So, what's a swim workout like? I drag myself out of bed at 7 a.m. these days and make a cup of tea with milk. Turns out milk is a good pre-workout hydration beverage because the fat and protein in it slow down it's progress toward the exit. The milk+tea has more time to infuse into your system.
I munch on a piece of toast with peanut butter on it while I do a series of stretches to enhance ankle flexibility (one of the keys for good kick propulsion) and also to stretch out my back and shoulders. I toss on my swim suit, pull an old pair of shorts on and head to the pool. It's five minutes from my house.
Nowadays when we get to the pool we go straight to the deck area instead of spending time in the enclosed locker rooms. We wait for the 7-8 a.m. swimmers to exit the pool and then jump into our lanes and start the warm up.
How do we know which lane works best for us? A uniform standard in competitive swimming is the interval a swimmer can repeat for a set of ten 100 yard freestyle swims. Elite college swimmers can repeat the hundred yard distance and still get five seconds rest on a 1:05 interval; and will be able to repeat this for a long time. We're mostly no longer competing anywhere near that level so in our workouts the intervals might be 1:20 for the faster lanes, 1:25 for the tough lanes, 1:30 for the intermediate lanes (my group) and then 1:40 or 1:50 for the slower lanes.
If you are new to a program you can just tell the coach your one hundred yard repeat times and the coach will direct you to a suitable lane. There is a natural inclination to even out the number of people per lane but it's not unusual to see 4 intermediate swimmers in lane three but only one or two swimmers in the slower lanes. Sometimes it's the reverse. People want to swim with people in their speed and endurance bracket so there's constant self-selection going on, over time. If pushed for space I'll always try to move up to a faster lane (and plan on taking a nap later) instead of a slower lane. It's good to be pushed out of one's comfort zone sometimes.
But if the pool is crowded in the lanes you normally swim it can work fine to swim in the slower lane. The slower swimmers will set the intervals but if you are a faster swimmer you can still go fast in shorter and medium distance sets, it just means you'll have a longer recovery time for each segment of the set. If your lane is doing 50 yard swims on a minute but you usually do them on 50 seconds you can ramp up your sprinting effort and wait at the wall a bit longer for the next send off. The other people in your lane can do their usual swim and hit the same interval.
Right at 8 o'clock we jump in and start on a warm up set. You start slow and work the muscle kinks out. You build speed through the warm up set and maybe finish with some faster sprints. Our warm up today was fairly simple: 300 yard swim, 100 yard kick, 300 yard pull set, 200 yard kick. Most people who swim together often will have a routine figured out. Some people just charge through the w/u set while other people warm up progressively. If you swim with each other a lot you know when to get to the wall and move all the way over to the right to let a swimmer who wants to warm up faster flip turn on the wall. Then you follow along.
At the end of warm up the coach will have a set written on a white board and he'll explain the set to each group of lanes. A set will consist of either a homogeneous distance and the repeat time interval (say, 5 X 200 Yards on a 2:45 interval) or a mixed set with a repeating pattern. These are the "main sets" and everyone in each lane will swim them on an interval that is agreed to by everyone in their lane.
The fastest person in the lane goes first (and keeps the clock) while the slowest person goes last. Usually the swimmers in each lane are close enough in capabilities that even on long distance sets no one will get "lapped." All group workouts use "circle swimming." That means we go "up on the right" side of the lane and back on the right. Your right side is always closest to the lane line. We're basically swimming in a counter-clockwise circle.
You leave five seconds apart and keep at least a full body length between you and the person in front of you. That's especially important on the walls because people move from the side of the lane towards the middle of the lane in order to execute their flip turns. If everyone is well matched and swims an effective "circle" then you can have as many as five or six people in a lane in a 25 yard pool, swimming continuously. The circle swim is the epitome of swim collaboration. If everyone does it well it's a comfortable experience.
Occasionally some one will really be feeling their oats and even though they might usually be "middle of the lane" in speed they might ride up closer to the person in front of them. If you get too close it's the person in front's right to insist that you move up and take their place for the rest of that set.
This is considered a gentle but necessary rebuke so that a swim workout doesn't devolve into a "drafting event" where by slower swimmers get close enough to "draft" off faster swimmers. Also, close swimming makes flip turns a bit less safe and comfortable. Someone right on your toes can be intimidating (or infuriating).
Some sets are constructed to have descending time goals. You might do a set of 10 x 100's on a set interval but you will be encouraged to drop two, three or more seconds from your elapsed swim time on each repeat. You'll go faster on each 100 but you'll get a bit more rest. It's a trade off but swimming faster is harder than the added rest time is beneficial.
Sometimes we'll be asked to use hand paddles and pull buoys. These tools focus you on doing your arm strokes correctly and put more emphasis on building upper body swim strength. By eliminating propulsion and balancing from your kick you have to swim with more thought for your upper body stroke and your body roll with the two "long strokes" (freestyle and backstroke). We don't often (ever) pull butterfly because it puts so much strain on shoulders and also because butterfly is a full body stroke that requires the kick component for its basic rhythm.
The main set is usually 2000 - 2200 yard of an hour long workout but sometimes coaches will throw in stroke drills meant to fine tune technique. I love these because often getting faster is more about improving technique than it is from increasing muscle strength.
The last five minutes of workout is generally spent warming down from the longer, main set. Each person is doing the warm down their own way but most swimmers who habitually swim together collaborate on this as well.
Finally, there is usually another group of swimmers scheduled directly after our workout which means the only considerate thing to do is to be out of the pool and heading for our towels and face masks by 8:59.
Towel off and head home. Then get your day started. It's a routine, but a fun one.
A good regimen of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, coupled with walking and weights, should yield fairly quick cardiovascular benefits. Mostly, a lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, better level of oxygen in your bloodstream and more brachiation of the smaller capillaries and other blood vessels (which equals more delivery options for blood flow). Not only will you keep heart disease, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure at bay but you'll feel better in everything you do. And live longer. And enjoy those extra years more.
It's a nice hobby. But there's not much visual result to frame and show off to house guests. I guess you could always take your shirt off and show folks your six pack but I think that's still frowned on in polite society....
Eat all things in moderation. Exercise every day. Meditate often. Invest automatically. Never touch principal.
Be in love.
That's all the advice I ever give to my kid.
P.S. any activity that doesn't raise your heart rate while you are doing it is a "game" not a "sport." Chess is a game. Billiards is a game. Bowling is a game. Running, swimming, cross country skiing, cycling, and combinations thereof are sports. There is a fitness difference. You may enjoy games but you will benefit physically from sports.