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by Laura Thornton

February 25, 2019

Here’s how to get in a good workout when the only available pool is hot

One of the challenges Masters swimmers face is finding a pool when traveling. Some trips can be planned around well-known lap pools or open water locations, but others leave them working out in 85-degree water meant more for swim lessons and water aerobics than for lap swimming.

But Masters swimmers are known for their perseverance. And although many of them would struggle to get in a good distance workout in 85-degree water, there are still things they can do in unpleasantly warm conditions, if they’re determined to do some sort of water workout.

The important thing is not to overdo it, cautions Victor Hecker, who coaches Las Vegas Masters. “In a warm pool, you don’t want fast intervals. That runs the heart rate up too high, and it’s not healthy. Everything should be done at slower intervals so as not to overstress the body in the warm water.”

Hecker, who’s been coaching for more than 60 years, suggests starting a swim in a hot pool with a very short, structured warm-up: “Swim a couple hundred yards, then do some freestyle drills, no longer than 100 yards each, then a backstroke drill or two, then short breaststroke and butterfly drills.” He also suggests a short ladder kick set: Kick 25 yards, then 50 yards, then 75 yards, then 100 yards, and then rest 15 to 20 seconds before repeating the set.

He also says using a snorkel will help: “You don’t want to hold your breath because that will get your heart rate up too high.”

If you don’t have a snorkel, try kicking with a kickboard or on your back without a kickboard, to keep your face out of the water, he adds. That will help keep you from getting overheated.

For a main set in a hot pool, Hecker suggests another ladder: Swim 25 yards of breaststroke, then a 50 freestyle and a 75 freestyle, with 15 to 20 seconds’ rest between each segment. Then repeat, switching out breaststroke for backstroke, and repeat again, this time with butterfly. Swim 25 kick, then 25 pull, and that’s 500 yards. Repeat the set a couple times, and you have a workout.

But don’t push yourself more than 70 or 80 percent, he advises, when swimming in water more than 85 degrees.

Drill Down, Mix It Up

Chris Yuen, who coaches Buffalo Masters Swimming Club, has swum in warm pools while traveling for work. Sometimes, he’ll swim with a local Masters club, occasionally in water a little too warm for him. “I try to just bite my lip and do the workout that they’re doing,” he says. “But if I’m by myself and the water is uncomfortably warm, I’ll just make it a drill session.”

Although it might seem like doing drills for a whole workout wouldn’t be enough to make the swim worthwhile, Yuen points out that, as adults, our muscle memory is pretty strong. “If we want to change a bad swimming habit into a good one, an hour of drilling can make a difference,” he says. “Also, when drilling, people tend to focus on form and not on speed, so the warmer water might not bother them as much.”

For a drill set, Yuen suggests trying 25 yards of a drill, then 25 swim, 25 drill, 25 swim, 25 swim. Repeat eight times, and you’re at 1,000 yards. “It’s not a bad way to get through a set,” he says. Another idea: Do 50 yards of a drill eight times, and that’s 400 yards.

To really mix it up, once or twice a year Yuen swims a four-part set in which he’ll add a fin or paddle at the beginning of each part of the set. “With this set, you’re really working on your awareness and your balance, because one fin or paddle could really throw your balance off. You don’t have to worry about speed, because the fins and paddles will give you that. Instead, you’re working on balance and strength.” It’s another good set, he says, for swimming in warm water.

Sometimes, though, even the most interesting of drills won’t make up for the fact that the water may just be too hot for lap swimming. In that case, it’s OK to cut your workouts short, doing just drills and kicking, or even to take a week off altogether, Hecker says.

Doing just drills or moderate workouts—or no swimming at all—for a week won’t hurt anyone, he explains: “After two days back at practice, you’ll be fine.”


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