Mastering Masters: Building a Masters Swim Program by Kris Houchen, Lawrence Masters Swimming (2013)


Coach Kris Houchens has been a part of several Masters programs over the last 16 years giving her unique experiences, She was Head Coach of YMCA Indy SwimFit, that grew to 7 locations and over 400 members in the Indianapolis area. She then helped set up a new club Indy Aquatic Masters, also running out of multiple locations around Indianapolis and grew to over 300 members. She currently works with the Jordan YMCA MultiFit program, a unique cross training program with over 100 members training for Triathlon and other running and swimming events. And she also recently founded and coaches, Lawrence Masters Swimming, a 3 month old program running out of a High School in the Indianapolis area, with 20+ members and growing.
Slide #1: Introduction



Slide #2: Welcome

Thank you. Honor to be here. My coaching is a work in progress and I know I don’t have all the answers you may be looking for, but I am happy to share my experiences with you to help you climb up one more rung on your personal ladder of success.


Interesting Story.

Stephanie Hummel is 51 and recently had a heart episode. Last December, she had Atrial Fibrillation, the doctors had 24 hours to get her heart in rhythm or she would have to be shocked with paddles. In the last hour, the medicines they gave her got her heart back in rhythm. Her doctors told her one of the risk factors was being overweight, so she had bariatric surgery in February and has lost 50 lbs. by April walking 1 mile before and after work. But in May, a doctor’s checkup revealed no change in Blood Pressure or Heart Rate. Pulse 80>, BP 130/90. She thought she would have to take medication for life.

She decided to swim with the Lawrence Masters in June. In just two months’ time, her blood pressure and heart measurements all improved and are well within normal range. She also had increased stamina, better mood, sleeping, BP, HR and she got off the cardiologist watch list.


She attributes the improvement to swimming with the group and having a coach that challenged her to do a better workout than what she could do on her own. She also looks forward to coming because her friends, other parents from the age group team are there too.

Stephanie and her daughter believe swimming is saving her life.


Wow! Right?



Slide#3: What is Masters Swimming?

Adults 18 yrs. of age and older, that choose swimming to live a healthier lifestyle. Masters swimmers swim for fitness, pool competition, open water and triathlons.


United States Masters Swimming is the leading organization for Adult Swimming programs across the country.



Slide #4:  Why would you want to start an Adult Swim Program?

The benefits of an Adult Swim Program in your community provide a safer environment for adults to live a healthier lifestyle. Compared to other activities such as running, biking, crossfit or boot camp, swimming is a low impact exercise that is less stressful on joints and muscles. Adult Swim Programs is a great addition to any fitness facility or age group swim team providing greater membership retention, recruitment of volunteers, and extended professional resources. Swimming prevents the onset of every known disease with the exception of osteoporosis.



Slide #5: How can I start an Adult Swim Program? 

Today’s talk will go over the basics of how to start an Adult Masters Swim Program.


Every situation is unique. I haven’t found two programs that run the same yet.

So this is not the only way to do it and merely suggested here as a guide to help you. Today’s talk will include the following topics:

  • Research and Resources
  • Identify Locations and Target Market
  • Create Interest
  • Evaluate Costs
  • Name and Logo
  • Meet Schedule and Events
  • Coaching Masters
  • Workouts
  • Season Planning



Slide #6:  Resources

For resources, a great place to start is  Under the Coaches tab you can find the following info on how to:

  • Become a Masters Coach
  • Start a USMS program
  • USMS program resources
  • Certification
  • Jobs
  • Insurance



Slide #7:

ASCA / USMS Coaches Certification Class Schedule

[note: available on]




Slide#8:  AN example of RESEARCH

This is a spreadsheet of a comparison between local Masters programs in the Indianapolis area. You can learn a lot from this kind of research. Particularly of interest are the times of day, the prices, the total number of members, the options of payment and the total number of practices offered.


You can gain a lot of ideas here and hopefully find a niche. Depending on your skill set and the resources you have in your community, you may be able to combine some of these ideas into your own custom program. Do not be discouraged by what already exists. Adults are always looking for something near their home that also fits into their schedule. So the next thing to do is Identify Pool locations and your target market.



Slide #9:  Identify Pool Locations and Target Market

Most important thing in starting a program is finding a pool.

  • Pool Location
  • Schools
  • Health Clubs
  • Private Clubs
  • Target Market
  • Triathletes (clubs)
  • Parents/Faculty
  • Community


What pool or pools do you have access to? Sometimes the pool can determine WHO your market is.

What times are available?

Who is in your community you can reach?



Slide#10:  Who Cares?  (Create Interest) 

When starting Lawrence Masters Swimming, I approached an age group club that utilizes a Newer HS pool. They were interested in providing a program for the community, their employees and also the parents of the age group swimmers. We started this summer providing just evening practices and were able to market through the age group swim team website and email list and the HS School system newsletter, going to employees and parents. A great way to start with limited expenses.


For finding triathletes in your area try putting flyers at local bike shops, running shoe stores, triathlon events in your area or social media.


Nothing beats WORD of MOUTH!

Social media has its perks. It is the cheapest way to get the word out.

Free stroke clinics are good for building interest and an email list.

  • Marketing: Swim Meets, School System, Triathlons, Facility Newsletter, Social Media
  • Stroke Clinics: Swimming Basics, Video Taping, Open Water



Slide #11: Evaluate Cost     [read through, no details]

  • Pool Time
  • Lifeguard
  • Coach
  • Insurance
  • Equipment
  • Marketing
  • Merchandise
  • Other



Slide #12: Evaluate Cost [2]

Estimating the number of days in a month. When planning out a budget for a small program that may only go 3 days a week and one Saturday, you would be wise to map out how many days you are actually paying to run the program since every month carries a different number of Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays, etc.



Slide #13: Evaluate Cost  [3]

This is another chart depicting the ebb and flow of how much it cost to run 3 practices up to 21 practices. If you are planning on growth, this chart is helpful in showing how many members you would need to have enough cash flow to afford to host more monthly workouts.



Slide #14: Business Advice from a real Business Class.

  • Be unique
  • Don’t be cheap
  • Don’t over analyze
  • Just get going!
  • Reinvent yourself
  • Sans perfection


Don’t worry about perfection but be ready to make changes. The Jordan Y MultiFit program has been in existence for approx. 5 years and has restructured itself four times already. They currently have over 100 members and over 40 USMS members.



Slide #15:  Who are you?

This may be one of the hardest parts. Deciding your name, logo and mascot. Some teams choose funny acronyms like the NASTI team from Noblesville Area Swim Team, Inc. They call themselves a drinking team with a swimming problem, that fits in nicely with their annual brew-fest they hold to raise money for their local pool.



Slide #16:  Invest IN YOURself! 

Define who you are.  I encourage you to learn about Leadership and Teaching to help define who you are. Success can mean different things to different people.


John Wooden is one of my favorites to learn more about leadership and success.


I have learned that the members of your team are watching you and they will be attracted to certain things you do and repulsed by other things. A simple example is picking favorites. If you tend to spend time with the same people during practice, you will not retain the other members of your team for long. How you handle difficult or needy people is another example. Saying one thing then doing another. Just remember your members are watching and taking notes.


Your actions can set the tone and the environment of your club.  Some of the things listed here:

  1. Good values attract good people.
  2. Love is the most powerful 4 letter word.
  3. Call yourself a teacher.
  4. Emotion is your energy.
  5. It takes 10 hands to make a basket.
  6. Little things make big things happen.
  7. Make each day your masterpiece.
  8. The carrot is mightier than a stick.
  9. Make greatness attainable by all.
  10. Seek significant change.
  11. Don’t look at the scoreboard.
  12. Adversity is your asset.



Slide #17:  Scheduled events can also define your team.

Even though a coach will traditionally form their season around pool competitions, Masters Swimmers have a variety of goals and objectives. Surprisingly, pool competitions are not the objective for a lot a Masters swimmers. Overall fitness is. So it may help to think of your program more like a fitness program. Which would mean more of a year round continuous cycle. Between the local, regional and nationals swim meets, triathlons, open water opportunities and USMS fitness events, you can stay busy all year.


Three examples of different programs scheduled events. Most Masters programs develop their training season around different events. Here are some examples.

  • YMCA Indy SwimFit – Three seasons. Fitness, Competitive, Triathlete
  • Jordan Y MultiFit – Running Events, Biking, Triathlons, Swimming
  • Masters Events – Aqua Bike, Kids triathlon, Mock Meets, Swim Meets, Open water



Slide #18:  Where’s the Party?

Do whatever encourages and fosters friendships. Which, in turn, provides continued motivation to stay on course with fitness.

  • Simple – Keep socials simple, remember it is about the people not the decoration.
  • Rare – Try not to over schedule. Once a month for small get togethers work, more frequently will spread people out and lower the turnout.
  • Epic – Do a few BIG togethers once or twice a year around a certain event.
  • Space – Certain meeting places allow for varying number of people. If you are not sure of how many people are coming, you might call ahead to see if the place can handle 5 to 15 possible people.
  • Personal – Face to face invites are the most effective. Find an outgoing personable social director person to help invite people. Facebook and e-vites are not the best way to get people to come.
  • Social – It is recommended to start a Facebook group that is open for everyone to see. Then when an interest persons sign up to the group they will receive emails from you.
  • Pictures – If you post pictures after your party, be sure they are tasteful and not embarrassing. Potential members might be looking your face club page.



Slide #19:  Coaching Masters

Two things      Fitness and Friends = Fun.

The top two reasons people join a Masters program is for overall fitness and the social aspect. Developing friendships can provide member retention and providing decent and creative workouts will have people looking forward to the next workout.


The rest of this talk will deal with coaching Masters.



Slide #20:  What should you expect from adults?

Almost everything about coaching adults over 30 years of age is different from age group. Here is a general breakdown of what to expect from adults.

  • The average Masters swimmer swims about 2.5 times a week.
  • The competitive/OW swimmer may get 4 to 6 workouts a week.
  • Workouts average about 3,000 yards a workout in about 1 hour.
  • Weekly ranges from 7,500 to 19,000, with peak training yardage 12,000 to 24,000 a week.
  • In my 15 years experience, I have noticed nearly all Masters swimmers do another physical activity besides Swimming, such as, weightlifting, running, biking, Pilates, yoga, walking, tennis…
  • For adults over 40, some kind of weight bearing exercise should be recommended to compliment Swimming exercise.
  • For most adults, technique remains a new frontier. After decreases in muscle strength and lung capacity due to aging, technique can provide continued motivation and even give a means to arrive at personal best times at ages 50 and beyond.
  • Life stress: In most cases, exercises helps reduce life stress that can lead to disease, insomnia, injury and lack of performance.
  • Recovery: Increase in adaption time and recovery time become more important to prevent fatigue, injury and sickness in adults. Cyclical training can be challenging with a Masters program. (1-2 weeks Stress, 1 week Adaption (recovery))



Slide #21:  What swimmers expect from you.

  • Accommodate ability levels.
  • Know their name.
  • Watch them swim.
  • Provide Feedback in small doses.
  • Don’t assume they know everything.
  • Teach Technique, turns, and starts.
  • Coordinate between coaches.



Slide #22:  Got any ideas?

This summer I got to mentor a young Masters swim coach. Presented here are a few things I helped her with as far as running and writing workouts. Perhaps this may help some of you. The program was the Jordan Y Mutlifit program. It has over 100 members and offer seven different workouts a day from running, biking, strength, and swimming. Members are mostly focused on triathlon, but they do have many ex-college and high school swimmers, and a lot of beginner swimmers. They do offer beginner classes for running, cycling and swimming where a second coach is there to offer and provide technique instruction and feedback.


Well, this coach was having a hard time writing workouts and keeping the different ability levels together, she was emailing out weekly workouts out to the swimmers, she was writing workouts from what she remembered swimming in college (and she liked long distance stroke stuff), she did not understand the energy systems well, and basically had very unappealing workouts on paper, especially for beginners.


This is some of the advice I shared with her and maybe it might help you as well.



Slide #23:  Workout Evolution #1

Ideally, you would want to write a very challenging workout that looks simple on paper and includes the brain as much as the body.


Set 1

Repeat 150s followed by repeat 200s

Choose an interval (pace per 100):

1:40             2:00             2:20             2:40

150s= 8 @ 2:30     7 @ 3:00     6 @ 3:30     5 @ 4:00

200s= 5 @ 3:20     4 @ 4:00     3 @ 4:40     3 @ 5:20


There is nothing really wrong with the first set here, except for the fact that you have every lane swimming a different interval in a long-course pool.  There is no special instructions or any other thought other than swim this. The slower lanes missed the interval because some do not know there pace or how to read a pace clock. Hard for the coach on deck to get to each swimmer and provide feedback.


Set 2

Swim three times through:

1 x 300 @ 6:00   Swim or pull    (or  250   or  200)

3 x 100 @ 1:45   Descend by time 1>3   (3 x 75 or 3 x 50)

Maybe add a broken 200  after for fun


The second set, is an example of something I would do instead. Both sets are working aerobic endurance—this is where it is helpful to know about energy systems. Think about what you are trying to accomplish, and then figure out the best way for the group you have. You will learn a lot by trial and error.


This is where my years of experience has lead me. People love this set. It is written for a 1:45 base per 100, with extra rest after the 300 built into the interval. The 100s are descending so that is where the challenge is. If you swimmers are not working the descend well enough you can throw in the broken 200. This set is easy to follow, looks easy on paper, but is very challenging. Extra challenge descend the 300 each round.


The intervals for the second set would be 250–2:00 per 100 pace, 200–2:30 per 100 pace. The 125–1:22 per 100, 75–2:17 per 100, 50–3:23 per 100.  You have to find the right intervals for your group that breakdown well, but you get the general idea.



Slide #24:  Workout Evolution #2


Set 3

Two times through 10×100:

Interval . Clock             Interval. Clock             Interval.. Clock

#1      2:05…. :00            2:15 … :00            2:50 … :00

#2      2:00…. :05            2:10…. :15            2:45 … :50

#3      1:55…. :05            2:05…. :25            2:40…. :35

#4      1:50 … :00            2:00…. :30            2:35…. :15

#5      1:45 … :50            1:55 … :30            2:30 … :50

#6      1:40…. :35            1:50 … :25            2:25 … :20

#7      1:35…. :15            1:45…. :15

#8      1:30…. :50            1:40 … :00

#9      1:25 … :20

#10    1:20 … :45


1:00 REST (to the next top of clock)


  1. This is a set of 10×100 swum two times through. It is a drop-out set, the kind of set the swimmers are not supposed to make. This group does one about every other week. While there is nothing wrong with the concept of a drop-out set, this type of set is not a great recurring set for Masters. There is a lot of problems when doing this type of set when you have a group with four different speeds going on. The first two offers did not start with a big enough interval, so you got just the fast lane running the first two offerings. The next one is not challenging enough for most of the people who would go 1:50. Now you could fix this set on the fly but it basically turned out to be a disaster. The coaches had this great cheat sheet with send-offs but they spent time helping groups send-off while other swimmers where just flat out missing the intervals. Sets like this are great some of the time. I would recommend doing repeats of 3 or four in a row at the same intervals then dropping down a bit. For a group made up of mostly triathletes that already hate swimming, drop out sets are very discouraging. How would I change this set.



Slide #25:  Workout Solution #2


Set 4

Two times around:

  • 4×100 @ 1:45 even pace
    consistent breathing pattern
    (125 at 1:20 pace, 75 at 2:15, 50 at 3:20)
  • 4×100 @ 2:00 swim – descend 1 > 4


Sounds too simple. But the trick is to fill the swimmers head up with something to think about. They keep their eyes on the clock but more for what they are going, not when are they leaving. Even pace sets are good for focusing on technique like breathing of long strokes, good turns, etc. The descending is where they get their heart rate up. And no discouragement. The group is easier to follow from the deck. Looks easy, but again, it’s not.



Slide #26:  Workout Evolution #3

I have really enjoyed mentoring this young coach this summer. I have encouraged her to try things and rework things, and she has been improving and learning a great deal. Stroke day is pretty light with this group. So Mary has been trying to improve the workout offered that day.  Here is a set that did not work out. It was just too much to follow. There is no interval for the stroke, but there is an interval for the freestyle, but we don’t know when it will start each time. And then the freestyle has a descending interval. I just want to pause here and remind you if you are a newbie that not all adult swimmers are pace clock savvy.


First Try

Do set 3 times with rest after the freestyle getting 0:05 less each set (Round #1 @ 2:00, Round #2 @ 1:55, Round #3 @ 1:50)

  • 1×50 fly, :30 rest, 50 or 100 free @ 2:00
  • 1×50 back, :20 rest, then 50 or 100 free @ 2:00
  • 1×50 breast, :20 rest, then 50 or 100 free @ 2:00


So my friend tried to rewrite this set a few weeks later. Better attendance on the second one, so it looked more inviting we think, it ran better the second time around. The only thing was setting up the intervals with the different groups. Different sendoffs.


Second Try

Swim set 3 times with interval decreasing by :05 each set.  Later intervals in parentheses.

  • 3x 3x Broken 150s @ 3:30 (3:25, 3:20)
  • Swim 50 stroke, rest :20, swim 100 free.

The stroke should be swum fast, and the freestyle should be moderate – long and strong.


So for this talk, I looked through my workouts to see what my 16 year coaching  progression would have done for a stroke day.



Slide #27:  Workout Solution #3


Solution Set #3

1 x 200 on 4:00 Drill/Swim X 25 Fly

4 x 50 on 1:15 Fly   Descend 1>4

1 x 200 on 4:00 Drill/Swim Back

4 x 50 on 1:15 Back Descend 1>4

1 x 200 on 4:00 Drill/Swim Breast

4 x 50 on 1:15 Breast Descend 1>4

1 x 200 on 4:00 Drill/Swim Free

4 x 50 on 1:00 Free Descend 1>4


Extra challenge to descend 50’s.

Beginner swimmers do half of distance listed.


So this set, is actually longer than the other set. Provides some teaching moments for the coach to interact with the swimmers. And more opportunities to get the heart rate up on the 50’s. Good for keeping the group together.


The other set, was mostly aerobic. This set is aerobic and VO2 for the faster swimmers. VO2 is great for conditioning and improving fitness and speed. It provides more moments for the heart rate to peak. The faster swimmers can challenge themselves on the time and stay involved with the set, instead of just checking off a repeat.



I hope that helps, and gives you some ideas. A lot of clubs run different lanes on different intervals and that is OK. I believe in challenging swimmers on bigger intervals, keeping the group together for more teaching moments and providing opportunities for greatness in each workout.



Slide #28:  Season Planning Ideas

These next slides are some questions Mary had for me about seasonal planning, and my answers.


How often do you run test sets? I have a lot of questions about running test sets. When would we run them on this schedule?


I always liked to do test sets once a month, but I always tried to not do two in the same week, if at all possible. Over the years, we would run the T30 November to April we then would run the T30 every month, then every three months from May to Sept. People do get burnt out, but it is a good measure for fitness and improvement. If you did offer it once a month maybe expect people to do three out of five.



Slide #29:  Season Planning Ideas

How would we run them considering that not everyone comes to practices every day?


That is a catch twenty two if you have the lane space you could run the test sets for three days and offer a different workout for those people that already did it, but with your limited lane space you might need to come up with something else. How about for those people doing 80 to 100% of all test given from Sept. to Dec. offer them a swim cap or something. By offering the test sets once a month for five  months, expect people to hit three out of the five times and that would provide enough information to gauge any progress.


What test sets would you recommend? How would we compile this info and make it useful to the coaches as well as the athletes?


Years ago I created a Personal Journal for our members to keep track of their test sets in practice.



Slide #30-#31:  Personal Journal

Place for best 100 times and converting them into practice target times. Goal Sets from November to April. Include all energy systems, aerobic, VO2 and Lactate, also kicking and Time Trials.


The thirty-minute swim, make sure to record times and figure out what pace the swimmer was holding. At USAT, they also measure the splits per 100. This is up to you and what your coaches are able to do. It is helpful to see how they hold pace and USAT does it, so that might provide some buy in, but it could be difficult to track for the coaches, so don’t say you’ll do it unless your are sure the coaches can handle it. you could just get the first few hundreds and then the last few hundreds and compare the results each month.


The next one, for VO2 I would recommend 20×50 on 1:30 (scy) This is a great test set used by many colleges. Each fifty is fast and the idea is to hold your best average. Because the Jordan pool is warm, this would provide adequate recovery verses doing a 100 VO2 set where chances are people will overheat before the end. The measure progress have swimmers swim the same stroke, measure the fastest 50, the slowest 50 and the average overall. Progress will be made by improving the difference between the slowest and fastest and lowering the overall average. You can also add 2 more 50s each month up to 30; that way if they hold the same average but add two more, that is an improvement too. This set is one of the most inviting test sets. Coaches have to push the swimmers and encourage them to go fast, but the fast swimmers like it as much as the slower ones usually, if they choose to do stroke, pick the same stroke for all and each month as well. (if you can really get them to do that),


The third test set would be 3 to 5×100 on 6:00 Lactate (more is better for those doing swim meets). Technically you could do 50s or 75s, but not 200s. Add in active rest to disguise it. Ideally, the same distance to compare. 95% of best meet time, all recorded times should within three seconds of each other.


I use to pass-out trifold brochures on cardstock. And have the coaches record the times as well. If each swimmers carried their own with them, coaches could ask to see them from time to time. Measuring progress with times is very helpful with Masters because they tend to look at their lane-mates instead of the clock to get their times. Why does Mary improve but I haven’t? well, they are improving just not at the same rate. Getting their times is a great way to help them realize the improvements they are making. Even if all they get out of the test sets is looking at the clock and being able to read it, that is a huge deal.



Slide #32:  Summary

Masters Swimmers want fitness and friends = fun!


We covered a lot of information from how to start a Masters program to some tips on how to coach Masters swimmers, as well. Remember to provide a good workout and opportunities for people to make friends.


Research and Resources, Identify Locations and Target Market, Create Interest, Evaluate Costs, Name and Logo, Meet Schedule and Events, Coaching Masters, Workouts, Season Planning



Slide #33 Questions!

Does anyone have any questions?



Slide #34  Have Fun!

Thank you for coming. Hope this was helpful.

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