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by Terry Heggy

October 15, 2019

Fun ways to turn practice into a celebration

Special events generate extra enthusiasm, whether it involves competition, a fitness challenge, or a holiday cookie exchange. Excitement increases when perceptions change from “Just another ho-hum day in the pool” to “Oh boy, this sounds like fun!”

Here are some simple ideas for transforming a routine workout into something swimmers will want to share on social media.


Don’t tell your athletes this, but simply naming a workout (or a set) makes it seem more fun. A catchy label adds significance and memorability, even though the actual set may not be anything special. Which description sounds more interesting: “Descending ladder from 300 down to 25, decreasing the distance by 25 on each repeat,” or “The Dirty Dozen?”

Look for opportunities to link your workout with special events, such as the following:

  • Holidays
  • Birthdays
  • Significant sporting events (World Series, etc.)
  • Personal milestones (swimmer career changes, weddings, graduations, etc.)
  • Weather

Yes, even weather. You can create sets based on the elements associated with any type of event. Hammered by a snowstorm?

  • Sled sets (sculling while sitting on a kickboard)
  • Ski lifts (streamlining while being pulled by a bungee cord)
  • Snowman building (vertical kicking while lifting medicine balls)
  • Dress for winter (wearing gloves [aka hand paddle], boots [aka fins], and parkas [aka drag suits or parachutes])

Suffering a heat wave instead? Try running through the sprinklers (overkicking enough to create big splashes), reading a book while catching some rays (kicking on your back holding a kickboard over your chest), or surfing (sculling while sitting on a kickboard.)

It doesn’t matter that your summer surfing sets are the same as winter sled sets (or that your associations are silly and lame). What’s important is that you’ve distracted them from realizing that they’re working hard on necessary swimming skills.


There are infinite ways to tie your workout sets to your significant event. Here are three easy methods to help get your creativity flowing.


As in the weather-related examples above, you can describe your set in terms of activities people can easily imagine. For Halloween, have them pretend to be a vampire transforming into a bat (switch from freestyle to butterfly halfway down the length). Or wear a pirate costume on deck and have them do the following:

  • Eye patch swims—Keep one goggle in the water
  • Peg leg practice—Kick with a single fin on one leg
  • Walk-the-plank repeats—Practice diving off the st’arrr’ting blocks


For birthdays and milestones, create a list of sets based on the person’s name. For someone named Becky, it could be:

  • Backstroke—4 x 100s, rest 15 seconds
  • Escape the shark—Pair up, with one partner wearing fins. The nonfin swimmer takes off first, then the finned swimmer leaves a few seconds later and tries to catch them by the end of a 25.
  • Comfort zone—Easy 200 freestyle
  • Kick—5 x 75s with fins, rest 10 seconds
  • Your choice—12 x 25s sprint choice on 1:00

It’s OK if the words you choose aren’t swimming terms themselves; you can always find a way to connect them. For example, the “Escape the shark” set could also be called Piranha, Orca, Run away, Long arm of the law, or any number of other options.

Even if your choices are cringe-worthy (e.g., Z = zillions of strokes), your creativity will be appreciated. The spelling method can also be used for iconic holiday objects (TURKEY, FROSTY, GRINCH, etc.) or anything else you choose (SPRING for Daylight Savings, etc.)


Did your local football team make the playoffs? Then create a set based on the number of points they scored in the last game, the quarterback’s jersey number, or scoring options.

  • John Elway set—7 x 100s IM
  • Touchdown set—6 x 100s IM
  • PAT set—1 x 100 IM (all-out swim for time)
  • Long drive set (get 5 first downs)—Five times through (4 x 100s, rest 20 seconds in IM order)

An “Ides of March” set could include 15 repeats, or a July 4th set could include the numbers 7, 4, and 1776. If two of your swimmers have the same birthday, swim a 25 for each year they’ve been alive.


Immerse yourself in the fun. Bring in festive props to adorn the pool deck, gift-wrap the written copies of the workouts, or tell a few jokes. Always keep safety as priority one, but think about how you can use other pool resources to enhance the novelty.

  • Use water polo balls or dive bricks as relay batons
  • Remove lane ropes to enable other swim patterns
  • Swim widths of the pool instead of lengths
  • Use water aerobics gear (foam weights, etc.) for core exercises

Announce your special occasion workouts in advance to ensure good attendance. Then sell it with your attitude of admiration for the subject or topic involved, and you’ll leave your swimmers eager for more.


  • Coaches Only


  • Coaching