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Carleton University Masters Swimming FAQ

Thanks to Steve Morton (x-Whitecaps) for putting this together!

Help! I've Plateaued

Dear Coach: I’m getting slower, or at least not getting any faster. What can I do? Frustrated Swimmer
Dear F. Swimmer: Unfortunately, as we get older slowing down is not too surprising, especially if you have been swimming for many years. However, there are things you can do to at least “slow down” the inevitable slowing down! First, work on your technique. Ask your coach for something to work on on each of your strokes. That makes the workout more interesting and gives you something to focus on. Next, really make sure that you follow the workout closely and vary your speed as much as possible (e.g. build, fade, descend, fast, mod, etc.). Our body adjusts to what we ask it to do. If we always do (almost) the same thing, our body does not have to adapt to anything new. Adapting to new things is what helps us improve. One thing that can really help is to do some all out 25m sprints (health permitting, of course). That’s a great way to “shock” the system. Ask your coach for help with this, if required.

Dear U. Swimmer: There can be many causes behind this. First, it’s normal to plateau – we can’t always improve (especially as we age, unfortunately). Ask your coach to look at your technique and offer some suggestions. The other thing that’s important in improving is variety. If you always swim the same stroke(s) at the same speed, you are unlikely to improve. To improve, you need to “shock” the body by mixing it up: mix up the strokes, distances, and, most importantly, the intensity.

Dear I.a. Rut: There are a lot of variables at work here. For most of us, time is no longer on our side. It’s harder to improve once we’re into our late 30s and beyond! We also need to be realistic in our expectations. Are you training as much as you were last year? Being inconsistent in your training will make it harder to improve. Also, these things do tend to go in phases. At first, there are lots of “easy” improvements to make to your strokes. As you become more proficient, it’s more difficult to improve your strokes. All that said, though, the most important thing that you can do to improve is to vary your speed when swimming. This means that you have to know what speed you are swimming at (i.e. use the pace clock!). If your workouts get into a rut, you will, too. To improve you have to “shock” your system. Go easy when you should be going easy, but go very fast (as long as you have no health problems preventing that) when you are supposed to go fast. That will force your body to continually adapt, which will make you fitter and faster.


Dear Coach: What’s the difference between build and descend? Learning the Terminology
Dear L.t. Terminology: We use “descend” to refer to a set of repeats of the same length where you are to swim each one (of all or some of them) faster than the previous one, e.g. 6 x 100 fs d: 1->3 (three 100s freestyle descending in groups of 3: i.e. #3 and #6 are the fastest, #1 and #4 the slowest, and #2 and #5 in between). We use build to refer to picking up the speed within a repeat (e.g. 200 fs build: start the 200 moderate and gradually increase the effort level to finish it fast) or picking up the speed in a set of repeats of different length (e.g. 200, 150, 100, 50 building through the set, so the 200 is moderate, …, 50 fast).

Lane Etiquette

Dear Coach: Our lane doesn’t stay together very well, what should we do to improve this? Dysfunctional Lane Member
Dear D.L. Member: Ideally your lane should be staying together, especially during the main sets. If things aren’t working out, let your coach know. And the more experienced swimmers are welcome to explain lane etiquette to the newbies, e.g. if you get lapped during the main set, skip a 50 and join in with the group. If you are continually getting lapped there may be a better lane. Talk to the coach! We want the swim to be a good experience for everyone. If you are getting frustrated we need to fix things in your lane.
Dear Coach: Where should I do my turns to avoid collisions with other swimmers in my lane? Learning to Circle Swim
Dear L.t.C. Swim: Generally, you should cross over to the far side of the lane (as soon as the person in front of you has pushed off) before you do your turn. That way you can push straight off the wall without worrying about bumping into the person behind you. The only exceptions to this are if you’re doing backstroke (in which case you can see the person behind you better than the person in front), so you should be sure that you don’t cross over too early, and if you’re the last person in the lane when you don’t have to worry about bumping into someone behind you.
Dear Coach: How far apart should swimmers be in the lane? Crowded Lane Swimmer
Dear C.L. Swimmer: Normally you want to keep a 5 second gap between swimmers. If you have only 3-4 swimmers, you can even leave 10 seconds apart. Ideally, you want everyone in your lane to keep together, so if one person gets lapped, they should skip 50m and join in with everyone else. Note that you should never push off the wall less than 5 seconds ahead or behind someone unless both of you are swimming continuously and one of you is passing the other!
Dear Coach: What lane etiquette do you recommend during the main set? Our lane often gets all mixed up. Is it ok for us each to do our own thing? Mixed Up Lane Swimmer
Dear M.U.L. Swimmer: Unless your lane has swimmers of radically different speeds, you should all swim the workout together. Once the coach has explained the main set, discuss the appropriate order for that stroke(s) and distance, and decide when the first person will start (e.g. on the red top). Make sure that everyone knows the order and when you’re starting. If you start without letting your lane-mates know, the lane is almost sure to get mixed up. If you have only two or three swimmers you can each start (exactly) 10 seconds apart, otherwise start (exactly) 5 seconds apart. If the order you chose was incorrect or becomes incorrect as one person slows down and another speeds up, fix it when you stop between repeats. If someone in the lane is not making the pace times and they get lapped, they should skip 50m and join back in with the rest of the group. That way everyone is doing the same thing at the same time and it is more enjoyable for all. If you are ever unsure of the appropriate lane etiquette, just ask your coach.
Dear Coach: Is it ok to pass someone when there is someone coming the other way? In other words, is it ok to have three people side by side in the lane (two going one way, and one the other)? Wondering About Passing Etiquette
Dear W.A.P. Etiquette: Yes, this is fine, as long as everyone in the lane is careful and aware of the other swimmers in the lane. The person passing needs to ensure that there is space to pass safely. Four (two going each way), can be done in a wide lane, but requires precision!
Dear Coach: My lane is too fast / slow; my lane-mates are too fast / slow; … Various Swimmers the First Week
Dear V.S.t.F. Week: By all means let your coach know if there’s an issue with your lane. Please keep in mind, however, that it may take a couple of weeks to get the lanes sorted out in each group. Also, in some groups (especially the 6pm group, as it’s is full) there may not be a lane that goes at exactly the speed you want. Thanks for your patience!!


Dear Coach: What are the rules for a freestyle turn in competition. Do I have to do a flip turn? New Swimmer
Dear N. Swimmer: The rules for freestyle (including the turn) are almost non-existent (at least compared to the other strokes). You can swim any style (except in an IM race) – it doesn’t have to be front crawl. You can turn in any manner you like as long as some part of your body touches the wall. As long as you don’t false start, swim in the wrong lane, swim the wrong distance, pull on the lane rope, or push off the bottom of the pool (standing up is ok, as long as you don’t push off) pretty much anything goes! That said, if you don’t like flip turns, the most efficient freestyle open turn is to come into the wall on your side and grab the wall with one arm (the other is at your side). Push off on the other side with both arms above your head. Ask your coach for a demo!
Dear Coach: What are the rules for the backstroke? Do I have to touch the wall with my hand? Is a flip turn permitted? What type of kick can I do after the turn? Learning the Backstroke Ropes
Dear L.t.B. Ropes: On the finish of a backstroke race (or the backstroke portion of an IM race), a swimmer must touch the wall on his/her back. He may touch with any part of his body (e.g. head is legal, though not recommended). If you turn on to the stomach before touching the wall at the end of the race (or the end of the backstroke leg of an IM) you would be disqualified. As for the turn, there are two variations open (i.e. non-flip) and flip. On a backstroke flip turn, you are allowed to roll onto your stomach and take one freestyle stroke as long as there is no glide (i.e. a continuous motion into the turn). You then push off on your back. By "back" we mean less than 90 degree roll to either side, so you don't have to be flat on your back. On a backstroke open turn (a non-flip turn), you must touch the wall on your back (just like the finish above, so with any part of the body, although hand is recommended). And you must also leave the wall on your back (assuming backstroke to backstroke). If it was backstroke to breaststroke, you would, of course, push off on your stomach. A good backstroke open turn is what's called the "bucket" turn where you spin on your back. Ask for a demo! When you push off the wall in backstroke after a start or either variation of the turn, you may stay under water for up to 15m and you can do any combination of dolphin / flutter kick (or any other kick that you like) while you are underwater. Actually for backstroke, apart from not being underwater for more than 15m, as long as you stay on your back (with the exception of the flip turn rule above), you can do whatever you like, i.e. just kicking, double arm back, etc., are all permitted.
Dear Coach: Can you please explain the rules for all the backstroke turns, i.e. back to back, back to breast, back to free, and back to fly? New Swimmer
Dear N. Swimmer: All the rules for turns were developed for competitions. Thus, there are official rules only for those turns that occur in recognized swimming events (fly, back, breast, free and IM). As back comes between fly and breast in an IM, that means that there are rules for fly to back turns, back to back turns, and back to breast turns (but not back to free or back to fly).
Dear Coach: How many dolphin kicks may I do on a breaststroke turn? A Breaststroker
Dear A. Breaststroker: A maximum of one dolphin kick is allowed on a legal breaststroke turn. The single dolphin kick must be done as part of the breaststroke underwater pull-out (ask your coach for a demo), if you don’t do the pull-out, then no dolphin kicks are permitted.

Eyes and Ears

Dear Coach: Where can I buy prescription swimming goggles? Near-Sighted Swimmer
Dear N-S. Swimmer: Prescription goggles are available at quite a few sports stores in Ottawa. I believe that Sports Experts usually carries Speedo prescription goggles, as does the new Aquasport store (see Swimmer Notes above). I'd suggest that you phone ahead to check that they have them, and that they have the prescription you are looking for. You can also look on-line (Google corrective goggles, or try eBay). The goggles come in diopters in half steps (e.g. -2, -2.5, -3, ...) and how high they go depends on the brand.

Dear Coach: For those who are interested in prescription goggles, Speedo Vanquisher Optical goggles are available from Sports Experts but they are often out of stock. You can also buy them at at US$15 er pair. I got 2 pairs including shipping for about $47 Canadian including the cheapest shipping option, and they arrived in 3 days. Lina Vincent (6pm Whitecaps)

Dear Coach: I keep getting water stuck in my ears at workout. Any suggestions? Hopping on One Leg
Dear H.o.O. Leg: I recommend ear drops. You can buy these but they are quite expensive, though you can reuse the plastic bottle. I mix about 90% rubbing alcohol with 10% hydrogen peroxide or vinegar and put a few drops in each ear (hold for a few seconds and then shake out) after workout. The rubbing alcohol encourages the water to evaporate and the hydrogen peroxide / vinegar changes the pH of your each to make infections unlikely.

Hair and Skin

Dear Coach: What products can I use to protect my hair from the pool chemicals? Dry Haired Swimmer
Dear D.H. Swimmer: I like Ultra-Swim shampoo (they also do conditioner). It is available at some Shoppers Drug Marts. Most salons also sell clarifying shampoo/conditioner but it tends to be more expensive. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

Here’s a cheaper suggestion from Carla Sowinski (8:30am Earlybirds) – thanks, Carla!

“If swimmers are just looking for a rinse to get rid of chlorine build up, a really cheap solution is an apple cider vinegar rinse. You can Google this--most "recipes" recommend getting some kind of bottle and combining 1/3 of a cup of apple cider vinegar with 1L of water. After shampooing, apply the rinse and then wash it out. It is recommended that this rinse only be used twice a week. Although some websites suggest that the rinse is all that is necessary, I often use conditioner after rinsing. I find that this hair solution allows me to buy whatever shampoo and conditioner I would normally buy, but still get rid of the chlorine buildup that occurs when one swims regularly.”
Dear Coach: I’m having problems with very dry skin after swimming. Any recommendations? Itchy Swimmer
Dear I. Swimmer: My dermatologist recommends the following: Shower as soon as possible after your swim. Shower with lukewarm rather than really hot water. Avoid using soap on your skin if at all possible. After your shower, pat your skin dry with your towel (don’t rub). Finally, apply moisturizer to your skin right away. Good luck! Here are some additional suggestions for those with dry skin:
Siobhan MacManus (x-Earlybirds / 6pm Whitecaps) suggests baby wash (e.g. Dove’s Baby Wash) in the shower to remove the chlorine.
Martin B (7:30am Earlybirds) recommends putting coconut oil on your skin after your shower to remove the chlorine.


Dear Coach: With my new parking pass, where can I park? Parking Pass Owner
Dear P.P. Owner: You can park in the pay-and-display area of Parking Lot 5 between 6 and 9am, and between 4 and 11pm, and all day on weekends. The pay-and-display area of Parking Lot 5 is the lot between the tennis bubble and the north main entrance to Athletics, next to the Field House.