Swim Techniques for Fitness

Although much of this season’s summer days have been filled with rain, you still have time to squeeze in some swim workouts before the weather starts cooling off and summer officially ends.

Sarah Tennison, is a 34-year-old Master swim coach in Acadiana who works primarily with adults, has some basic tips on how to achieve an effective swim workout.

After graduating from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, which she attended on a swim scholarship, Tennison spent time in California and eventually ended up returning to Lafayette where she became inspired to start coaching adults in swimming.

“I wanted to coach adults because I felt like the triathlon community in Lafayette was really booming and there wasn’t necessarily an avenue for them to get really good technique work,” said Tennison. “They were getting yardage and strength work in, but they were lacking in the technique area.”

Tennison often notices adult swimmers struggle with the same issues and has offered a few tips on how to overcome those issues to achieve an optimal swim workout.


“The thing I find people most often need help with is technique and particularly breathing,” said Tennison. “I find that people have a hard time getting quality air in which allows you to have efficient strokes that you can put the strength behind, instead of muscling through with bad technique.”

Breathing is so important to her, that it’s an issue she often addresses during her first lesson.

According to Tennison, you should stay extended with the opposite arm while breathing, and should only pull for another stroke cycle after you’re finished with your breath.


“The next issue is not getting a powerful enough catch in the water,” said Tennison.

Many swimmers she sees extend their arm out as far as they can and drop a straight arm through the entire stroke, pulling with their elbow first and letting their tricep lead the way.

She recommends letting your hand catch the water first, so your entire arm can catch and pull water to achieve the most efficient stroke.


Whether she is working with people adding swimming to their fitness routine or who are training for a triathlon, Tennison often helps them adjust their kicking technique.

“A lot of people come in with a kick that derives from your knees, like a bike peddle or a run kick, but in swimming your kicks should derive from your hips,” said Tennison. “That means you’re supposed to have a rigid leg kicking from your hips instead of your quads pulling forward to kick.”

Breaking old habits can be hard, but it’s a necessary step for improving your swim technique.

“A lot of times when people come swim with me for the first time, they feel thrown off, but I tell them it’s going to feel worse before it feels better, especially for adults who have been doing it the same way for 30 years.”

Interval Training

According to Tennison, interval training is necessary to improve your swim fitness.

“Some people say they’ll never use other strokes in a race, but those strokes work your supporting muscles and will increase your overall strength,” said Tennison. “Even if you plan to swim an Ironman which is 2.4 miles straight, just because you can swim that distance doesn’t mean you can do it fast.”

Tennison cites interval training as a necessary step for improving your cardiovascular and muscular strength, and recommends establishing a regular training set during swim workouts.

“Whether you get your swim workout online or you swim with a Masters Club Team, you need to add interval training to improve your swimming,” said Tennison.


We asked Tennison tell us about some of her favorite drills and gear that she uses during her own workouts.

Favorite Drill

“The Catch-Up drill” because it helps you gauge how effective your pull is with just one arm.”

Favorite pool equipment

“Pool buoys, because they help to keep your lower body high in the water where it’s supposed to be.”

Special gear

“Paddles because they add to your resistance and give you more strength training for your shoulders and lat muscles.”

Sample interval set

  • 1×200 pull at 65 percent effort with :20 rest
  • 2×100 swim at 75 percent effort with :15 rest
  • 4×50 25 sprint kick/25 easy kick :20 rest

Do set 2 – 3 times

Whether you’re training for a triathlon, Ironman or simply adding swimming in your fitness routine, following these tips will help you to achieve an effective swim workout, that will both cool you off and get your heart pumping.