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Test Your Swimming Smarts
by Daryn Eller

Swimming myths can circulate faster than chlorinated water in a pool. The trouble with myths is, once you've heard them over and over, they start to sound like the truth - even when they're not.

"My favorite myth is that eating Jell-O powder before a race gives you quick energy" says Jackie Berning, R.D., Ph.D., a nutrition consultant to USA Swimming. "People come up to me at meets with red and green fingers they've been dipping into the powder. The truth is that it's got sugar in concentrations you don't want before a race."

What else do you think you know about swimming that ain't necessarily so? Take the Swimming IQ Test and find out. Then check your score with the end of this article.

The Test - True or False?
  1. The harder you kick, the faster you'll go.
  2. If you're not getting any rest on intervals, you're swimming in the wrong lane.
  3. You can't lose weight by swimming.
  4. Pacing is a matter of preference.
  5. It's never too late to learn good technique.
  6. You should always wait a half-hour after eating before hitting the pool.
  7. Hypoxic training (limiting the breaths you take while swimming) helps you develop more lung power.
  8. If you want to swim faster, turn your arms over faster; don't worry about your distance per stroke.
  9. You sweat while you swim.
  10. If you work out first thing in the morning, you don't need to eat anything beforehand.
  11. Gear like kickboards, fins, pull buoys, and paddles gives you stronger "swimming muscles."
  12. Caffeine helps both sprinters and distance swimmers swim faster.
  13. If you want to be a speedier swimmer, build a lot of muscle.
  14. You can never swim too many yards.
  15. You don't need to breathe bilaterally to be a good swimmer.
  16. Drafting can help you lower your time.
  17. Shaving down contributes to peak performance.
  18. A sports drink is beneficial only if you'll be working out for over an hour and a half.
  19. If you have a choice between circle swimming or swimming in your own lane, you should choose to circle swim.
  20. As you swim, your head should be tilted so that you see the end of the pool and the water is at your hairline.
  21. Only nerdy non-swimmers wear nose clips.
  22. Morning is the best time to swim.
  23. The longer you stay underwater and glide, the better.
  24. Swimming is a great total-body workout.
  25. Reading a swimming magazine that has amazing photos on technique will help you improve your strokes.

The Answers
  1. False. Kicking accounts for only about one-third of forward propulsion, and in the process, it uses your largest and most oxygen-thirsty muscles. Thus, super-hard leg work doesn't have much payoff and will probably tire you out quickly, slowing you down in the long run. Sprinters may want to kick harder than distance swimmers, but if you're swimming a short distance, build to a hard kick instead of working your legs the whole way, advises Jane Katz, author of The All-American Aquatic Handbook: Your Passport to Lifetime Fitness (Allyn & Bacon, 1996).
  2. True. Much as some swimmers like to tough it out by swimming in a faster lane, it's important to have rest; for both your body and mind. If you're not getting enough rest, move to a slower lane. "The psychology of training is as important as conditioning and technique," says Ross Geary, assistant women's coach at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. "You don't want to get out of the pool feeling like you didn't meet your goals."
  3. False. Swimming burns a significant number of calories, just like many other forms of aerobic exercise. Consider, for instance, that a 130-pound woman burns anywhere from 474 to 552 calories per hour while swimming, depending on the intensity of her workout. A 170-pound man burns between 600 and 720 calories. If you're trying to shed pounds and failing, you're probably eating more than you're burning up in the pool. You have to either swim more or eat less.
  4. True. There are no hard and fast rules about pacing; you may just have to play around with variations to see what works for you at different distances. "Some swimmers like to hold an even pace while some prefer to start fast, and others like to start slowly and get progressively faster," says Bill Volckening, coach of the Tualatin Hills Barracudas in Beaverton, Oregon. "Reviewing tapes of the Olympics, it's clear that a variety of strategies can work."
  5. True. Swimmers who start young do have an edge: Learning skills while your body is developing, and putting in hours and hours of training over the years pays off. But there's no age limit on skill-building in swimming, and with proper instruction, it's possible to make great leaps in ability no matter how old you are. "A lot of newcomers to the sport catch on fire," says Scott Rabalais, chair of the U.S. Masters Swimming coaches committee and coach of Crawfish Aquatics in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "It's really exciting to see."
  6. False. Sorry, Mom. Unless you've eaten a big meal, you should not have a problem if you dive in before the half-hour mark. And that's particularly true if you eat mainly carbohydrates. "Carbs are the first to be digested out of the stomach, followed by protein, then fat," says dietitian Jackie Berning.
  7. False. Hypoxic training has long been thought to improve your body's ability to manage oxygen, but in reality, it doesn't make a difference. "What you feel when you hold your breath is not an urge to get oxygen in; it's the urge to get carbon dioxide out," explains swim consultant Bill Boomer. "You actually have a broad tolerance for lack of oxygen." Although hypoxic training doesn't change your body chemistry, it still might be valuable in helping you learn to keep your stroke smooth and stable in the face of anxiety. But be careful, the experts say. Lung capacity diminishes with age, and waiting too long to breathe can be dangerous for some older swimmers.
  8. True and False. You may have heard the reverse: that distance per stroke trumps turnover (also known as tempo). So which is it? Both, actually, although it's highly individual. Most competitive sprinters have a low stroke count. But since swimming with a huge distance per stroke is hard to sustain, the best distance swimmers rely on a high stroke turnover for speed. The fast turnover vs. long-stroke question also varies among strokes. Breaststrokers, for instance, swim faster with a fast turnover no matter what the distance.
  9. True. You may not feel them, but there are rivulets of perspiration rolling down your body as you stroke your way across the pool. The result: You're losing fluid as you practice. Drink up before, during, and after working out.
  10. False. If you swim first thing in the morning, you probably haven't eaten for as many as 12 hours. "That makes it more difficult to find the energy to swim," says Berning. "You'll use up your glycogen stores very quickly." You don't have to sit down and have breakfast, but munching a piece of toast or swigging a sports drink or cup of juice on the way to the pool will help you stay powered up.
  11. False. Training tools may make you stronger, but that's not their main value. "Tools help you learn to feel the water in different ways and become aware of various parts of your strokes," says coach Rabalais. "We also use them for variety. If you're swimming daily, you might need them just for some stimulation."
  12. False. This is a trick question. Most of the data looking at athletic performance and caffeine have shown that distance swimmers - not sprinters - benefit from a boost. The reason: Caffeine mobilizes fats that are used for energy, but sprinters finish so quickly they never tap into their fats.
  13. False. "l'd like to see 400-individual-medley world record holder Tom Dolan race against Arnold Schwarzenegger," says Oregon coach Volckening. "Dolan is so skinny he almost disappears sideways, but he has one clear advantage: he has developed and refined his swimming technique." Unlike many other sports, swimming is highly technical. Muscle can certainly contribute to improving performance, but technique comes first.
  14. False. Practice goes a long way toward making perfect, but only up to a point. "You don't swim quality yards when you're fatigued, so to swim yards for yards' sake is self-defeating," says Stanford's Geary. "It doesn't make your body adapt any better to conditioning, and it may even make it worse." Plus, overdoing it can increase your risk of injury.
  15. True. The idea that taking fewer breaths (which you do when you breathe bilaterally) makes you smoother in the water is a bunch of malarky, says Emmett Hines, coach of the H2Ouston Swims Masters in Houston. "If you're feeling starved for air, it will work against you. Plus, if you know how to breathe properly, your performance won't suffer if you breathe every stroke." What's properly? Allowing your head to rotate with your body instead of lifting it up, which causes your hips to drop and creates drag. "Let your head take a ride with your body. You should be seeing sky or ceiling, not deck furniture," says Hines.
  16. True. Scott Rabalais estimates that drafting can lower a swimmer's time by one to two seconds per hundred. "That's pretty significant," he says. Drafting is acceptable, but don't take advantage of it. Let each person in the lane lead off a set so that everybody gets to draft and one person doesn't do all the work.
  17. True. Eliminating body hair and dead skin decreases surface resistance and exposes the nerve endings so you can "feel" the water better. Shaving is best when combined with tapering - systematically reducing your workload to give yourself more energy.
  18. False. Most research shows that even if you exercise for only an hour, you can benefit from a sports drink. It keeps you hydrated and provides glucose, which you can use for energy.
  19. True. It's always a little disheartening when you've got a solo rhythm going and somebody jumps into your lane (or when you jump into some other lone swimmer's lane and get the evil eye). But having to keep up with, or lead, others is more challenging than swimming alone and will ultimately give you a better workout.
  20. False. "When your head is up, your hips sink, creating drag," says Ross Geary. The ideal way to swim is with your head down so that it's straight in line with your body (don't tuck your chin) and you can see straight down to the bottom of the pool.
  21. False. Unless you're prepared to call 1992 Pan American Games gold medalist Jane Skillman a nerd. Skillman wears a nose clip to avoid allergic reactions to pool chemicals, and other elite-level swimmers wear them to avoid getting water up their noses when learning underwater dolphin kick on the back.
  22. False. At least for many people. Some research shows that morning exercisers are more likely to stick with a fitness regimen, but if you are not a morning person or can't squeeze in a workout before work, it probably isn't your best bet. Choose the time of day when you feel most energetic and when professional and personal responsibilities are least likely to interfere.
  23. False. Although some elite swimmers stay underwater for as much as half a length, it's not always the wisest choice for us mere mortals. Certainly, the glide gives you the opportunity to capitalize on the power of your pushoff, but after a while you begin to decelerate. Stay underwater too long - especially if you're not streamlined - and you'll end up going slower than you would if you'd started stroking. What's more, having to hold your breath all that time might make swimming the rest of the lap a struggle.
  24. True. Swimming not only strengthens the arms, shoulders, and legs, it also works the abdominal muscles, hips, buttocks, and back. And that's just the half of it: With every stroke, you're also conditioning your lungs, heart, and vascular system.
  25. True. Though we editorial types hate to admit it, sometimes words aren't enough. But read them in combination with photos of properly performed technique and you've got all the info you need to improve your stroke. The rest (practice, practice, practice) is up to you.

What's Your IQ?
20 to 25 answers correct: You're an aquatic Einstein wlth coaching potential.
15 to 19 answers correct: You know just about everything you need to reach your pool potential.
10 to 14 answers correct: We won't kick you out of our lane, but you've got some brushing up to do.
9 or fewer answers correct: Go back to pool school.
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Taken from Fitness Swimmer Magazine