Sink or swim

Make like Michael Phelps at these lap workouts around the city.
BUTT OUT Or, join in, at some of the best swim classes in the city.
By Kate Bongiovanni
Photograph by Tim Klein


Masters swimming/fitness training, Lakeshore Athletic Club Lincoln Park
This club offers free parking, plus a fitness center that serves up everything from tennis to weight training. But I was sold when I learned the pool was 25 meters long and members could attend swim workouts twice daily four times per week plus once on Saturday—no more “I don’t have time” excuses. Call it masters swimming, fitness swim or swim training, the premise is similar: It’s a way to swim laps in a group setting.

The group welcomes me right away—we’re sharing race stories within the first kick set. Trina, the coach, swims with us and designs the workout for any speed of swimmer by adjusting time intervals by lane. I’m shocked when 90 minutes has passed and the last set of high-intensity sprints leaves me panting.

The circa-1980 pool is a bit old and the nine lanes a little funky—each only has room for a single swimmer—but with a quick switch of the lines, we could circle swim and not worry about hitting arms with someone else. And with high attendance—masters and fitness swims can draw 16 to 20 swimmers—I’ll likely never have a lane to myself. But at least I can feel like I’m back at high-school swim practice, pounding out mileage and breathing heavy while someone faster swims in the next lane. Mondays and Thursdays 9:15–10:15am and 7–8:30pm, Wednesdays and Fridays 6–7am, Saturdays 7:30–9am. Free for members.

Advanced Swim Workout, Edgewater Athletic Club
Edgewater Athletic Club, located in the Sovereign apartment building, holds some rich history: Olympic swimmer and silver-screen Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller once lifeguarded at its pool. Yet even with personalized attention—there are two attendees including me—I’m no Weissmuller during my butt-kicking workout. Coach Paul leads us through stroke work, drills and sprints while monitoring my heart rate, which keeps me going full throttle and liking it. Mondays 7:30–8:30pm. Members $5, nonmembers $12.

Masters swimming, Fitness Formula Clubs Union Station
Although the water is cold, the small class (only four people) is appealing because we can split lanes in half to swim at our own paces. Before hopping in the pool to swim with us, coach Lynda explains Tuesday’s endurance-focused workout and exertion levels (Thursday classes include shorter, faster sets). Swimming 3,300 yards—divided into longer sets of 200 to 400 yards—with the group makes an hour fly by much faster than struggling to log the distance on my own. Tuesdays and Thursdays 6:30–7:30am. Free for club members.

Masters swimming, Galter Life Center
Aside from the icky, bath water–like pool temperature to accommodate exercisers who share the lap pool, Galter’s masters program couldn’t be more appealing. Coach Matt, a former Northwestern University swimmer, balances laps with technique and stroke improvement. I focus more on my backstroke pull than I have in years, and Matt offers tips to give me more power coming out of the water. Mondays, Thursdays 5:45–6:45am, Tuesdays, Thursdays noon–1pm, 5:30–6:30pm, Saturdays 6:45–8am. Members $50/month, nonmembers $70/month; quarterly prices available.

Masters swimming, West Loop Athletic Club
Between having a comfortably cool water temperature and being the newest pool of the bunch, the West Loop Athletic Club should be the clear winner. But when I attend class on a snowy Monday, it’s practically empty, leaving me with little interaction beyond coach Emily, who checks my progress and sets my intervals. However, the workout keeps the minutes flying so fast that time expires before we finish the last sets on the board. Mondays 6–7am, Wednesdays 7–8pm, Thursdays 6:30–7:30am, Saturdays 7–8:30am. Members $30/month, nonmembers $50/month.