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Are Swim Teams Worth it?

by Meghann on June 11, 2012

*I updated the wedding page today! My wedding dress is here!*

Leftovers.

Leftovers are always a safe bet for lunch.

Leftovers on top of a salad?

Even better.

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I reheated last night’s triscuit chicken chicken tenders, roasted okra, and steamed cauliflower, and added it all to a bed of spinach. A drizzle of spicy bbq sauce made the perfect dressing.

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I also had some Triscuits on the side to add a little crunch to the meal. :)

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From the inbox!

I received the following email in my inbox last week and wanted to share my response (I also wanted to see if anyone had anything to add :) )

I have a few questions about your swim classes/history. I’m a runner who would love to get into tris, but swimming makes me want to gouge my eyes out. I know how to “swim,” or at least not drown, and have gone and done laps at my gym a few times. I know my form is horrible and the lifeguard probably worries I’m going to drown the entire time.

My gym offers what they call a masters swim club. I need to call up my gym to get more info, but some people at work have told me it’s for all levels and while it’s not one on one, as there’s usually 10-15 people in the class (it’s a huge pool), you still do get some one on one attention. The swim club is insanely affordable (like $36 for 8 weeks) so I’m really thinking of doing it. I’m just wondering for your experience in started your swim classes. I know you had done tris, even the half ironman, before you started, but would you say you were a good swimmer when you started? Are others in your group much better than you? I’m pretty much terrified to take this on, but think it might be a huge help. Anything you can share from your experience would be hugely helpful.

-Sarah

Hi Sarah!

Let me give you a little run down of my swimming history. Basically I have none. I grew up near the water, so I’ve always been a strong swimmer in the sense that I could be left alone in the water and not drown, but not in the sense where I could do legitimate freestyle laps in the pool and make it look effortless. I never had any swim lessons or was a part of any swim team, I swam for fun, not much else.

When I first looked into doing my first 70.3 last year and was shopping around for gyms with pools in my area, the masters program at my gym was one of the things that drew me in. It was the same concept as the one at your gym and it seemed like the perfect fit for becoming a stronger swimmer before race day. Then I chickened out. I attempted to go to one practice, but was so intimidated by the different levels of the group that I turned around and backed out (looking back I now know I had nothing to be intimidated by, but back then I was new to the gym and didn’t know what to expect). Instead of attempting to go back I found a friend who was willing to work with me on a few lessons and gave me a few workouts that I cycled through during my training.

That same friend was the one who introduced me to my current swim group this past April. Again, I was intimidated (the people in this group can SWIM), but since my friend was going to be there I was a little less intimidated. She offered to make up my own workouts on the side if I couldn’t keep up with the group and there was no pressure of going back.

Even though the majority of the group was way more advanced in the water than I was, they never judged me or made me feel insecure about my own skill set. The coach ended up working with me more than I thought he would and was really encouraging. Honestly, I was hooked on the whole swim team concept after that first lesson.

Yes, the majority of the group is still much faster than I am, but I’ve learned to appreciate that. Workouts are tailored to fit my own skill set and – just like with running – I’ve learned that swimming is an individual sport with personal goals and records. I work at my own pace, while still striving to grow and improve in the process. Plus, the bonding element of my group can not be beat. It’s hard to spend that much time in the water together and not become friends.

So my advice is to find a friend to help with your technique to start out with and get you more comfortable in the water, then enroll in the masters swim class! Don’t chicken out like I did the first time around. There will be swimmers of all levels, and the opportunity for some one-on-one coaching is so much more valuable than attempting to train on your own. You’ll also be surprised how much the faster swimmer will inspire you to work on your skills, rather than discourage you.

Good luck!

- Meghann

Does anyone else have experience with a master’s swim program? Have any advice for Sarah?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dana June 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I was in the same boat as Sarah 3 years ago and I just joined a masters swim team this year.
I wouldn’t recommend joining a team until you have some lessons under your belt. I’m still a little overwhelmed sometimes at team practices and everyone is faster than me, so the coach tweaks the plan a bit for me. If I had joined with no lessons I’d be in WAY over my head.
I didn’t do any one-on-one lessons, but I did to adult group lessons. In masters (in my experience) they expect that you can do all four strokes, can do them for at least 100 yrds nonstop, and need minimal help with technique – more about getting faster and more efficient, not about learning the stroke.
If you’re not confident with your stroke technique I’d suggest a group swim class before masters. Good luck either way – swimming really is fun once you get the hang of it! :)

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2 Xiomara@Parkesdale June 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Sign up! For my first triathlon I joined a Masters Swim club and it helped so much. I’m like you, I wouldn’t drown but I was never part of a swim team. I felt very welcomed with that swim team and the coach knew my triathlon goal so she helped me achieve it.
Xiomara@Parkesdale recently posted..Cilantro Salsa Verde twice in one week

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3 Victoria (District Chocoholic) June 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Having coached for two Masters programs and swum with 5, I’ll say that Masters programs can be quite variable and it is worth looking into a program in more detail before signing up. A few key items to look into:
-What level of swimming competency do you expect out of your members? Some teams I have worked with are short on space, and require a minimum average pace to ensure that there is room for an organized workout to take place.
-What paces do the swimmers train at? You want to know that there will be a good place for you to swim, and that you won’t be stuck swimming on your own, either faster or slower than everybody else.
-What is the training focus of the group? Some groups are open water/triathlon training focused, others are sprint/swim meet focused. Be sure that you know that the group will be doing workouts that support your goals.
-How much of the workout is technique instruction, and how much of it is dedicated to swimming sets? Some groups offer nearly nonstop technique instruction, which can be irritating if you want to get a chance to swim fast with other fast people pushing you. Others have no technique instruction and leave the athletes to run through the sets on their own. Make sure that what you want matches what they are offering.

Masters swimming is great, the people are welcoming and I love training with people who push me, but it’s important to find the right program for you.
Victoria (District Chocoholic) recently posted..Vegan, Gluten-Free Brownie Bottom Peanut Butter Pie

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4 kate June 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I second all of Victorias points especially technique versus sets. Once your stroke has been refined Masters will be a great way to concentrate on speed and confidence.

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5 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats June 11, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I hope your reader enrolls! I know how intimidating it can be, I joined a running group and had to show up alone for the first run. I considered skipping out but I went for it and was so glad that I did!
Katie @ Peace Love & Oats recently posted..Sing You Home

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6 Carolyn June 11, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Master Swim Programs are TOTALLY worth it. Think of a swim team as a running club – you learn from those faster than you while having fun and having a coach!

Hands down, join a swim team if you want to see major improvements in the water!
Carolyn recently posted..Swimming for Two

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7 Courtney W June 11, 2012 at 6:25 pm

As Meghann’s encouraging friend, I suggest giving it a few practices. Or stop by to talk to the coach. They will let you know the intensity/variety of the group. Victoria gave fabulous questions to ask. It’s all about finding something that works for you.

Another thing to consider, Meghann has gained considerable speed in the pool since she started training with us a few months ago. I try to remind her of this on a semi-regular basis because sometimes it’s discouraging to swim with faster people. Keep track of your paces and intervals to see improvement from month to month. If the coach doesn’t freely give out technique advice make sure to ask…it is really important to develop good habits.

Basically, if you give it a shot and it’s not for you then you are right back where you started swimming on your own. I’m willing to bet you’ll like several aspects of swimming with a group and that’s a steal of a deal.
Courtney W recently posted..Race Report: Crystal River Sprint Triathlon

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8 Maura @ my healthy 'ohana June 11, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I was a swimmer in highschool, and have been thinking about doing a masters class! It sounds like a lot of fun, and I think as long as the coach is willing to tailor the workouts to different skill levels, it should be accessible to everyone!
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9 Diva@ The Swim Diva June 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Masters groups are the best money you can spend on your overall fitness. I am a coach (and team member!) in Boulder, CO for Boulder Aquatic Masters (BAM). BAM offers up to 5 practices a day and each one is tailored to a different ability level. The coaches are 100% willing to help you reach your goals and we all know how it feels to be the new guy and new to swimming.

Nobody would expect a new runner to go out and run a marathon without training, so no coach would expect a new swimmer to get in and swim an entire practice. You cannot go from zero to 4500 meter practices without building endurance.

What I would tell a new swimmer is to meet with someone who knows what they are talking about and create a realistic training plan that will promote endurance building, not disappointment.

Stick with it, and good luck!

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10 Carrie @ Fitness and Frozen Grapes June 12, 2012 at 8:18 am

Thanks for writing this post, Meghann–I’m in the same boat as Sarah (a runner who is training for her first tri), and I’ve been worrying about the swim portion as well. I took swimming lessons as a kid and know all four strokes (I was even on track to become a lifeguard), but I’ve never swam competitively. I will definitely look into master classes!
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11 Emily N June 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

Great bunch of info. Thanks!
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12 Patty June 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I am so glad you did this post! Before I read this post I was debating about email you and asking you about your swim team because I have been debating about joining a Masters team. I swam competitively from the time I was 7-18 but have only done random lap swim classes since then. My gym doesn’t have a pool and I recently found a lap swim pool that also has a Masters team that I have been thinking about. I know I won’t be fast (until I lose some weight and get my endurance back) so I am thinking about doing just the lap swim a few times to check out the workouts and how the team is before I join.
Thanks again!

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13 Sara June 14, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Thanks everyone for these comments, and thanks Meghann for posting my question. I ended up meeting with the master’s coach, and after doing so felt that my ability (or lack there of) wasn’t quite ready for master’s. The coach has offered to give me a few private lessons for very cheap to help me with my form and suggest some things to help me build up my endurance so that hopefully I’ll be ready for master’s for the next session in the fall.

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