questions asked by swimmers and parents

During my time as the Sport Science Co-ordinator for Swimming Australia, I get to travel and visit swim clubs around Australia. The aim of these visits is to talk to swimmers, coaches, administrators and especially parents about important issues in swimming.  Topics discussed range from strength training to nutrition: sport drinks to drugs in sport and many, many other pertinent and topical swimming issues.  Over the past year I have been fortunate to visit around 50 clubs and have spoken with many coaches, hundreds of swimmers and thousands of parents.

Whether I am talking with clubs in Perth or Melbourne, talking with city or country clubs, elite swimmers or age groupers, there are several questions that keep popping up during question time.

Below are some of the questions that I am most commonly asked:

Your Coach will be able to advise you on how many sessions you should be swimming according to your age, fitness levels and competition goals. Ultimately, there is no single answer to this question as every swimmer is unique and each stroke and event has unique demands.

For example: Eight sessions per week for one swimmer may be ideal; for another it may not be enough; for yet another it may be excessive.

There are however, three important guidelines on this issue:

Swimming is a TECHNIQUE driven sport. No matter how many sessions swum or how many kilometres covered, the most important aspect of swimming is good technique.

Our body will respond to the stresses and loads placed upon it, providing it is given enough time and the right conditions to recover and adapt.


The last guideline is perhaps the most important. Too many coaches, when faced with the situation of swimmers not improving, add training sessions to solve the problem with the belief that more work means faster swimmers.

Before adding extra sessions to the swimmers program, ask the following questions:

Is their swimming technique as good as it could be?
Are their racing skills as good as they could be?
Is their flexibility as good as it could be?
Is their diet as good as it could be?
Is their attitude to training as good as it could be?
Are they completing their present work as well as they could be?
Do they finish every effort on the wall?
Do they always leave on time and maintain the set time cycles?
Do they get to training on time?
Are they streamlining correctly out of every turn?
Do they kick out of every turn?
Do they perform all drills 100% correctly?
Do they perform kick sets fast and correctly?

If the answer to ALL of these questions is YES, then consider adding another session to the program.  If the answer to any of these question is NO, correct the problem before adding more work.

As with Question 1, your child’s coach is the best judge of appropriate training strategies. As with all training, strength training should start with the basics: good technique, control and safety. When people think about strength training they usually think about big hunks of muscles like Arnie Schwarzenegger. However, strength training is not just throwing huge stacks of weights around. Strength training can be exercises like sit ups, push ups, chins, dips, jumps, hops, skips, climbing ropes, using swim rubbers/bands and throwing medicine balls.
There are several myths about strength training.

Strength training turns you into a huge body builder sized monster.
Strength training is unsuitable for females.
Strength training should not be started until late teens.
Strength training decreases flexibility.
Strength training slows you down.

These myths are NOT founded on any scientific truth or logic. Strength training is a great supplement to pool training and when used in addition to a sound, well-structured water program can help swimmers achieve their best.

There are several good books on sport and nutrition and many sports nutritionists that specialise in this area. If you are concerned about diet then you are encouraged to consult some of these books or specialists.

Alternatively, a couple of guidelines that may be useful include:

Eating a light meal like fruit, bread or a light cereal before training. Particularly before morning training, when your body has not been recharged for 8-10 hours, try to eat something light. If you don’t feel like eating, try having a drink. It is not uncommon to not feel like eating at 4.30 am but it is something you can get used to.

During training, rehydration is the number one priority, with water the primary means for rehydrating.
Recent research shows us that immediately after training, your body is very receptive to the replenishment of energy. Thus, the consumption of a carbohydrate fuel source that is readily broken down and rapidly absorbed is very important.
Another issue is what to eat between races at a meet. Swimmers should make sure that their swim bag is full of good sources of fuel when going to meets. Sandwiches, noodles, rice, pasta, fruit and water.

A good general routine to follow is:
See coach immediately for feedback, splits, etc.
Drink something
Swim down
Eat and drink something
Rest and prepare for the next race


Be patient and supportive with progress;
Be tolerant of mistakes and poor performance;
Be calm and dignified at sporting events;
Encourage good sportsmanship;
Allow (the athletes) plenty of breathing space;
Offer praise with success;
Encourage involvement in other pursuits; and
Encourage independence and self-sufficiency.
Keep sport in perspective.

It is easy to place children in a category based on success in a particular stroke or event. The 11 year old who wins all the backstroke events is often labelled a backstroker for the rest of his/her career. This is clearly a dangerous practice.

Why one swimmer is good at breaststroke but can’t freestyle and another good at freestyle but can’t breaststroke is difficult to say.

Differences in limb lengths, muscle size and shape, range of motion around joints, training background and genetics all have a role in this issue.

General guidelines:

Changes in the size and shape of a swimmer during adolescence and growth mean that today’s breaststroker may be tomorrow’s flyer and vice versa. Try not to label swimmers as one thing or another until fully matured.
Train all swimmers in medley/distance (i.e. give them a good background in all strokes and a sound aerobic base) before specialising in one stroke or event.
Emphasise the importance of technique development at all times.
Work on improving flexibility in all muscle groups and around all joints.
These frequently asked questions are a few of the common questions asked of coaches. The responses are a general overview and are not intended to be a definitive work on swimming development. For further information on any of these topics please contact your local sports science/sports medicine professional.

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