August 10, 2004

Past Olympians Offer Advice for the Fitness Swimmer as Olympic Fever Heats Up

Beyond West Nile virus, Lyme disease and allergies, a new ailment will soon plague the nation: Olympic fever. It happens every four years. We watch the Olympics, we get motivated, and we resolve to swim like Michael Phelps or Mark Spitz. Then we go to the pool, sputter through some laps, feel exhausted and head home to the couch.

You may not be able to rise to gold-medal status, but United States Masters Swimming members who've participated in past Olympics have some advice for lap swimmers looking to kick it up a notch – and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on fitness swimming. Here's what they have to say:

  1. What is the most common error fitness swimmers make?
    Plodding along and doing the same thing day in and day out.  “We are creatures of habit,” says David Lopez-Zupero (1980 Olympic Games, bronze medal, swimming for Spain) of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Varying your swim workouts is more beneficial for fitness and speed – and is just more refreshing.” Another common mistake that makes swimming far more difficult than it needs to be, says Bill Mulliken (1960 Games, gold medal) of Chicago: forgetting to exhale.
  2. What can most swimmers do to improve their performance?
    ”Consistent workouts under a qualified coach,” says David Radcliff (1956 Games) of Hillsboro, Ore. Clay Evans (1972 Games, representing Canada) of Los Angeles agrees: “Working out in a pool with a group of fellow swimmers and a coach leading you [such as with a U.S. Masters Swimming group] will get the average adult far more advanced than the solo swimmer. Team swimmers work harder than on their own, and never even feel it.”
  3. What is former Olympians’ No. 1 fitness tip?
    Most Olympians swear by consistent training. “Keep on swimming, and try to work on your technique, because that is the only way to improve your time without expending more energy,” says Collette Crabbe (1976 Games, repre­senting Belgium) of Portland, Ore. “A Masters swimming group will keep the fun and the motivation up. You’ll also meet a new group of friends that will support you way beyond your swimming.”
  4. Were our mothers right—should we wait an hour after eating before we swim?
    “Two hours is better,” says Abraham Solano, of Louisville, Ky., a four-time Olympic trial participant. Most others say they don’t follow this rule, but do advise eating lightly and chewing well so novice swimmers don’t see their meals again from the horizontal position.
  5. How should you protect chlorine-stressed hair?
    Use water that’s not too hot, use conditioner after swimming, and apply some conditioner to your hair – under your swim cap – before you go in the water, according to our experts.
  6. When is the best time of day to swim?
    Swimmers have individual preferences, from sunup to sundown. “I like training around 5 in the afternoon,” says Nadine Rolland (2000 Games, representing Canada), a resident of Mont­real who trains in Islamorada, Fla. “The sun is going down and I feel energized from the good day. And I know that food and rest is just around the corner!”

United States Masters Swimming (USMS) is a national organization that provides organized swim work­outs, competitions, clinics and workshops for adults age 18 and over. Programs are open to all adult swimmers (fitness, triathlete, competitive, non-competitive) who are dedicated to improving their fitness through swimming. USMS ( comprises more than 1,100 workout groups and teams nationwide. Its 43,000 members include all levels of swimmers.


Editor’s Note: Complete responses to nine questions from former Olympians are available upon request.