From Coach’s Award To World Champion: Tim O’Donnell Shares Pro Swimming Tips

Courtesy of Master Spas, a SwimSwam partner. 

Tim O’Donnell was not looking at a career in triathlon when he first started swimming with a squad. More than anything, he was just trying to keep up with his older siblings.

When Tim was only 5 years old, his mom decided that swimming was his sport. Not because he was a good swimmer but because his siblings were swimming. With four children, the schedule was easier to manage with everyone in the same sport.

But swimming was not necessarily natural for the 5-year-old. His swimming was not the best and his stroke was not picture-perfect. While his brother would win MVP, O’Donnell would win the coach’s award for having a positive attitude and working hard.

The discipline and persistence that he demonstrated did pay off. As he approached high school, O’Donnell came into his own as a swimmer. Not only was he keeping pace with his siblings, he was starting to reach the wall first.

O’Donnell continued to swim throughout high school and the U.S. Naval Academy, winning honors at the top level.

While he transitioned from competitive swimming to triathlon, the one thing that did not change was his love of sport and work ethic. O’Donnell is committed to working hard in the water to get the best out of himself. And his best includes becoming a world champion triathlete and earning more than 50 podium finishes.

In a new video series, O’Donnell shares how he incorporates a Master Spas swim spa into his training regime. Not only can he swim-in-place but work on the mechanics and drills that can benefit him on race day.

Training in a swim-in-place pool

Swimming efficiency is not just about your distance per stroke or improving your kick. It’s also about maximizing your training time, whether it’s streamlining your warm-up or scheduling swims when it makes the most sense.

And for O’Donnell, swimming efficiency means taking advantage of his backyard swim spa.

A swim spa is a swim-in-place pool that allows you to train, recover, and relax in your own backyard. It’s designed to be used year-round, and O’Donnell has swam as snow is falling in Boulder, and on summer afternoons.

He can log a swim set when it’s most convenient for his schedule, regardless of when the local pool is open for lap swimming. He also can skip the drive to the pool and the walk through the locker room. Instead, he can walk outside, put on a pair of waterproof headphones, and start his session in just minutes.

O’Donnell began training in a swim-in-place pool in 2020, when he signed on as a Master Spas sponsored athlete. The partnership has allowed him to balance his training as a professional triathlete with family life. O’Donnell shares children Izzy and Finn with wife Mirinda Carfrae, a three-time IRONMAN World Champion.

The H2X Challenger 18D Pro by Master Spas has three swim pumps, which produces a swim current that swims as fast as 1:10 per 100-meter pace. Master Spas also manufactures Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spas, which were designed with competitive athletes in mind.

For O’Donnell, the Challenger 18D Pro “swims plenty fast” for him, who completed the 2.4-mile swim at the IRONMAN World Championships in 47:38.

Among the benefits of training in a swim spa include training for those open-water conditions. The spa offers a continuous swimming experience, which means you swim against a current of water without having to do flip turns. Each time you turn at the wall, you have a short break and those seconds of rest add up, O’Donnell says.

The sessions in the spa are solo, which can be an adjustment if you are used to working out with a squad. However, it’s also an opportunity to focus on the improvements you need to make. A benefit of the swim spa is it provides the opportunity to do drills and utilize a pool mirror to work on perfecting your stroke.

Drills for swim-in-place pools

Drills are an essential part of any swim set, even if they do feel tedious. Often incorporated into the warm-up, they help reinforce feel for the water and good body position. In addition, drills help you refine aspects of your technique so you can see progress overall.

In a new video series with Master Spas, O’Donnell shares his pro tips for swimming and training in a swim spa.

The tips include the single arm drill, sculling, and aqua jogging. You can follow the first two swim spa tutorials to improve your swim form, while the other helps improve your overall fitness.


Single arm drill

The single arm swimming drill can appear to be simple at the surface. With one warm pinned to your side, you swim with the other arm. This drill helps you improve your catch and speed up your recovery while working on your rotation.

When you do this drill, you need to fully rotate with each stroke and breathe to the same side as the pinned arm. To stay balanced in the water, you will need to have a gentle kick and fully engage your core.

When O’Donnell demonstrates the drill in the Master Spas video series, he recommends using a pool mirror. The mirror allows him to see his hand position and make sure he’s not crossing over.

How does O’Donnell structure a set with the single arm swimming drill? Since many workouts in a swim spa are time-based, he does 30 seconds on his left arm, 30 seconds regular swimming, 30 seconds right arm, and 30 seconds regular swimming. He will repeat the drill for up to 10 sets.

He does stress that the water current will have to be at a slower speed setting.


Improve feel of water with sculling drill

O’Donnell shares that your catch comes not just from your hand but your forearm, too. You want to make sure that your arm and hand are flat as you move through the water.

Sculling helps you to improve your feel of the water and have more power.

For this drill, O’Donnell recommends wearing a center swim snorkel. When you wear a swim snorkel, you don’t have to rotate to breathe. This helps with body position and maintaining focus.

For this drill, your arms are at the top of the water with elbows bent. Perform a sweeping motion with your forearms — almost like windshield wipers. Pro tip: Don’t forget to kick.

With the swim spa at a gentle speed, perform the drill for 30 seconds and rest or swim easy for 30 seconds. You can include this drill as part of your warm-up before the main set.

Aqua jogging for fitness

Swimming is a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints and good for your heart. However, athletes are not immune to injuries. The most common are neck and shoulder injuries.

Whether you are struggling with a rotator cuff tear or want to improve your overall fitness, aqua jogging can benefit your cardiovascular health.

In a video tip, O’Donnell shares how he uses the swim spa for water running.

O’Donnell suggests wearing an old pair of running shoes and taking advantage of the swim spa’s non-slip flooring system. You can work on your knee drive and power by focusing on how you push off the ground.

O’Donnell’s favorite aqua jogging workout is to “run” for 30 minutes, gradually increasing the resistance of the water current.

To learn more about the Master Spas swim spas, including Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spas, go to

About Master Spas

Master Spas is based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 90 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Operating out of a state-of-the-art, 460,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on a 33-acre manufacturing campus, Master Spas is the largest swim spa manufacturer in the world, and largest portable hot tub manufacturer that makes 100% of our product in the USA. The company’s executive team boasts more than 150 years of spa manufacturing success and one of the strongest track records in the industry. For more information, please visit:

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