststroke & Fly: Touch simultaneously with two hands, hands cannot meet but one hand can be higher than other
  • Backstroke Turn: Can touch turn on front and push off on back. In backstroke flip turn, the pull must be continuous, starting while rotating onto front
  • Backstroke Finish: Must touch on back, 1 part of the body must break the water.
  • IM - Butterfly to Backstroke & Breaststroke to Freestyle: Touch with two hands
  • IM - Backstroke to Breaststroke: Must stay on back to touch and then push off on front


  1. Launch
  • Pull up on blocks = switches on and fire up gluts to drive you forward
  • Hands directly below shoulders
  • Launch is straight out
  • Back leg pushed right back and up (ball of foot only on start wedge at back of block)
  • Strongest leg in front. Test - jump in air - see which foot goes in front or someone pushes you from behind
  • Arms come through
  • Front leg pushes through and back to join back leg
  1. Entry
  • Punch through water - like a knife straight
  • Head in line
  • Glutes switched on
  • Don’t stay underwater for too long as forward momentum will be lost

Breaststroke Start

  • To get most out of underwater work, in pull, include 1 fly kick in streamline
  • Dive, streamline, fly kick and pull through, 1 kick and then hands to top to commence stroke. Head needs to break the surface of the water before your hands start the catch part of the pull i.e. before they move past shoulder width.

Backstroke Start

  • Pull up to sit on the surface or as far as you can (limitations of an older swimmer!)
  • Flat back - 90-degree power position for knees
  • No need to pull in -Straight back, head in line with spine
  • Feet - shoulder width apart and slightly staggered gives better grip on wall
  • Sequence - Arms then shoulders then hips then toes point to blocks - like a dead lift movement - arms switch up before legs - arms go back - Push against bar 1st- body driving back before legs   ***prevent slipping
    - Arms BACK, not UP!  Bend through and around
    - Head neutral

** Older Masters swimmers may find it just as effective to duck down on start and push off underwater.


  • Underwater Work very important
  • Practise dolphin kick off wall, no stroke till flags, no breathe on first stroke

Tumble Turn Drills

  • Somersault in water push off pool bottom and jump to streamline.
  • Next step - jump and rotate 180 degree
  • Somersault down lane – couple of strokes and tumble slapping calves on water
  • Time turns from 10m – full pace on wall

Touch Turns

Can be just as effective for novice swimmers as a tumble turn

  • Finish on a full stroke
  • Hit the wall at speed to come off quickly
  • Head down - breathing - low and late
  • Technique - eyes down, touch with hands, one hand come off almost immediately, knees up on wall and body starts to come onto side, arms go: PUNCH YOUR BROTHER, PHONE YOUR MOTHER

Touch Turn Drills

Hanging on side of pool, on whistle bring knees up on wall, then work through stages of turn until finally complete action with push off.

Swim Workload Intensity

Training sessions will often refer to swimming at various intensity levels. The Swim Workload Intensity tables below will assist you in your understanding of pacing and swimming at threshold, aerobic and anaerobic paces.

Swimming Workload Intensity v1 Time Based
Swimming Workload Intensity v1 Pulse % Max - Indicative
Swimming Workload Intensity v1 RPE

Swimming training: why high-intensity training is more productive for swimmers than high-volume training


Image result for swimming taper"As swimmers we train hard all year for competition. But bridging the training and the meet is the mysterious, mystical thing known as the taper. It’s an opportunity for the body to recover from all of the hard work, to fine tune our swimming, and to ride an emotional roller coaster that bounces between complete and utter despair and feeling superhuman."

Mastering swimming: a self-help guide for coaches and swimmer (Anita Killmier)

This Taper Program is an extract taken from "Mastering swimming : a self-help guide for coaches and swimmers" by Anita Killmier, 1996 .... still a pretty good general 'bible'.  It takes a bit of judgement to 'work out' where you are at and then start your taper (but count back from your end date - the day you really want to be "UP") .  You may also find the information about Quality Training for Masters Swimmers by Anita Killimier useful in your training and race preparation.

Tapering and the Masters Swimmer (Karyln Pipes)

The “big” meet looms on the horizon. All season long you have worked hard, met training goals and maintained focus. Now comes the taper. Yikes! How long should you taper? How much should you train? What happens if the taper doesn’t work?These are common fears shared by both swimmers and coaches alike.

Why do we FEAR the taper? It’s because we are diving into the unknown with no way of predicting the outcome and worst of all, no guarantees of faster times. While you can find scientific studies and plenty of advice from respected age group and collegiate coaches, there is very little information regarding taper and the older athlete. So, what do we know?

• The older you are, the longer it takes to rest.
• The bigger your body mass, the longer it takes to rest.
• The less you train, the less you can taper.
• The larger your base, the more you can taper.

Here are eight strategies to help you taper for your next big meet.

Swim fast early. Add race specific speed work twice a week 6-8 weeks PRIOR to the competition. If you wait until the last week to swim fast, your body may not know how to respond leaving you feeling flat at the meet.

Funk phase. It’s extremely common to feel more fatigued in the middle of a taper, than if you were in heavy training. Your body is simply adapting to the “stress” of rest and endorphin withdrawal. Resist the knee jerk response to up your yardage to prove that you are still in shape, as this will only prolong the “funk phase” and negate the process of the taper.

Rest takes time. It is impossible to get real rest on short notice. Instead of a gradual three-week taper, try cutting way back at the beginning of the second week (30-40% of norm) while maintaining some quality work in each session. At the end of the second week assess how you feel and adjust accordingly.

Get race ready. Swim a time-trial or meet 1-3 weeks prior to the main event to practice going off the blocks, race strategy and to check on energy levels. If you are really fatigued, reduce your training even more.

Go the distance. Doing broken swims during the taper is a great way get event specific training while providing you with a recent experience for those tough events such as the 200 fly, 400 IM or distance free. Try 8 x 25’s for the 200 fly, 4 x 100’s or 8 x 50’s for the 400 IM and break freestyle events into sets of 150’s or 100’s, finishing up with 4 x 50’s descend.

Avoid extra activities. With more time on your hands, try not to add any additional athletic activities, household projects or marathon shopping excursions to your schedule. The idea is to REST.

Part of the cycle. Instead of looking at the taper as lost training, consider it an integral and important part of your seasonal cycle. You are still in the water and exercising…just in a different way. When you resume training you will feel refreshed and ready to go for the next season.

Time is on your side. Don’t worry if your taper doesn’t go exactly as planned. After all this is Masters swimming, so you literally have a lifetime to get it right!

About Karlyn Pipes

In 2002, Pipes set 25 FINA World records, 54 National records, achieved 6 lifetime best times and became the first woman over forty years old to complete the 500-yard freestyle event in less than five minutes with a time of 4:58.98. Stunningly, this time was quicker than the record of 4:59.08, which she had set for the 30–34 age group in 1996.

She has set FINA Masters world records in all four strokes, as well as in the medley and at every distance offered.]Pipes’s records stand the test of time and currently span six age- groups reaching back over twenty five years. She also competed at four FINA Masters World Championships starting with Montreal, Canada in 1994. Stanford in Palo Alto, CA in 2006, Perth, Australia in 2008, and Riccione, Italy in 2012 [ winning all twenty events she entered.

As of 2016, Pipes has set 332 U.S. Masters Swimming national, 6 long distance, and 53 relay records and is an 18-time USMS All-Star achieved by earning the most #1 rankings in an age-group in a year.
After over two decades of swimming in the Masters category, Pipes has become one of the most decorated swimmers in the history of the sport with a lifetime world record tally currently standing at 229.”I love what I do. The difference between now and then is that I swim for myself; not for a coach, not for my mother and not to set records. I swim because it makes me feel good about myself. I feel most alive when I swim.”

Common Mistakes in Competition

Image result for masters swimming dq cardBy Gary Stutsel
Technical Official, Masters Swimming Australia

All new members should read this comprehensive article before their first competition.
Download PDF version

My analysis of disqualifications (DQs) over the past 10 years confirms that false starts are the most common fault, followed by relay change overs and then individual stroke faults which, at least in NSW, are occurring less and less often. Also almost half of the infringements have been made by swimmers who are over 60 years and don’t compete regularly.

To my mind there are two major problems in competitions, especially bigger competitions like National and World Championships, they are:

Not knowing the current rules

  • There is no doubt that not knowing the rules is a major factor. At my last meet, two swimmers took two full strokes underwater before surfacing  at the start of the race and at the turn  in the 50m Breaststroke.
  • Rule changes, especially in backstroke turns (where the rule has changed at least three times in the last 10 years or so) can be a problem for swimmers who have not competed for a number of years.
  • So my tip:  If you are going to swim in a race, read and understand the rules for that stroke.

Lack of supervised practice under race conditions.

  • It is not enough to just know what to do, you have to practise doing it properly, preferably supervised by a coach or a current experienced competitor.
  • In 65 years of competition, many of them as a team captain, I have both seen and learnt the hard way that you need to practise what you are going to do. Conversely, if you routinely practise doing the wrong thing the chances are you will do it in competition. I have seen this with swimmers doing one handed touches when doing breaststroke in training and then accidentally doing it in a race. Every turn in every stroke in practice should be done correctly.
  • Ask your coach to check your stroke either during or outside practice sessions. Too many club sessions consist of conditioning swims, drills, and even sprints without any attention being paid to whether the swimmers are swimming to the rules.
  • Then you need to practice turns at race pace. It is no good doing a perfect turn in practice if it is not also practised at race speed.
  • Coaches or team captains need to give individual swimmers and relay teams practice in starts, turns and change-overs under race conditions using competition starting equipment if possible.
  • On the day of the competition, or before if possible:
    • Practise using the starting platforms – many of them differ, even subtly.
    • Practise your turns – the “T” lane markings and backstroke flags are not the same at all pools, despite FINA specifications.

Finally, false starts and early relay changeovers are usually due to nerves. Try to compete in several minor meets before tackling a major competition.

Getting Started with Video Analysis

Are you thinking of starting to use video analysis with your squad?

There are major benefits for your swimmers to be able to see themselves swimming, particularly underwater shots.

Greg Gourley's article Getting Started with Video Analysis (PDF Download) on filming swimmers is a fantastic place to start for some great tips.

Greg is a member of the MSNSW coaching team, coach at Tuggeranong and has presented at NSW Workshops as well as Thredbo Camp where many have benefited from his video

Hard Core

A strong Core is central in all swimming strokes.

For all strokes, the core is central to maintaining a good body position in the water. The core connects your upper and lower body allowing the transfer of energy from your arms to your feet. A strong and connected core allows you to swim with your whole body as a unit, as opposed to having disunity between what the arms and shoulders are doing and what the hips, legs, and feet are doing.

Hard Core (PDF Download)

Stroke Rate

Many swimmers may have found their stroke rate has dropped due to inconsistent swimming, lack of fitness, and age. It is easy for stroke rate to slow without the swimmer being aware of this.

Stroke Rate (PDF Download)

Session Planning Elements

Swim Session Planning Elements (PDF Download) outlines elements or characteristics that underpin the preparation and delivery of swim sessions by Masters Coaches. This paper focuses on the sessions that fit under the macro, meso, and micro-cycle structure, it focuses only on the sessions being coached. It is recommended that coaches evaluate their proposed swim sessions against each of the elements listed below prior to coaching the session. e.g. is the swim session inclusive, challenging, does it have variety, etc.

Other Useful Swimming Resources

Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth is an innovative swimming coaching company devoted to all levels of swimmers and triathletes. Their specialism is helping swimmers of any type or level improve. They have technique advice especially for you –  whether you’re a beginner who’d like to learn freestyle, an intermediate who wants to develop their stroke technique or an advanced swimmer looking to excel further, Swim Smooth is for you. As well as all the free advice on this site, you can sign up for their Blog, it’s called Feel For The Water.

Swim Smooth has some excellent open water tips to help you gain confidence and improve your open water skills.

What’s your Swim Type?  Swim Types show you the six fundamental styles swims use to swim freestyle.  Discover your Swim Type and Swim Smooth will show you how to become faster and more efficient through the water.  It’s a totally new angle on swim coaching.

Effortless Swimming

All the products and materials Effortless Swimming makes are created by National swimmer and Masters Coach of Year 2012 Brenton Ford. Brenton takes the drills, techniques and training methods used by the best swimmers around the world and make them available to athletes of all levels.

As Brenton says, “Effortless Swimming was created so that you could receive all the latest updates about swimming technique, skills, practice programs and everything else swimming related. If your only starting out or if you have 20 years experience makes no difference. With the right knowledge and the right skills, anyone can acheive the level of success they desire in the pool.”

Freshwater Swimmer

Some interesting reflections and thoughts on swimming, in particular a useful blog posting ‘Stroke Thoughts‘ about maintaining proper form and guarding against creeping flaws – starting with the hand entry and proceeding through the catch, pull, hip drive, and kick.

The Facts of Swimming

Improve your Freestyle technique and swim better with less effort by knowing these simple facts.