How & Why to Use a Swim Training Log


What is a training log?

A training log is a record of all your workouts. It is a notebook or file where you write down the details (or the generalities) of each swimming workout. As you’ll see, the data collected in a training log varies greatly from athlete to athlete.

Why keep a training log?

Training logs can do more than just provide motivation and accountability. They can also help you determine why your performance has plateaued or whether you are overtraining. Everyone has a different reason for keeping a swimming log, but they all boil down to the same basic idea: tracking progress.


Decide on a Format

Pick a format that appeals to you. Some swimmers record every workout in pen in a leather-bound journal. Others will scribble on whatever scrap of paper is handy, and collect them in the side pocket of their bag. 

Data-hounds keep track of their swimming workouts in Excel, complete with formulas to calculate workout totals, best times, and more. Other swimmers keep simple notes in a word-processor file, which makes it easy to search for references to “500 Free,” or “PB.”

Of course, many swimmers are blogging their workouts. Keeping a swim blog might be the way to go, if you are motivated by the thought that others are viewing or tracking your workouts.

Choose a format that a.) you can easily maintain on a regular basis and b.) you will be able to flip through (either literally or virtually) later in time.

What to Track

To help you determine what pieces of information you may want to track, let’s look at three training log entries, all describing the same workout. We’ll start with a training log that includes only the most-basic information. If you are swimming for general fitness, and not training for a specific meet or race, this is what you’ll want to write down:

    • Short description of the sets: Summarize warm-up, describe the main set, and note how much warm-down you did. Typical entries are composed of short phrases like, “long freestyle set,” or “lots of dreaded kicking without a board.”

    • Total Distance: Add everything up and write down how far you swam.


Here’s what your training log might look like:

March 7, 2008. 2500m.
700 warm up with kicking and pulling
400s freestyle
200 warm down

If all you want to know is how far you swam in the past month, your training log entries can be this simple. The up-side of simplicity is that you will always have time to scribble (or text yourself, see step 3) eight to ten words. The down-side is that you don’t have a whole lot of information to use if you need to troubleshoot your training regimen later on.

If you are a swimmer who is interested in measuring progress, competing in meets, or training for specific goals, you will want to keep track of a few more details, including:

    • Workout logistics: What time of day was your swim? Who was the coach? If your practice has paced lanes, which lane did you swim in?

    • Detailed description of the sets: When you write down your sets, list equipment used, intervals made and missed, the number of repeats, and drills done. Note which set was the focus of the workout.

    • A few words or phrases about how you felt, physically and mentally: Highlight or star sections of the workout where you felt strong and fast, or make note of where you had to change an interval. Stars, check marks, or other symbols can serve the purpose you’re looking for here: to remember what went well and what needed work.

March 7, 2008, noon Masters at Rec Center, SCM.
Distance Free Day. Total: 2500m. Lane: 1:35
Warm up: 300 freestyle swim
100 pulling (no paddles)
100 kick w/ board
4 x 50 IM, drill/swim **Felt super-fast!
Main set:   4 x 400 Free, on base interval +20
(missed 3 & 4, did them on 20sec rest, I hate distance freestyle!)
Warm-down: 200, mostly backstroke

Of course, there’s more to training than just the logistics of what happened at the pool. A complete training log dips into the mental aspects of your swimming workouts, and helps you record specific goals. In addition to the data above, if you really want to keep a complete training log here’s what else you should do:

   • Track your motivations: During which sets were you excited to be swimming? What were you thinking about when discouragement set in? When did you get your second wind? Again, a few words, phrases, or symbols are all you need to record.

    • Define and analyze goals: Write down any specific goals you had going into a practice. Those goals might range from “arrive on time” to “make every interval in today’s test set so I can move up a lane.” If your goals changed during the course of the workout, note that too. (For example, “Started to feel sick, just wanted to finish set.”)

March 7, 2008, noon Masters at Rec Center, SCM.
Distance Free Day. Total: 2500m. Lane: 1:35
Goals: get in on time (check!)
No breathing in and out of freestyle turns (check!)
Make all the freestyle intervals in the main set (nope)
Warm up:       300 freestyle swim
                      100 pulling (no paddles)
                      100 kick w/ board
                      4 x 50 IM, drill/swim **Felt super-fast!
Main set:       4 x 400 Free on base interval +20
                      Missed interval on 3 & 4,when I started thinking about how far I was
                      falling behind everyone else in the lane, almost got lapped on 3. Did
                      okay on #4 because it was the last one, and was thinking about
                      breathing pattern. Did the last two on 20sec rest, I hate distance
Warm-down: 200, mostly backstroke

Find the Time

As with your training, consistency is more helpful than fits of obsessiveness and weeks of doing nothing. Perhaps the best way to regularly write your workouts down is to make it part of your “swim routine.” Of course, the best time to record your workout is immediately after practice, when it is still fresh in your mind.

If you don’t have time or need to get to your computer, it’s worth making brief notes immediately after practice. Scratch 6-8 words on a piece of paper in the locker room even before your shower, or copy the main set off the whiteboard as you are drying off. Use your phone or blackberry to text or email yourself a few key words. Those few words will spark your memory later in the day when you actually get around to logging the day’s workout.


Stay on Top of It


There is no right way to keep a training log. Just keep in mind your guiding principle: consistently recording information in a format that will allow you to look at it later and mark progress.



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