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by Matt Donovan

April 2, 2020

A less-than-ideal pool shouldn’t keep you from working toward your swimming goals

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many swimmers are finding that there are limited pools to train in. However, some are fortunate enough to have access to a backyard pool. There are swimming workouts you can do in a backyard pool to stay connected to the water and the sport you love. Know the depths and dimensions of the pool before a training session begins, use all best practices regarding safety, and never swim alone.

And remember, if you come across this article many months down the line, know that these concepts are still applicable. If you're on the road for work or vacation and you have a hotel pool at your disposal, try these workouts to stay active.

Kicking for Cardio

An adverse effect of not being in a competition pool is diminished cardio training. However, with a clock and a wall, you can still accomplish a good amount of cardio work. Here are three ways you can use your home pool for a great kicking and cardio workout.

  1. Wall Kicking—Mimic 10 x 100s on 1:30, holding 1:20 or better. Everything is the same, aside from the actual swimming. Hold the wall and kick aggressively for 1:20, take 10 seconds rest, and repeat. This can be done with different styles of kick and longer/shorter intervals. In between “100s”, feel free to take a “25” or “50” to stretch out your arms. Challenge yourself to keep your face in the water the last five seconds of your wall-kick interval (be certain that you are exhaling during this time and not holding your breath). This can help simulate the end of a race from the flags into the wall.
  2. Work on Your Breathing—Wall kicking is the perfect opportunity to work on breathing patterns. Visualize your stroke and where you should be taking breaths. If you're not strong at bilateral breathing, this is the time to practice that skill.
  3. Add a Flip and Breakout—Wall kicking with a flip and breakout is an excellent way to do sprint work. With a partner (one person doing the wall kick, one person being the starter), begin kicking on the wall for a predetermined period of time (say, 10 seconds). At the 10-second mark, the starter blows a whistle, the swimmer then does a flip turn on the wall and sprints to a breakout in any stroke. Then change roles. This can be done a variety of ways; mix up the times and strokes and make a game of it. It's an excellent sprint workout and with enough repeats and shorter rest, it has tremendous benefits for distance swimmers as well. As stated in the beginning, know the dimensions of the pool before swimming fast in it.

Shoulder Work

This time can be used to help your shoulders in two ways. For those who go to the pool consistently, a break may be a blessing in disguise. Give your shoulders a real break. If you're working cardio and core seriously during this time frame, a one- to two-week vacation for your shoulders could end up being perfect for your body and long-term training goals. Here are two ways to be good to your shoulders during this break.

  1. Drylands in the Water—Use the pool to do some shoulder rehab or, as I like to call it, prehab. Internal/external rotation drills have a positive impact on shoulder stability and injury prevention. Most swimmers are aware of how to do basic, low-impact, external rotation exercises on land with bands or light weights. Perform these same exercises in the water. To start, simply move your hands back and forth (a few inches under the surface) the same way you would if on land. If you feel good and would like to add some tension, put on a paddle or even submerge a small pull buoy to add resistance.
  2. Wave Pool—For shoulder strength training, look no further than your kickboard. Remember those age-grouper days when your coach let you have "play time" and use the kickboard to make a wave pool? Guess what— your coach wasn't as much of a pushover as you thought. Going back and forth in a seated row position with the kickboard is an amazing back and shoulder workout. Position the face of your kickboard parallel with your chest. The more you submerge the kickboard, the more resistance there is and the harder the workout becomes. As above, use our example of 10 x 100s on 1:30. The more you do this, the more creative you can get.

Legs Feed the Wolf

Other than taper, there's never a bad time to do leg work. These three leg sets can be done for reps (10 rounds of 10 on 1 minute rest) or done as an interval (10 minutes of 30 seconds effort, followed by 30 seconds of rest).

  1. Vertical Kicking—If your pool is deep enough, vertical kicking should be a part of your routine. Vertical kicking is when you kick in water too deep for you to stand in; your feet do not touch the bottom and your head stays above the water. It's important to have good posture with an engaged core. Your training partner can be your guide and help point out when you're losing form.
  2. Tuck Jump—In the shallow end, with your hands at your sides and your back straight (imagine River Dance), jump by bringing your knees up to your chest and then push your feet back down to the bottom of the pool as fast and as forcefully as possible. Do not submerge at all. Important: know the pool depth; do not attempt this in water too shallow to cushion your landing. 
  3. Streamline Jump—In the shallow end, with your hands in a perfect streamlined position, submerge to your chin and immediately jump as fast and as high as you can, over and over again.

Both jumping activities will provide a great deal of cardio and a great leg workout with minimal impact on your joints. If you watch your form carefully, you can learn how to best push off the wall coming out of a turn.

Final Thought

During this unprecedented time, it’s important to stay connected. Contact teammates past and present and see what ideas they have to stay in shape. Additionally, reach out to coaches past and present and see if they can help you define some goals and skills to address during this time. Sharing video is always a great way to get tips. Play your cards right and you may come out of this experience stronger than you entered it, ready to tackle your season goals.


  • Technique and Training


  • Training