Note: The following article appeared on Swimspire.com in September of 2016 and was adapted for the Georgia Masters Newsletter in December, 2016:
Are you a solo swimmer? If so, welcome to my world! For many of us, swimming solo rather than with a workout group or team isn’t a preference; it’s dictated by circumstances. In my case, the nearest U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) team is located quite a distance away, so the community pool just one mile away is the more convenient option.
Although swimming solo may have its disadvantages, I have discovered ways during my six years as a lone Masters swimmer to overcome them and make the most of my swimming experience. Hopefully, the following suggestions will do the same for you.
- No coach? No problem! Learn to coach yourself with video.
The most frustrating thing for me training solo was not having a coach on deck to evaluate my strokes on a regular basis, so I bought a waterproof camera and enlisted the help of my husband to periodically shoot video of all four strokes. Having to kneel down on the deck to record underwater views was a knee and back buster, so I rigged up a camera mount on a PVC pipe. Now, my husband can stand up straight to shoot underwater video. He simply twists the pipe to pan the camera as I swim by, or he holds it still at the end of the pool for front views.
In order to shoot video myself, I use reusable rubber-coated twist ties (available at Home Depot) to attach the PVC pipe to the pool ladder or railing.
Next, I upload the videos to my computer, and compare them to instructional videos right here on Swimspire. I also compare my stroke videos to “Go Swim” and “Total Immersion” videos viewed on YouTube.
Alternatively, the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums (www.usms.org) are a great place to have your stroke video evaluated by other Masters swimmers. Just upload your video to YouTube, and post the link on the Forums. (You don’t have to be a member to sign up for a free account.) Every time I have done so, other “Forumites” have responded with great advice. Often these online “coaches” have been actual swim coaches or world-class Masters swimmers!
- Are you lost as to how to design your own workout plans? Check out the Internet!
The USMS website is THE place to find a variety of excellent workouts to suit your needs. Sign up for that free account, and check out “Workouts” in the “General” section of the Forums. Swimming workouts are posted on a daily basis by top-level Masters swimmers that are geared for sprinters, long-distance swimmers, triathletes, stroke specialists, and more. There are even swim workouts specifically written for expectant mothers and those with limited mobility!
There are plenty of other options for swim workout ideas, too. Google “swim workouts,” and there will be numerous options for ideas.
I copy and pasted my favorite workouts into Word Documents, custom-formatted them in larger font for easy reading through goggles, and printed them out. They are kept in a three-ring binder in plastic sleeves, and I place a selected one in a jumbo Ziploc bag to keep it dry at the pool.
I also record my results (such as my practice “race” times) on a plastic SCUBA slate using a pencil. After recording the information online in my USMS Fitness log, I use toothpaste and water to scrub it clean.
- Be a sociable solo swimmer.
Many swimmers love the solitude of swimming solo, and escape to the pool to alleviate stress. If you’re an extrovert like me, though, I enjoy being around people; so, I make an effort to be sociable when I’m at the pool.
Regardless of your personality type, there are advantages to getting to know others where you swim.
Over the years my friendliness towards others at the pool has come back around in ways I had never expected. I get asked about upcoming competitions, receive a lot of encouragement, and get congratulated when I return to the pool following a meet. There are several people who even offer to move (or just automatically do it) if they are using my favorite lane when I arrive for my workout. (The other narrow swim lane has two ladders that are not built into the wall—painful for my fingers if the butterfly recovery isn’t timed perfectly.)
Striking up conversations with others at the pool has led to some wonderful friendships, too. We already had one thing in common when we met; we loved to swim!
- Become a “Forumite” on the USMS Discussion Forums.
Joining USMS, and being active on the Discussion Forums has also led to cherished friendships over the years. One “Forumite” (a FINA World Record breaststroker) who had viewed my posted stroke videos and responded with advice did something for me I will never forget. At my first USMS Short Course Nationals, just two months after joining USMS, he surprised me by watching me race, and then meeting me at my lane to provide stroke feedback. Hearing what I did well and how I could improve helped me going into my next race. This “Forumite” has been my valued online coach ever since, and I am one of his biggest fans!
At another national swim meet the following year, my husband and I got to know the guys from another team sitting next to us in the bleachers. When it came time for my 200 breaststroke race, I heard a booming, “Go, Elaine!” echo from the bleachers as I stepped up onto the starting block. That jolt of inspiration propelled me to swim a personal best time!
Besides learning a lot from the other Forum contributors, many of them have become real friends—unlike the so-called “friends” many people make on Facebook (that they may never meet face-to-face). When I compete at swim meets—especially USMS National Championships—I get to see and spend time with my Forum friends. One of them even traveled across the country to visit me in Georgia, and participate with me at an upstate meet. It was a blast!
Overall, the swimming community is a friendly, open, and supportive one. Become a part of it, and you will be happy you did!
Are you a non-competitive fitness/recreation swimmer? You will be welcomed with open arms if you go to a local swim meet, and volunteer to time races, count laps during distance events, or assist the meet director! It’s a great way to meet other swimmers, and become a part of your local swim community, even if you never swim a race.
When I was unable to compete following hip surgery, I timed races at a meet. I had so much fun cheering my teammates on and socializing with the others.
Are you considering becoming a competitive swimmer, but a lack of self-confidence in your abilities is stopping you? Do you feel intimidated by the thought of competition? Volunteering at a local Masters or Senior Games meet is a great opportunity to see what it’s really like. Watch the other swimmers, and see how you compare. At a recent local swim meet, there were swimmers of all levels; from a three-time 1980’s Olympian to a swimmer who appeared to struggle with completing the race. Nobody paid particular attention to either one; we were all there to race against the clock and achieve our personal goals. As always, the atmosphere was fun, friendly, and supportive.
- Share your skills.
Related to the last suggestion, sharing your skills with other swimmers will bring joy in unpredictable ways. When I complimented a new resident at my community on her freestyle stroke, she lamented the fact she hadn’t been coached since her age-group swimming days; so, she wasn’t sure how her stroke looked. I offered to shoot topside and underwater video of her stroke, so we met up the following day for a video session, and I recorded her stroke from several angles. I then uploaded the videos to YouTube and sent her the links. She was so appreciative that she treated me to lunch! We had a great time, and a new friendship was formed.
I also write a monthly “Swimmer Profile” column for the Georgia Masters Newsletter and contribute photos I shoot at swim meets. In addition, I periodically submit meet recap articles. I enjoy the writing process, and interviewing profile subjects has been a great way to get to know other area swimmers. Friendships I’ve formed have deepened, and the compliments on my writing have been gratifying!
Think about your skills and how they could benefit other swimmers at your pool or your local swim club. It will be a rewarding experience!
Putting these six suggestions into action is sure to make your solo swimming experience more enjoyable. Give them a try and see for yourself!