Frequently Asked Questions

Interested in swimming with us? Please read the frequently asked questions below to learn more about our team, practice schedule, payments, and more. If you have additional questions, feel free to email us at


Team FAQs

Where do you swim?

We rent indoor pool space from the Fairfax County Park Authority from Labor Day until Memorial Day. After Memorial Day, some of our summer workouts are held at local neighborhood pools. There is parking at all locations. You can find practice times and locations on our team calendar.

Indoor Locations – Franconia REC Center and George Washington Rec Center

Summer Locations – Franconia REC Center and Waynewood Recreation Association pool

Who are my teammates?

Swimming abilities range from beginning lap swimmers to competitive racers – and we all have different goals, including fitness, conditioning, and competitions. We want to help you meet your own personal goals with the support of a fun community of swimmers who enjoy spending time in the pool.

Who leads practice?

Practices are led by our amazing coaching staff, who are ASCA certified with years of competitions under their belt. Our coaches are not only there to lead workouts, but to help us improve techniques and train for personal milestones or competitions. Learn more about our coaching staff.

How fast do I need to be?

Our practice lanes are divided by speed and ability, so there will be a place for you, no matter your speed. Even if you haven’t swum in a few years (or decades) there will be a place for you at our workouts. If you know how fast you can swim a 100 freestyle, that will give the coach on deck an idea of what lane you should start in.

What if I haven't swum since I was a kid?

We’d love to help you get back into swimming – however, we are not a learn-to-swim organization and swimmers must be able to swim unassisted for 60 minutes, be able to swim one lap without stopping, and know how to count yardage (1 lap = 25 yards). Knowing how to use a pace clock for timed intervals is a plus, but we can help you figure it out.

I only know how to do freestyle, is that ok?

Freestyle is the main stroke most practices focus on, so if you aren’t comfortable with other strokes, or even doing flip turns, don’t let that stop you from coming to practice. The coach on deck can help you with your technique for freestyle and the other strokes (butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke) as you get more comfortable and confident in your swimming.

Do you offer private lessons?

No, we focus on group training. However, the team does offer occasional Saturday workshops a year that focus on specific strokes, starts, or turns. These are great opportunities to improve your technique and get more in-depth feedback from our coaches.

I'm visiting from another location, can I swim with your team?

Yes, any currently registered US Masters swimmers visiting from out-of-town are welcome to swim with our team. All we need is a copy of your USMS card. Please email to let us know you are coming.

Practice FAQs

What is included in a typical practice?

Every practice has a structured workout—starting with warm up and drills before a main set and cool down. Practices focus on a combination of all four strokes—freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Certain days and/or practices might focus on specific strokes, have a long-course or sprint focus, or include special training to prepare for an upcoming meet.

How many practices do you offer?

We offer one-hour practices throughout the week and 90-minute workouts on Saturdays. You may attend as many practices as you’d like. View our current schedule here.

How do I get into the RECenter? Do I need to pay to enter?

Your team dues cover the cost of renting lanes, so you should not pay the Fairfax rec center to join a practice. 

Do I need any special equipment?

This is a team workout, so leave your personal music player at home! In addition to goggles, swim caps, and a bathing suit (definitely mandatory!)—many swimmers find it helpful to bring additional equipment such as a kickboard, pull buoy, paddles, fins, and a water bottle. Ask your coach and fellow swimmers for recommendations on what to buy. 

Will I be able to shower and change after practice?

Showers and a locker room are available at all of our practices, so remember your towel and toiletries.

Do you have an inclement weather policy?

RECenters follow Fairfax County Government closures. You can find Fairfax County cancellation information by calling 703-324-8661 or visiting If the RECenter is open, practices are held at the coach’s discretion. Always check on our team calendar ahead of time for scheduled cancellations due to swim meets or pool maintenance. For last minute or weather-related cancellations, the team will send out a text and email, as well as post alerts on Facebook —so consider following our Facebook page for the most up-to-date information.

How do I know if practice is canceled?

Always check on our team calendar ahead of time for scheduled cancellations due to swim meets or pool maintenance. For last minute or weather-related cancellations, the team will send out an email and text and post alerts on Facebook.

What if I want to swim on a day that the team is not practicing?

During holidays, or other times when the team is not holding practice but the rec centers are open, you are welcome to swim on your own at the rec centers, but you will need to pay the rec center general admission fee since your team dues do not cover individual practices.

Can I use other amenities at the RECenter, like exercise equipment or go to classes?

No. Your membership allows access to the REC center only for team workouts. If you are interested in additional activities at those facilities, you would need to pay the rec center general admission fee.

Payment FAQs

How do I join the team?

You will need to make TWO payments to start swimming with us:

  1. Register for US Masters Swimming. This is a once-a-year fee to participate in US Masters Swimming, the national umbrella organization for our team. When you sign up, select Potomac Valley as your Local Masters Swimming Program (LMSC) AND the Alexandria Masters Swimming Club (ALEX) as your club. You can register here.
  2. Sign Up For the Current ALEX Swim Season. This fee goes directly to our team, and pays for the lane rentals, coaching salaries, and other expenses each season. We offer 3 payment options: an annual payment, a monthly payment, and a 15-swim punch card. See our current fees on the Join Us page.
Can I try a workout for free before I join?

Yes! Interested swimmers can try out any practice for free—just drop by before a scheduled practice and ask to speak to the coach on deck. You do not need to be a USMS member to attend this practice, but you must register for a 30-day trial USMS membership (no fee required). Please show your registration to the coach at your first practice.

What practice should I come to as a trial?

You are welcome to attend any of our practices to try it out before committing to joining the team. We recommend attending a practice that would normally fit into your schedule—whether it’s before or after work, or our weekend practices.

Do I need to sign up for Fairfax County RECenters or the neighborhood pool to swim with your team?

No. Your fees for our team cover the cost of swimming at the pools—do not pay additional money to the rec centers. The only fees you need to pay are the once-a-year national USMS membership and your team membership fees.

Swimming Dictionary

Build: in a set distance, the speed of the swimmer gradually increases or builds. ‘Build each 100’ means gradually increasing the swimming speed such that the swimmer is swimming faster at the end of the 100 distance than at the beginning.

Circle Swim: swimming with two or more swimmers in one lane, where all swimmers swim on one side of the lane in one direction, and the other side in the other direction. Usually, this means staying to the right side of a lane.

Descend: In a set, swimming each repeated distance faster than the previous distances. For example, descending 3×100 means each 100 is faster than the previous.

Drill: a technique swim where one particular mechanic of a stroke is isolated from the rest of the stroke and practiced in slow short distances in order to concentrate on refining it. For example, a fingertip drag drill is where a swimmer drags the fingertips across the water on the arm recovery to emphasize a high-elbow, relaxed recovery.

Interval: in a set, the time you are allowed for the swim and the rest. For example, 100’s on a 1:50 interval means that every 1:50 you start swimming another 100.

IM: Individual medley. A swim that incorporates all four strokes in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

Long Course or LCM: Long Course Meters. LCM meets are held in pools 50 meters in length. The Long Course season in USMS runs from May to August each year, culminating with the Long Course National meet in August.

LMSC: Local Masters Swim Committee. The local governing organization of US Masters Swimming. We are in the Potomac Valley LMSC, comprising the area of Washington, DC and its suburbs.

NationalsUSMS National Swim Meet held two times a year. The Short Course Nationals are held at the end of the short course season in May, and the Long Course Nationals are held at the end of the long course season in August.

Negative Split: swimming the second half of a set distance of faster than the previous. For example, negative splits on a 100-yard swim means the last 50 of the swim was faster than the first 50.

Open Water: open Water swims are competitions held in an outdoor lake, river, or ocean for distances greater than most pool events.

Pace: constant speed over a set time or distance. Swim a workout set at ‘pace’ gives a swim in which each separate distance is at the same time and speed over the entire swim

Postal Swimthree competitions in which one swims in a home venue, then sends in the results to be compared to other competing swimmers doing the same event.

Short Course or SCY: Short Course Yards. The most common distance for our pools. SCY meets are held in pools 25 yards in length. The Short Course season in USMS runs from September through May each year, with meets in 25-yard pools, and culminates with the Short Course National meet in May.

Short Course Meters or SCM: SCM meets are held in pools 25 meters in length. The Short Course season in USMS runs from September through May each year, with meets in 25-meter pools.

Seed Time: your best guess at what time you can swim a particular event. In a swimming competition, your seed time is used to match you with others of similar times and abilities. In certain meets (usually Championship-level meets), you must enter a seed time. In other meets, you can choose “no time”/NT to be entered into the first heat of that event.

Splits: the time for one lap or set distance of a race consisting of more than one lap. The splits add up to the total time. For example, times for a 200-yard swim can be divided into four 50-yard splits.

Taper: a recovery phase of training prior to a major competition. A taper usually involves a reduction in workout intensity over about a two week period leading up to the big competition.

Top Ten: the fastest ten times recorded in competition. For example, the National Top Ten lists the fastest 10 times swum in the country during a year for each particular event, course length, and age group.

Zone: a governing organization for a region of the country comprised of LSMC’s. We are in the Potomac Valley LSMC, which is in the Colonies Zone which stretches from Virginia to Maine.

Alexandria Masters Code of Conduct
Guidelines for our swimmers on required behavior for the team.

Lane Etiquette 
Guidelines to help everyone experience a smooth practice.

Training Plan 
Our coaches have written up a training plan to help you understand how our workouts help fitness swimmers, competitive swimmers, and triathletes/open water swimmers.

Swimmer Goal Sheet 
A helpful goal sheet to give to your coaches so we know how best to help you reach your current training goals.

US Masters Swimming
Home page of US Masters Swimming. Contains listing and links of all Masters teams and local swim committees, training, workouts, competitions, and message board.

Colonies Zone
Home page of the Colonies Zone of US Masters Swimimng, covering Maine through Virginia. Contains info and listing of meets & events for the northeast.

Potomac Valley LMSC
Home page of Potomac Valley Masters Swim Committee, our local governing body. Contains info and links to all registered Masters clubs in the Washington DC area.