What is the Swimfit Get Toned Programme?

As recounted elsewhere in the Health and Fitness category, I’ve been taking up swimming again, using a Swimfit programme to guide me.  I wanted to explain how the programme works and what it is.

Swimfit is a pool workout programme developed by swimming experts at the ASA, the UK’s governing body for the swimming, diving, water polo, open water, and synchronised swimming.  It is sponsored by British Gas.  It is on-line here.

There are different programmes that you can choose to follow.  I decided to go for Get Toned because I thought it would be more realistic for me given that I was picking up regular exercise again after a time away.  You can find the details here after you have signed up to Swimfit.


There are 30 sessions to follow.  The very first session requires you to swim 22 lengths but the number goes up as you progress.  Using the web site you can log your progress through the sessions.  If you find a session hard, you are encouraged to repeat it.  That means that the programme doesn’t overface you.

A typical session

Each session includes four sections: a warm up, skill development, main set and swim down.

I’ll use session 13 as an example.  It provides a total of 50 lengths and says you can burn 400 calories.  It then gives the following instructions:

  • “Warm Up (Easy) – Swim 8 lengths using a stroke of your choice.  Rest: None
  • “Skill Development (Moderate) – Swim 6 lengths using a stroke of your choice – using one arm only. Swim 6 lengths using a different stroke – using one arm only. Rest: None
  • “Main Set (Hard) – Swim 24 lengths alternating between 1 length slow and 1 length fast, include: 8 lengths using a stroke of your choice – rest 10 seconds after each length, 8 lengths using a stroke of your choice – rest 30 seconds every 2 lengths, 8 lengths using a stroke of your choice – rest one minute every 3 lengths.
  • “Swim Down (Easy) – Swim 6 lengths alternating between front crawl and backstroke for every length.  Rest: None”

A few niggles

You can see that it is a bit complicated.  This is one of the features of the programme especially when you are doing it on your own.  You have to memorise the session before you go in the pool.  I suppose it is good exercise for your memory too.  I have seen people in the pool with a sheet of paper in a see-through plastic folder, propped up on their float on the end of the pool where they could refer to it if necessary.  That is another solution.

Just occasionally, the programme gets it wrong: the number of lengths in the detailed sections, warm up to swim down, don’t add up to the total number of lengths.  In that case, you just have to make something up the best you can.

The number of lengths per session does go up as you go through the programme but not linearly.  For example, after session 13’s 50 lengths, session 14 has 48, 15 has 40 and 16 is back up to 60.  Also, when you look at the detail, sometimes the instructions for Skill Development look more like a main set – and vice versa.  However, part of following the programme is trusting in the expertise of the ASA and surrendering control.

Practical tips

The website advises that you need to be able to swim three strokes to complete the programme.  I wouldn’t let it put you off entirely but it is certainly more fun if you have three strokes.  Breast stroke is my favourite stroke.  Front crawl comes second and back stroke a distant third.  However, while doing the programme, I’ve found that I’ve got better at these strokes – and got to like them more.  The Activate and Health programmes require only one stroke, if this really worries you.

When following the programme, I have found it very difficult to judge the difference between “easy”, “moderate”, “quite hard”, “hard” and “as fast as you can”.  Well, alright, as fast as you can is quite clear.  All you can do is make the best estimate you can and not go off too fast at the start of the session.  I’ve found that learning to swim slowly is as valuable as going hard.

To make the most of the Skill Development section, it is good to look at the “Training Camp” section of the web site, even though the programmes don’t refer to it.  It has written tips but also videos showing you the best way to swim a stroke.  The web site also provides some good tips on stretching.  As with the stroke coaching, it provides written text and videos.  In addition it has a diagram highlighting the part of the body that is targeted.  All in all, this section is very good.

I don’t see how you can do some of the sessions without a float.  Some pools will have them for you to borrow.  I had to buy one and I bought a product from Speedo, which doubles as a pull-float and a kick-float.  If you are interested, it is called the “Elite Pullkick” and you can find it here.

Also, when you are working on your own and need a float for two out of four lengths, it makes sense to plan ahead so you can get at the float when you need it!  So, either put the float at the far end before starting the first length or, instead of using a float for the 2nd and 3rd lengths, using it for 3rd and 4th works best! (This will make more sense when you read some of the sessions.)

Bear in mind that the web site is slightly inflexible when it comes to logging.  It allows you to log the date on which you swam a session and to add written notes. It then asks you how easy you found the session: easy, moderate or hard.  What is not so obvious is the logic built into the system: if you say “hard”, it won’t let you mark the session as complete.  This means that, although you can see the future programmes, you can’t log your work on them.  If you say “easy”, it automatically completes the session for you so you can’t log a repeat if you choose to repeat it for some reason.  If you say “moderate”, you can then choose to repeat or to move on.  I’ve learnt to make the best of the system by recording in the notes how easy I found a session and to choose the easy, moderate or hard smiley faces partly depending on whether I want to swim the session again.

Apart from using the notes in that way, I think they are good to have because you can remind yourself of what strokes you swam you did and what progress or difficulties you experienced.  However, the only way I’ve found to review the notes afterwards is to print out the session.

All in all, I’ve found the Swimfit site to be really useful in helping me rebuild a swimming habit and improve my performance.  Have a go, yourself! Remember, the web site can be found here.


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