Masters Swimming – Δ Delta

Δ is the symbol for Delta.

I remember it well from the few years I spent in engineering school, where in the way too many math and science courses I took, it was used to indicate a change in _(blank)_. A change in something, value, operation, all sorts of things it can be used to reference. In my work in aquatics, I use it all the time; Δ the filter media; Δ CO2; Δ pool schedule, sort of the CPO shorthand for reminders along with a ton of other symbols I use.

Being both a masters swimmer and coach, I think about change a lot. With the Olympics just getting over, I think about it even more as we are about to kick off the new training season now that Labor Day is here. I have already spoken to a host of swimmers with notions of “did you see so and so” “did you see their turns” “did you see those under waters” “did you see their arm path” and so on. Is change good? Is change bad? Do I need to change X, Y or Z? I think the answer for the typical masters swimmer is yes on all fronts.

I think swimmers of all ages watch the athletes at the Olympics in awe of their conditioning, technique and speed. Many of us watch with thoughts of adjusting or changing some of the things we do in the pool to better ourselves, our times or help improve the swimmers we coach.

Change can be hard.

I began my swim career at the back of the 80’s and to watch how the techniques and best practices have changed over the many years is daunting to not only keep up with, but to try and put into practice, to try and change something that has been ingrained into a swimmer of many years, is challenging for not only the swimmer, but for the coach as well. Can it be done? For sure, but it takes a commitment from both swimmer and coach, and a “need” has to be present to try something new.

I had a “need”. I seemed to have plateaued my times for a few years now. No real drops, no real eye opening swims or such until this past USMS Spring Nationals in Greensboro. I grew up with breaststroke being my bread and butter stroke. Always putting up solid times for my ability/age, always helped me to reel in guys in the IM, but over the past 5 or 6 years of consistent meets in masters, no real epiphanies.

I decided that a Δ was needed.

I moved away from the old school technique and really tried to focus, study, analyze and put into practice a lot of what we are seeing at the elite levels of swimming. It was hard, very hard, to teach an old dog a new trick, but I was committed to it and determined that a Δ was needed and this need, was my drive to get there. Low and behold, it worked! I dropped almost a full 1.5 seconds in the 50 and just about 3 in the 100. Lifetime masters bests, even from my times when I was 35 (that was 7 years ago).

Was change good? Yes it was! Was change bad? On some levels, yes, it was frustrating and mentally draining at times, reverting back to the old school technique for the old dog happened quite frequently, and it took hours and hours, laps and laps of drills and mental focus.

Did I need to change something? Yes I did.

I think many of my teammates and swimmers are in the same boat as myself. Many have been on that shelf for times they swim for a while. If you are content with the times you swim, the effort you put in and the time it takes out of your daily routine and you are happy, then by all means, Δ is not for you.

If you thirst to go faster, improve your times, or slice through the water with a bit more ease, then a change is needed. Swimmers get to that plateau in their times and no matter how much harder they seem to work in the pool, they don’t improve on the clock. A Δ is needed!

What kind of change? I have no idea, but you need to do something different: add weights into your routine, fix your turns, starts, better under waters, consistent cardio routine, add yoga, lose some baggage, improve your busted technique from the 80’s (trust me, this one worked for me, along with a killer lifting routine and weight loss).

With the individualized state of swimming, changing one thing will not work for an entire team, you need to work with your coach and come up with a plan and system to figure out what kind of Δ will bring about the results you want to see to get you off that shelf.

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5 years ago

I agree Masters swimmers have much to offer. And today we are learning about how long swimmers are staying in the sport! If you have the training and motivation I think Masters can trial or qualify….

Cynthia mae Curran
Reply to  Zadd
5 years ago

There are a lot of top swimmers in masters. Masters has folks still doing 1:06 in 100 yard fly on the women’s side over 60 years old. Now that will sound slow compared to age group times but for many women over 60, back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s a 1:01 for consideration for senior nationals.

Donald McMiken
5 years ago

Definitely smart weight-training (including legs, core and stroke muscles) and weight (fat) loss are I think the key change for most masters swimmers. And that’s because we put on fat and lose muscle as we age, even when swim training. I’ve also included running to get my cardio moved up and incorporated a more dramatic contrast in swim workouts from sprints to long swims of 3km or so. It doesn’t help that I’m having trouble with my left shoulder, but then again I’m 74!

About David Graham

David Graham

David C. Graham is the Head Coach of Greenwood Masters Swimming, a workout group in the New England Masters Swim Club. Coach Graham is a Level 3 USMS Masters Coach and has worked in the aquatics arena as a professional for the past 15 years. A native of NJ, he …

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