Return to SWIM! – Coach Melina

This week saw the news that a lot of us have been excitedly waiting for: Swimming pools are back open again! Amazing what you miss! As we all wait for final instructions on how the new swimming protocols will be implemented, this is a good chance to consider a few things before we make that eagerly anticipated jump back in the water.

The majority of us have spent the last three months in some sort of lockdown, with certain restrictions to our movements and access to facilities. Pools and beaches were amongst the first to close and they are of the last to reopen. In terms of swimming, the only alternative we have had (apart from the lucky few with their own pools at home) was to implement dry-land swim programs using swim stretch cords, and strength equipment that we have at home.

A typical expectation will be that once we jump back in the water that we’ll swim a few hundred meters (or our usual warm up routine) and that will be just about enough to shake off the three-month break and we’re good to go. Unfortunately the reality will be somewhat different. 

• Take it one day a time. Even though you have made a concerted effort to maintain your fitness, it’s hard to escape the fact that this has not been entirely swim specific. It’s very hard to replicate the feel of the water on dry land. So be prepared: getting your pre-covid swim fitness could be slow going and frustrating.

Try to avoid comparing your current swim fitness levels to what they were back in March. This will only add to that frustration so take each day as it comes. And I know this is a much harder ask in practice. Your coaches are in the same situation. Commit to the process of building back up again. Be realistic with what you can. It’s been three months. That’s a long time to be out of the water. Your endurance and your pace in the water just won’t be the same. And that’s ok. And you’re not the only one facing this right now. So, it’s ok.

 • Focus primarily on volume and time in the pool rather than reintroducing any intensity. Not the easiest thing to do in practice, ultimately, we all just want to swim fast! However, your initial aim during the transition period back in the water, is all about good technique before intensity.

• During this phase there will be days were your frustration will get the better of you. It will all of us. But there is one positive of this lockdown. Three months off swimming can mean that for all intents and purposes we are starting back with a relatively clean slate in terms of habits. So now is a chance to build a good foundation for when you reintroduce intensity.

• Above all these next few weeks, be patient. It’s been a long break and we’re still not back to normal service yet either, so were not quite there physically nor mentally. There will be days when you’ll wonder how on earth you held the pace you did before lockdown.

The pace of improvement will seem painstakingly slow and this could impact your confidence. But it WILL Come back. 1% better every day. That’s all we’re working towards. And with each session, you will be one step closer to your pre-lockdown swim fitness level. So, don’t be too hard on yourself as you come back.  Structuring your first few weeksThe key to any swim re-entry program is to keep it gradual with a steady progression. Increasing the volume and or intensity too quickly could lead to overloading and ultimately injury.

We are trying to reacquaint ourselves with the water, so focus is on technique and (re)building good habits as well as endurance. As fitness returns then depending on how many swims you can get in every week, you can increase duration and distance of swim sets on a weekly basis, or every 3-4 sessions.

• Emphasis on technique

• Low Load

• Low Intensity

• Focus on optimal swim position (use of swim toys is ok) Pull buoys can help with good body position Snorkel eliminates breathing, and allows athletes to focus on alignment Paddles can help with high elbow catch and slowing down the cadence Drill work can enhance stroke connection (between arm cadence and leg kick)

• Any speed work is recommended to be of short distance (this is great to jog our muscle memory on what fast swimming feels like, but don’t go long too soon, 25m to begin with is enough)

• Speed work intervals can progress to longer distances (e.g., 100-150m) only if embedded with drill work and low intensity endurance work.

• Emphasis on good form over higher intensity work.After a few weeks of a careful reintroduction to swimming (this could 2-3 weeks depending on your frequency of swim sessions), you can start to reintroduce sessions with a pre-covid structure to them.

However, maintain a comparatively low load. Use swim toys, keep the drill work volume high and progressively increase the intensity and distance of your speed intervals however only to a point where you can maintain your form. If your form starts to break down after 100-150m then a 200m fast interval for now is not included.

It’s better to swim a distance fast and on good form, than extend the interval distance but risk doing so with poor form which could ultimately encourage bad habits and possibly lead to injuries too.Above all, enjoy being back in the water. Take it easy to begin and be patient as you refamiliarize yourself with swimming. 


Melina, (re)discovered triathlons in Dubai after the birth of her third daughter. At the age of 36, following a 17year break from the sport, she completed her first full Ironman at Challenge Roth.  From there she went on to complete a further 3 full Ironman events – including Ironman Wales and 10 triathlons over the 70.3 distance including recently the World Championship in Nice. Melina is a Loughborough University graduate and holds an MSc in Sport Science and an MPhil in Sport Psychology. She is the Women For Tri Ambassador here in the UAE and is passionate about making the sport accessible to everyone and using it as a vehicle to enhance people’s wellbeing, beyond just health and fitness. She’s happiest in the water and loves bright colors mainly pink!

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Posted on 24th Jun 2020