Lie Down and Move

By Dr. Keith Bell, PhD. – May 14, 2012

Lie Down

Swimming is done lying down. Too many novice swimmers attempt to swim standing up. I guess it comes with trying to keep their heads out of water so they can breathe… ah, to find the bow wave.


Swimming is done lying down. That doesn’t mean you should go to sleep. If you are swimming for fitness or competitive success, you can’t. You have to move.

If you lie down in the water and don’t exert yourself, you either float or sink, neither of which does much for your fitness, let alone competitive success.

Swimming easy all the time won’t cut it either. You need to exert yourself. You need to get after it.

Moreover, you can’t just put it on cruise control and zone out. Speed requires consistent attention to the intention to go fast. If you lose concentration, you slow down.

Get After it

Swimming is done lying down. That doesn’t mean it needs to be comfortable. In fact, it’s way more productive and much more fun when you are getting after it, swimming fast, and chasing goals. Pursuing your goals will keep you engaged, focused, and in the flow. Comfort is boring. While comfort is a nice relief from aversive stimuli, it is engaging in the pursuit of challenging, reasonably attainable goals that makes you really feel alive.

Relaxed Speed

Relaxation is a key component in swimming, but that doesn’t mean that swimming for fitness or training to compete should be relaxing. Swimming is best done seeking the relaxed speed, which comes from relaxing those muscles that are antagonistic to the prime movers used to propel yourself forward and alternately relaxed in the recovery of the stroke. However, you have to forcefully engage those prime movers.

Challenge Yourself

Competitive swimmers train incredibly hard. They train harder than any other athletes. That doesn’t mean athletes in other sports don’t train hard. They do. Top athletes in all sports put in long hours and, in many sports, those hours are at pretty high levels of intensity. But other athletes can’t train as hard as swimmers do; if they did, they’d get hurt.

Swimming takes place in a cool, soft, supportive, environment. When you pound water, water gently moves out of your way. Water cushions the force of gravity. It supports and caresses your body. Generally, the water temperature at swimming workouts is cooler than your body’s temperature; it’s cool enough to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

As a result, swimmers are able to train more intensely, without getting hurt, than athletes in other sports. Since they can, some swimmers do train more intensely. And since some do, others must as well in order to be competitive.

When I watch serious, competitive swimmers train, I see them getting after it. They are consistently asked to challenge themselves. What I see when I watch fitness/lap swimmers looks very different.

Swimming can be tremendously challenging. But for a great many people I see swimming laps (relaxed and cruising along), swimming can be about as physically challenging as watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Sure, swimming may get them out of the house and, depending upon where they swim, it might get them out of the Texas heat. Sure, the water feels good. And, I guess any movement is better than sitting at a desk in front of a computer or in a recliner watching television. But ultra-easy laps won’t get them superlatively fit.

Furthermore, the more fit you are, the more you have to challenge yourself to maintain or increase your fitness. Your body adapts. As it adapts, you need to provide the stress that will allow it to continue to adapt in order to maintain or increase fitness. You have to get after it.

The Challenge

Here is my challenge to you: get after it. Challenge yourself. Do some long, slow distance but make sure you also frequently do some long swims or sets at challenging paces. Do high-intensity interval training often. Do sprint sets regularly. When you swim, race others and race the clock. Get out there and compete. Racing is the best training. Preparing to race is great training.

Train to race. Train to win. Win or not, racing and training to win will not only give you the best chance of winning, it will give you the best chance of improving your fitness and performance. It will get you in the best shape of your life.

Give yourself some motivation to train and to train with intensity. Compete against others and against yourself in open water swimming events and pool meets. There are plenty of competitive swimming opportunities in Austin ( Get entered. Then, train to win them.

Swimming is done lying down. But stand tall as you tackle the challenges. Don’t take them lying down.

2012 Austin Area Swimming Events 

May 5 — The Money Box Cap 2k 10th Annual Open Water Race & Pledge Swim to fight Prostate Cancer, Lady Bird Lake, Austin, TX

May 5 — 6th Annual ASA Open Water Swimming Texas High School State Championships, Lady Bird Lake, Austin, TX

July 21 — 11th Annual Deep Eddy Mile, Deep Eddy Pool, Austin, TX

August 8 — KB Birthday Swim & Fitness Challenge, 64 x 100's on 1:30, Any pool. Any place

September 15 — World Championship of Texas 3-on-3 Swimming Tournament, Austin, TX

October 6 — 6th Annual ASA Open Water Collegiate National Championships, Lake Travis, TX

October 13 — 9th Annual Lake Travis Relay, Lake Travis, TX

October 24-28 — Tex Robertson Highland Lakes Challenge, Highland Lakes, TX

October 24 — Lake Buchanan Open Water Swims, 1-mile & 4-mile

October 25 — Tex's Darn Challenge Open Water Swims, 1-mile & 3.2 mile

October 26 — Lake LBJ Open Water Swims, 1-mile & 2-mile

October 27 — Lake Marble Falls Open Water Swims, 1-mile & 3-mile

October 28 — Lake Travis Open Water Swims, 1-mile & 3.6-mile

November 3 — Dam 5k, Mansfield Dam Park, Lake Travis, TX


A former University of Texas Head Swimming Coach and United States Masters Coach of the year, Dr. Bell currently coaches TeamTexas Masters, is the President of the American Swimming Association, LLC, and is a Sports Performance Consultant. As an author, he has written ten books and more than 70 articles. As a swimmer, Dr. Bell is a four-time Collegiate All American, has 36 World and 99 Masters National Records, and over the years has won gold medals in two World and in 67 Masters National Championships.



Related Articles