What to Know About Swim Practice & Dryland

New to a swim team? You might have several questions about what you need to know about swim practice and dryland, and what it entails. 

And to the seasoned swimmer, it’s an easy answer. But trying to explain it can become challenging. It’s a complex process that extends past the time spent in the pool. 

So what do you need to know about swim practice? 

Below is a quick snapshot of various swim practice questions to get you started. From swim practice etiquette that you need to follow to dryland workouts. And everything in between. 

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What is Swim Practice?

Swim practice is one of those odd things to people who aren’t swimmers. They’ll watch as swimmers go back and forth across the pool for hours and wonder what swimmers do at swim practice. 

Swim practice is more than just swimming laps for swimmers.  Swimmers train daily to reach their goals and it’s long hours spent at the pool, working on techniques, endurance, and sprint work.

A large part of swim practice involves chasing the clock. Trying to finish a swim set fast enough that you can get enough rest. But not too fast that you’ll never finish the set without burning out.

But practices aren’t limited to just time spent in the water.

It’s time spent stretching before and after practice. And it’s time spent in the weight room strengthening muscles.

But swim practice isn’t only about hard work. While swimming might be an individual sport we can still support each other. Part of swimming is the mental piece and during challenging sets, a little encouragement can go a long way.

And even though it might not seem like it some days, swim practice isn’t without its fun moments. The other side of practice that only swimmers (and coaches) know about.  

Related article: Swimming Secrets: What Really Happens at Swim Practice

It’s joking around with teammates whenever we’re on the wall. And maybe it’s cheating on sets by walking off the wall or just hanging out in the bathroom. We’ve all been there before 😉

Swim Practice Terminology 

Swim teams have dozens of words unique to swim practice alone. If you’re just joining a swim team for the first time, you should know some of the various terminology used at practice. A few you should know are:

Circle Swimming: Swimmers will swim down the right-hand side of the lane, complete a turn, and return on the right-hand side of the lane. With circle swimming, the lane line always stays to the swimmer’s right side. Unless they’re doing the backstroke, in which case, it’s on the left side.

You may hear this called counter-clockwise swimming, as the pattern resembles a clock moving backward.

Reverse Circle Swimming: Unlike circle swimming, reverse circle swimming keeps the lane line to the swimmer’s left side. Or the right side when they’re swimming backstroke. 

Also called clock-wise swimming. 

Interval: An interval is a set time at which you must complete a distance in practice. The faster you make the given time, the more rest you get. 

Set: A group of intervals and distances make up a set. An example could be 8x100s, alternating between freestyle and your best stroke at 1:30. 

“Five (or ten) seconds apart”: Swimmers should always leave five to ten seconds behind the swimmer in front of them. This helps ensure that swimmers aren’t catching or drafting off each other.

For more words you might hear at swim practice check, out our guide: 30 Words to Get You By at Swim Practice

Swim Practice Etiquette

Every swim team has practice etiquette that they follow. Both in the pool and dryland. 

While some of these unspoken rules vary by team, some are the same across teams as a whole. Whether you’re joining a team for the first time or visiting another team, you should always follow proper swim practice etiquette

Some good forms of practice etiquette to follow are:

  • Show up on time
  • Leave 5 or 10 seconds apart
  • Don’t take someone else’s equipment (or water bottle)
  • Don’t come to practice sick
  • Treat other swimmers with respect

Following swim practice etiquette isn’t just about respect. It’s also about safety, too. Swimmers who ignore these guidelines can hurt themselves or hurt others through their actions. If you’re in doubt about a team’s etiquette, be sure to ask!

Related article: Rudest Things Swimmers do at Practice (coming soon)


Drylandis swimmer’s talk for weight and strength conditioning. While swimming is a great way to build cardio endurance, have a low-impact workout, and lose weight, swimming alone doesn’t build much muscle.

To counter this, swimmers have dedicated practices or time during practice to hit the weight room. Lifting weights and doing countless core workouts is a large part of swim practice. 

Dryland can be done in an actual weight room, around the pool deck, or even at home. And doing dryland workouts while away from the pool is a great way to keep in shape.

Related article: Swim Practice While Traveling

Swimmers can do dryland workouts at home or while traveling by using bodyweight instead of weights. Some bodyweight exercises they can do are push-ups, planks, squats, and lunges. 

You can also work on cardio endurance with mountain climbers, jump rope, burpees, and squat jumps.

How Do I Prepare for My First Swim Practice?

Your first swim practice can feel nerve-wracking. It’s to be expected whenever you start something new! Preparing for your first swim practice though can help reduce some of the anxiety that you might feel.

You can do this by ensuring you have the necessary gear and equipment that’s required by your team. For some, this is as simple as a suit, cap, and goggles. Others, namely those joining a year-round club team, might need to bring other items in addition to the above-mentioned.

We encourage swimmers to make sure they have a water bottle ready for practice, too. A common swim team myth is that swimmers don’t sweat when they train. Despite being surrounded by water, swimmers do sweat. For this matter, you should bring a reusable water bottle to keep hydrated. 🙂

Lastly, the best way to prepare for your first swim practice is to keep swimming! 

Doing this will help keep your swimming skills sharp and maintain your stroke. Even an hour a day or a few hours a week is better than nothing. 

If you can’t get in the water, work some dryland exercises at home to keep your core in shape.

First Day of Swim Practice

As with starting anything new, you’ll face confusion and questions on your first day at swim practice. You’re in a new place and potentially learning something new. And no one expects you to know everything.

Give yourself patience on your first day, if not your first few weeks. Ask questions when they arise and try to stay patient. It will take a while for you to figure out all the intricacies of the team.

It’s also important that you arrive early for your first swim practice. This gives you time to complete any paperwork that the team requires and speak to the coach. And it also allows you ample time to stretch before getting in the water.

Related article: What New Swimmers Should Know About Practice

Lastly, remember to stay positive. Your first swim practice will probably feel rough and exceedingly long. But that’s to be expected! Don’t let yourself feel discouraged and don’t judge yourself against others.

Everyone is at different stages in their swimming career. And while you might just be starting, another swimmer might have a year or more experience. 

What Should you Bring to Swim Practice?

Each team varies on the equipment they have swimmers bring to practice. And while some things are obvious in what you should bring, others aren’t as straightforward.

So what should you bring to swim practice?

One of the most important things to bring is your swimsuit! You won’t be able to swim without one 🙂 

If you’re not comfortable in a suit, consider wearing a swim shirt or a rash guard instead of a normal T-shirt. These are better to train in as they won’t weigh you down.

Related article: Answering Your Questions About Rash Guards

Make sure you also bring the following:

Don’t forget a swim bag to hold your clothes and towels. Along with a gear bag to keep all your gear in one place. Both will help keep you organized and make it easier to carry everything.

Want more information on what else to bring? Read more at: What Should You Bring to Your First Swim Practice?

Morning Practice

Swimmers practice early. There’s no way around it. Based on your team and group, you may or may not have morning practices. For those that do, practice often starts at five or six in the morning. 

Related article: Why Do Swimmers Practice so Early? (coming soon)

It’s awful, we know. But some teams have no choice but to practice in the early morning. For some, it’s the only time they can get space at the pool. Others have to fit in a workout before school or work begins.

Morning practices have their benefits though. They help wake up the body and mind for the rest of the day and kick start the rest of the body functions. Morning practice is also a way to help a swimmer’s body prepare for prelim/final meets. Where swimmers are up early to race and come back in the afternoon to race again.

And while it’s easy to hate morning practice, there are also reasons to love morning practice. Swimmers see more sunrises than most individuals. And sometimes, they’re exactly what you need to start the day. 

There’s also something rewarding about finished an entire workout while the world slept. It’s something to brag about for sure!

Little things like this can help you have a better morning practice. Ensuring you get enough sleep, drink some water in the morning, and eat something before practice can also help.

Motivation at Practice

On the subject of motivation and swim practice. 🙂 Morning practice is hard enough to get through. But it’s harder still to stay motivated for a second practice in the afternoon.

Staying motivated at swim practice is something many swimmers struggle with. And we get it. Most weeks you’re pulling 10 practices a day and putting in enough hours to count as a part-time job. It’s hard, we know.

Finding motivation though is the mental piece of swimming that isn’t easy to teach. And it’s hard to work on. Especially when you’re having a challenging day or practice. 

Related article: Ways to Challenge Yourself at Practice (coming soon)

What Should You Do Before Swim Practice?

Every swimmer has or develops a set routine that they like to do before the start of swim practice. There’s not a one size fits all type of answer for this question.

Related article: Things to Do Before Swim Practice (coming soon)

However, we do recommend that you plan to eat before swim practice. When and what you should eat is something that you’ll have to discover. Some swimmers can eat directly before practice and be okay. While others need more time.

You should also devise a stretching regiment that works for you. Rotations, band work, and other dynamic stretches are all good places to start. 

Lastly, get into the habit of filling up your water bottle before the start of swim practice. This will have it ready for when you need it. Although it does take away your excuse to get out of the pool in the middle of a set 😉

What things you should do before practice is something you’ll have to develop and learn as you go. Again, it varies by swimmer and what works for one might not work for you.

What Should You Do After Swim Practice?

It’s easy to finish practice and think that you’re done. But even after you get out of the pool, you’re not completely done with practice.

You must eat something small immediately after your practice. A protein bar or drink is a good post-workout snack. This can help tie you over until you can have a proper meal when you get home (or to the office).

Related article: What Should You Do After Swim Practice? (coming soon)

And even though it’s small, it’s common courtesy that you clean up your gear from the deck. Don’t leave it out for your coach or a lifeguard to pick up after you. 

While you’re at it, be sure to thank your coach and any lifeguards that were on deck during practice. It’s something small, but the expression of gratitude can go a long way.

Swim Practice Nutrition

Swimmers eat a lot. But they don’t always eat at the right time to help them make it through swim practice. 

Finding the right time to eat before swim practice is a challenge. Mainly because it’s not just the right time, it’s also the right meal. It’s a hard balance that’s found through trial and error. But despite the challenges, it’s important that you eat before swim practice.

Doing so helps fuel your body and muscles to give them the energy they need to perform. Eating too little or not at all can make you struggle through a workout. 

And yes, we know it’s hard for some to eat before a morning workout. If you’re trying to eat something before morning swim practice, we recommend that you start small. Try half a banana or a spoonful of peanut butter.

But just as eating before practice is important, so too is eating after swim practice. Doing so can help your muscles recover quicker and give them the needed energy to help rebuild after a long practice.

Related article: What to Eat After Swim Practice (coming soon)

Pack a small, protein-filled snack for after practice and eat it directly after practice. You can do this after you shower and change, or on your drive home. Waiting too long puts you in an energy deficit that prevents your muscles from recovering.

Basket filled with with fruits, a spoon of peanut butter, and a hard boiled egg
Eating healthy, balanced meals can improve your swimming performance

What is Holiday Training?

For those new to a swim team, the phrase ‘holiday training’ is a new one. Holiday training (or winter training) is what the name suggests. Training during the holidays. 

Related article: What is Holiday Training for Swimmers?

Specifically, the last few weeks of December through the middle of January.

Practices during this time run longer and are more demanding. Again, every team approaches winter training a little differently. And this type of training differs between high school teams and club teams.

Getting through holiday training varies with each swimmer. Some can make it with showing no signs of exhaustion. And others are exhausted all the time.

In most cases though, the following tips will help most swimmers survive holiday training.

  • Eat right
  • Get enough sleep
  • Stay focused on your goals
  • Keep a good attitude
  • Encourage others

Planning on traveling during the holidays? Your coach might fuss but ultimately, it should be your choice on the matter. 

Related article: How to Travel During Holiday Training 

That said, be sure to communicate to your coach when you’ll be out. And if possible, find a place where you can train when you’re away from your team.

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