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Swimming Information

This page contains information that may be of interest to swimmers. If you have any comments or other information on any of the subjects covered, please send us an e-mail.


  1. Nutrition - Consuming Water
  2. Planning Your Swimming Year
  3. A Backstroke Revolution
  4. A Dozen Rules for Lap Swimmers
  5. The Changing Face of Age Group Swimming


1.    Nutrition

Consuming Water

Why is it important to consume water or sports drinks after games and workouts?

You can live a few weeks without food, a few days without water, and a few minutes without oxygen. In other words, aside from oxygen water is the most important substance we put into our bodies.

Your body is composed of 55 to 75% water, and blood is almost 80 to 90% water. It is involved in almost every process. A lack of water can lead to both mental and physical changes. Water performs the following roles:

It cleans your body by flushing out toxins that are produced through normal living;
It lubricates your joints;
It keeps the skin from drying out;
It keeps the internal organs hydrated;
It controls body temperature.

When your body gets hot, water is lost through the skin in the form of sweat. This is a good thing, because as sweat evaporates from your skin your body cools off-like having a built-in air conditioner. However, for your built-in air conditioner to keep working you need to replenish your body with water.

If you don't drink enough to replace sweat losses, your blood can become thick and your circulation slows down. This places a strain on the heart. If fluid losses are great your body will not have enough water to produce sweat: your body temperature  can rise to a dangerous level.

While an average adult loses about 4 pints (eight large glasses) of water a day, an athlete can lose as much as 4 pints in an hour of hard exercise. If these fluids aren't replaced dehydration can result.

"Dehydration has a dramatic, negative effect on exercise performance", according to Bob Murray, PhD, director of the Gatorade Exercise Physiology Laboratory and Ironman triathlete. "In fact, even mild dehydration as little as a 1% loss in body weight-can hurt your performance by causing dizziness, headache, and slower reaction times. And it can increase the risk of heat illness."

If left untreated, dehydration will get worse and can be deadly. Look for early warning signs in yourself and your team-mates to prevent dehydration. If you see any of the danger signals (see below), talk to the coach and seek immediate medical attention.

"But won't I feel thirsty if I start to become dehydrated?" The answer is "not always". In many cases exercise actually disrupts the thirst response. When exercising you lose a lot of water before you feel thirsty, and you stop feeling thirsty before you are fully rehydrated. Therefore, you can't rely on thirst sensations so take care of your need for water. As an athlete you need to push fluids-consciously drink more than you feel like drinking-especially when you exercise in heat.

For these reasons athletes need to drink water or other beverages before, during, and after exercise.

Before exercise: drink one or two glasses of fluid (8 to 16 fluid ounces) 2 hours before a practice to make sure you start out well hydrated. Fifteen minutes before starting exercise, drink another glass (8 ounces).

During exercise: drink 4 to 6 ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise to replace lost fluids and prevent overheating. Cold fluids are best since they absorb rapidly and cool the body's core faster.

After exercise: it is important to keep drinking fluids after exercise because it takes a while for the body to rehydrate. To be sure you have drunk enough, weigh yourself before and after exercise. For every pound in weight lost, drink 1 pint (16 ounces) of water.

"Don't be fooled into thinking that weight lost during exercise is fat weight-fat weight is lost gradually and won't show on the scales for several days," cautions Maureen Plombon, past president of the Virginia Dietetic Association and a nutrition consultant. Nearly all of the weight lost during exercise is lost water.

Dehydration can come on fairly quickly, but it can also be built up over several days of exercising without drinking enough fluids. Athletes who exercise intensely every day or twice a day, especially in hot or humid conditions, may need to drink as much as 1.5 pints (24 fluid ounces) for every pound weight lost to restore their water balance.

Monitor your water loss by using the following formula:

        Pre-exercise weight minus post exercise weight divided by pre-exercise weight, times 100 = percent weight loss

You should have a zero percentage weight loss every day. In other words, your weight should not change after exercise. Even 2 percent weight loss can cause a decrease in performance and indicate mild dehydration.

For many purposes, an intake of water alone is sufficient to overcome temporary dehydration and water loss, but some athletes, in addition to water, need to replace the electrolytes-sodium and potassium-lost in sweat.

This is especially true during exercise lasting more than an hour. Many proprietary sports drinks contain electrolytes.

signs of dehydration  

early warning signs

thirst, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, flushed skin, headache, heat intolerance, indistinct speech, stumbling, clumsiness

danger signals

inability to swallow, delirium, muscle spasm, shriveled skin, sunken eyes, dim vision, painful urination, deafness, dry numb skin


An unattributed article from American Swimming magazine and Watermarks-the monthly magazine for the adult swimmer February 2000  




2.    Planning Your Swimming Year

Whether you swim as part of an organised group or as a casual swimmer, or somewhere in between, there is no doubt that a planned, structured programme will give you a better out come in the short and long terms, and that you will also find a sensible programme more interesting.

To have an aim does not mean you have to join the ranks of the obsessively competitive. Your aim might be to swim a certain distance, to swim a distance in a particular time, to master a different stroke, or a combination of these.

To achieve what you have set out in your personal agenda you will need to plan, just as a builder prepares his drawing and clears the ground before laying one brick on another. As son as you have decided that a plan is required you have become a "swimmer" and have stopped being a "bather". Do you see the difference?

Some of us talk of "training schedules", which is the menu of swimming for a "training session". Other have adopted the "workout",, which means both the menu and the time spent doing it. Any of these terms is valid and easily understood.

Long term cycles

For most of us an annual cycle training is enough. But for some people training aims can extend beyond a year. The elite athlete, the very top athletes, in  any sport will have, whether he or she likes it or not, a long-term aim. In the case of a track and field athlete or a swimmer it is quite likely that this will be the Olympic Games, which of course recur only every four years. There will be intermediate goals to achieve, success in continental or world championships, but they will be intermediate within the longer cycle. Veteran athletes may not be concerned with Olympic success, but they too have their cycles. In swimming it is not at all uncommon for some competitors to train more intensively for the years when they "age up" into a new age group, when in theory they should be able to do better times in terms of records and stand a better chance of doing well in major events. Conversely they will also have off years when they are at the top of their age groups, and will train less assiduously or possibly try out other events.

The elite athlete aiming at Olympic success may have in the back of his mind the very real possibility of retiring from sport once that event is over. This is understandably a common pattern. There are other things in life to enjoy, careers to be started or continued. The adult athlete has already come to terms with his or her professional development, and has reached an equilibrium between work and play. The adult's cycles are, in theory at least, capable of a lifetime's repetition.

The yearly cycle

For most swimmers, and other athletes too, the cycle is a n annual one. Most masters swimmers have a mental picture of a two-peak year, in which their training cycles are aimed at two particular events. In the USA these events might be the US Masters short course championships in May and the long course championship in August. For British masters swimmers there is the GB long course championship in early June and the English short course at the end of October. There are the added complications of a world masters championship every two years in even years and a European championship every two years as well in the odd years. Of course, one can compete at any time, at any phase in the training cycle, but in most organised set ups there will be an underlying thrust at the major vents. The training cycles within the year are often referred to as macrocycles. Each of these will in turn be made up of a series of mesocycles, or component cycles, aimed at bringing the participants to a peak at the time of their major event. There are commonly three principal mesocycles:

The preparatory mesocycle stresses training of the aerobic system and technique  

The hard work comes in the competitive mesocycle, where training at race pace and faster than race pace prepares the competitor for the stresses of competition, and tapering or peaking periods encourage rest prior to the days of competition.

The transition mesocycle consists of the resting and recovery phase following a major competition. Masters swimmers very often compete in a large number of events at a major championship meet. Sometimes too many, and a break from the rigours of hard training and competition allows the body to recover.

Weekly cycles

The mesocycles themselves are normally broken down still further into weekly cycles, for convenience as much as anything, as water time may not be constantly available, and even the swimmers' ability to train or practice cannot b guaranteed. It is in any case convenient and sensible to programme a rest day into a weekly cycle of training. The weekly cycle consists of individual workouts.


No sane swimmer would relish the idea of repeating continually the same workout, day in day out, or even the same type of workout, over a period of similar training effort, let alone during a whole year. By amending and balancing the distance, rest interval, pace, pull/kick, and medley proportions of each workout interest can be maintained, and within a week a swimmer may face workouts with a number of different emphases. For instance, the workout could be aimed at improving the swimmers' aerobic base and general endurance, or perhaps to improve the swimmers' power and capacity to swim fast. Alternatively, a workout could be aimed at maintenance, the restoring of technique or recovery from a hard session the previous day. A session missed for the purpose of recovery, but planned, is still a positively planned component of the weekly cycle.


Watermarks-the monthly magazine for the adult swimmer February 2000



3. A backstroke Revolution

Scott Rabalais, director of Crawfish Aquatics of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Fitness editor of SWIM magazine, and chairman of the United State Masters Swimming Coaches Committee.

Many of the advances in swimming techniques over the past two decades have come from the more efficient use of the swimmer's core strength. Most notable of these advances have been the changes in breaststroke introduced primarily in the 1980's and the implementation of increased underwater swimming in the 1990s.

The modifications in breaststroke have involved the more efficient usage and transference of energy via short axis rotation, which is driven by core strength. Similarly the effectiveness of underwater swimming depends heavily on the strength of one's dolphin kick, which is, in large part, a function of core strength. 

While the use of a dolphin kick has been limited almost exclusively to underwater work off the start and turns, there is emerging evidence that swimming backstroke with a dolphin kick may be faster than using a flutter kick.

Perhaps the first swimmer in the United States to use the dolphin backstroke effectively in major competition were actually from Japan. At last summer's Santa Clara Invitation, Seiko Kobayashi and Aya Terakawa finished first and second in the women's 100 backstroke ahead of top Americans Natalie Coughlin and Catherine Fox.

What caught the eye of some of those in attendance was that the Japanese swimmers were using dolphin and flutter kicks interchangeably while swimming backstroke during the race. Kobayashi used the same strategy in winning the 200 backstroke the next day. Most stroke modifications are popularised through the exceptional performance of a single individual, such as the use of extended underwater kicking on the side by Misty Hyman and the use of underwater dolphin kicking by David Berkoff in the late 1980'.

Technical advances in breaststroke were made very popular in part by the world record performances of Mike Barrowman roughly 10 years ago. While potential advancements in backstroke may not be attributed ultimately to the performance of the two Japanese swimmers, the swimming world will certainly take notice of this new technique if top backstrokers in the Sydney Olympics use the dolphin style.

While some elite swimmers may look effortless in swimming dolphin backstroke, the stroke does not lend itself to simplicity. Factors such as frequency, timing, rotation, amplitude, strength, stability, coordination, and body flow come into play.

It is likely that as the stroke develops each individual will develop his or her own style and method of implementation into performances. The stroke may not be for everyone, and those who use it will be required to spend months, if not years, in fine tuning it.

The changes from the conventional breaststroke to the modern breaststroke were made gradually and over a period of years, such may also be true of changes in backstroke.

Here is a closer look at some of the factors that affect the dolphin backstroke.


We are accustomed to seeing freestylers with various kick-rhythms: two beat, four beat, and six beat amongst others. It is likely that the dolphin backstroke will have various styles as well. Perhaps the most common will be the "two beat" kick, which is described as the swimmer licking once on each arm stroke. 

Initially swimmers experimenting with the kick are likely to develop a kick of greater frequency, but like the butterfly stroke itself, two beats per stroke should prove to be the most effective. Those who use rapid dolphin kicks underwater off the start and turn may be tempted to continue such frequency. However, the kick should slow to a two-beat rhythm once the arm stroke begins.


It appears that the most effective placement of the propulsive upbeat of the kick is as the hand enters the "catch" phase of the stroke. The rhythm or flow of the stroke should determine the placement of the kick, and using the high-propulsive part of the kick at a low-propulsive phase in the stroke seems logical.

As the hand drops underwater a few inches the opposite arm has finished its highly propulsive last sweep and it is into its recovery. since the initial phase of the catch in backstroke is not generally highly propulsive, the swimmer's forward motion may be increased with the placement of the dolphin kick at this point.

The goal of the overall stroke should be to create a smooth "body flow", that is, there should be little if any break in one's forward momentum. Likewise the great breaststrokers of today are those who have developed a smooth rhythm to their stroke, compared to the breaststrokers of decades past who swam with a more uneven, pulsing rhythm.


One of the most difficult aspects of the dolphin backstroke is the continuous long-axis rotation. The dolphin backstroker must continue to execute a high degree of rotation in the stroke to achieve maximum stroke length and efficiency.

The hydrodynamics of kicking indicate that a dolphin kick on one's side is faster than the same kick on one's back or front. This due to the more efficient displacement of the water to the side and away from the swimmer rather than to a turbulent surface. (Check in an aquarium: most of the fish should be kicking side to side.)

While the core strength required to rotate is not significantly different in the dolphin backstroke, the position and anchoring effects of the legs and kick are changed. However, the swimmer must continue to focus on rotation from the hip as the governing force in the stroke.


If the side of the kick used in dolphin backstroke is too large, resistive forces come into play that prove detrimental to forward progress. Similar to underwater dolphin kicking off starts and turns in backstroke, the kick should be of such amplitude to stay generally within the surface area offered to the water by the upper body. For example, if a swimmer on his back is one foot tall (the distance from his lowest to his highest point in the water), a kick that drops two feet below the surface essentially doubles the surface area exposed to the water. This in turn quadruples the resistive forces as a result of the relatively large kick.

It would be wiser for the swimmer to have a quick shallow kick with a pause (rest) than to have a larger slower kick that would lower the body position and increase resistance.


When kicking on their sides underwater, great dolphin kickers are able to maximise their speed by kicking with force in both directions. In contrast, most butterfly swimmers have a pronounced down beat and a relaxed up beat. However, with the dolphin backstroke the swimmer who can kick with force and strength in both directions will be at a clear advantage over a "downbeat" licker. Here again, it may require quite some time for a swimmer to develop an active kick in both directions if one is accustomed to a "one-sided" kick.


A common pitfall of dolphin backstroking is excessive vertical movement of the upper body as the lower body dolphins. swimmers should work to stabalise their upper body and allow the kick to work from the hips down. The bobbing of the upper body will create significant turbulence and intermittently drop the body deep in the water, destroying the rhythm of the stroke.

Co-ordination is the ability to combine several actions into one rhythmical, fluid action. The dolphin backstroke demands a high degree of co-ordination by the athlete, with the proper timing and rhythm at the kick, exceptional rotation skills, and the use of core strength.

Like any other stroke, it is a "dance" in the water that requires a precise rhythm that leads to a smooth flowing stroke. While a swimmer may have strong individual components of the dolphin backstroke, these components must be integrated into a harmonious whole to bring about a dolphin backstroke that would serve the athlete better than the conventional backstroke. 

Watermarks-the monthly magazine for the adult swimmer February 2000



4.    A Dozen Rules for Lap Swimmers

  Use the lane, which is best suited to your speed. Don't be afraid to change lanes if you are changing to a slower stroke, or changing to kicking.

Never dive into shallow water, however well you can dive. It is probably against the rules of the pool to dive into water less than 1.5 metres deep, and however well you can dive other people may not be so proficient. Even in deep water, get into the pool without making a disturbance and annoying swimmers already there.

Follow the circulation in your lane. If the pool is laned off there will be a circulation pattern - clockwise or anticlockwise. Be sure to conform to this, and keep well to the side of the lane. This will avoid collisions and endear you to other swimmers.

If other swimmers are following a set schedule, try to join in. Don't set up a group in competition.

Turning is  a problem: about 5 metres from the wall, make for the centre of the lane, turn at the central point and push off well on the other side of the lane. This will avoid high speed contact.

While resting, keep to the corners of the lane or get onto the side. Keep an eye on other swimmers' movements.

Be considerate when you push off. Wait for a clear space. Never push off as another swimmer is turning, and don't push off immediately behind someone who has just left the wall.

Think before you overtake.  

Be considerate when being overtaken.

Use hand paddles carefully.

Finish on the wall.

Don't take offence. 



5. The Changing Face of Age Group Swimming


You may be aware, either from reading articles in Swimming Times, or from information though your County, or from your club coach, that the ASA is looking at some changes in competition for young swimmers. The information in this article should help you to understand why changes should be beneficial and what these changes may be. 


During the latter part of the 1990’s there was concern as to whether the competition structure at age group level was helping to nurture talented swimmers through to senior level. There were serious concerns that swimmers who were successful at the national age groups at 12 would then be under constant pressure to repeat that success at 13, 14, 15 and 16. It was clear that many of the youngsters who achieved success early did so because, as well as being talented, they were physically early developers. When other swimmers who developed later came through to challenge them, it was often difficult to retain that sense of achievement and success.

In 1997 the ASA put together a group of people with various areas of expertise to look at this situation. They began with a blank sheet of paper and started by analysing the development of children and the bodily systems that are most needed to develop a good swimmer. 

What did they find?

The findings showed that all people go through the same developmental stages, though at different times and each stage can vary in length.

Two of the main systems that effect swimming are:

the nervous system, which controls the ability to determine movement patterns

(stroke technique), the ability to accurately repeat these and basic speed (reaction) times



the muscular system, which controls mainly strength.


The nervous system is almost fully developed by the time a child is 8 years old and so this is a good time to work on aspects which use this human development characteristic, specifically technique, starts, turns and finishing skills. The effectiveness of these skills is demonstrated particularly in short distance events.

The muscular system however develops at a much slower rate and the strength gains that are produced by training are not maximised until after puberty. 

The other area of the body that does need to be developed is the cardio-vascular system, which determines the efficiency of the heart and lungs. These organs are developed through building up work on longer distances.

In addition it is clear that from a very early age children should work on a wide range of movements. Up to the age of 7 children should experience as wide a number of sports as possible. If a child then looks to specialising on swimming it is equally important that this range of skills is developed by a multi-stroke approach to training and competition. A multi-skilled approach also reduces the likelihood of injuries.

Studies have also shown that whilst swimmers who do not specialise early have a slower initial increase in performance, they ultimately reach a higher level of achievement and have a longer life in the sport. This is in contrast to early specialisation producing an initial rapid increase in performance, but lower level of achievement and early retirement.

None of this research is new - it has provided principles behind good coaching for many years. However, the program of competitions provided by the Governing body to which coaches are expected to respond was not reflecting these principles.

One other factor, which needed major consideration, was the transition between short and longer distance events. For many years the way that the body produces energy has been known. In short events this is known as anaerobic and far longer events it is aerobic. One of the most difficult skills is to change between one system and the other. Any athletic event which lasts between 45 seconds and 1min 30 requires both of the energy systems. Events lasting less than 45secands are anaerobic and the longer events are purely aerobic. This change in energy production is particularly difficult for youngsters whose bodily systems are not fully developed and even then requires a skilled transition. The events in swimming that fall into this range are the 100m events.

How can this information be used?

So, the challenge is to devise a system of competition which would support all these known coaching principles for our young swimmers and which would provide the incentives for coaches to adapt correct training methods.

The current thinking is that swimmers in the 10 -13/14 age groups should be encouraged:

to compete in a range of events
to include short sprints and distance events
not to compete in 100m events too soon

The initial approach is to reward the swimmers who are successful over a range of events - in combinations determined by the age of the swimmer. The proposed groupings are ‘sprints’, ‘medleys’, ‘form strokes’ (back, breast and fly) and ‘distance freestyle’. So, firstly, the whole range of events must be available to younger swimmers, particularly the 200m on back, breast and fly. Then with a points system - like an athletics heptathlon or decathlon - awards can be made to those swimmers with the most points over an agreed range of events rather than to the individual winner of single events.

This type of competition relies on the existence of a points system that will compare the standard of one event against another. These have been available for some years, but so far have only been based on senior times and did not extend low enough to be used in this context. The ASA has now developed a British points system which, by using a statistical analysis of the lower age group times since 1994, has produced age correction factors for the points. The age correction factor is used to correct differences in difficulty of the events within any one-year age band.

What is happening now?

There are four Counties (Hants, Notts, Staffs, and Surrey), who in their year 2000 Championships, are piloting systems of rewarding the winners of a range of events. In addition there will be a series of three open meets in the North East working on a similar principle. The ASA is anxious to learn from this pilot process and is working closely with those concerned to evaluate how best to proceed, with a view ultimately to adapting the competitions far the 10 -13/14 year ages at National, District and County Age Groups.

The ASA is committed to ensuring that the sport provides the best opportunities for your child to achieve their full potential. The emphasis on skills and aerobic capacity at the right stage in their physical development will also equip your child for other activities or sports that they attempt throughout their life.


There are many aspects still under discussion, based on the principles outlined here, but no-one has the monopoly on ideas about how to put these into practice - so let the ASA have your thoughts, preferably on e-mail to or write to Competitive Development Continuum Group, ASA, Harold Fern House, Derby Square, Loughborough LE11 5AL.



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