How I Went From Swimming 50 Meters to 2000 in Less Than a Month

Lately I have become highly intrigued with endurance training.

There are a few reasons for this, which I intend to cover in a future article (or book).

Just this past fall, I dove into long-distance running while maintaining a semi-decent workload of calisthenics.

Since fall has ended and the city I inhabit gets covered in snow each winter, I have decided to take up some indoor alternatives for cardio, particularly swimming and indoor cycling.

Given my decent fitness level I attained from my regular 7 – 10 mile runs, I assumed that I would be able to dive into swimming (no pun intended) without any issues whatsoever.

This was not the case.

Any experienced swimmer (such as my girlfriend) will tell you (as she told me) that swimming is a completely different beast from other endurance activities.

And if you stop to think about it, this makes perfect sense, since how often in life do we lie face down and use our arms to propel ourselves forward for lengthy time periods?

Anyways, as I attempted my first swim in well over a decade, I could barely get 50 meters (one length of an Olympic-sized pool) without stopping and gasping for breath.

It was certainly a wake-up call.

While extremely frustrated, I did my research and found that this was a very common occurrence for non-swimmers, and that swimming ability (and swimming fitness) could be achieved quite rapidly if the work was put in.

The most common advice I would read is that an emphasis should be placed on technique, and that very frequent swim sessions are optimal to quickly improve swimming ability.

On the other hand, I came across an interesting blog which stated that swimming fitness should be achieved first, and that technique can be refined later.

From my experience, I would agree with the latter point of view, though there is likely no ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ answer to the situation.

However, from a psychological standpoint, being able to swim a long distance with shitty technique will make you feel far more confident than only swimming short distances with good technique.

This would logically keep the swimmer more enthusiastic about performing technique drills, since they already have the confidence they attained through building a solid fitness base.

Regardless of which should be prioritized first, I prioritized swimming fitness, as well as simply getting used to being in water.

I personally think the biggest problem with novice swimmers (like myself) is that they are not used to breathing properly while swimming, which can take a while to get used to.

Unfortunately, not being able to breathe properly when in the middle of a pool will cause most novices to panic, which will inevitably lead to a poorer stroke.

Therefore, one reason for putting in the miles in the pool is to simply become comfortable in the water.

Becoming mentally comfortable in the water was a huge turning point for me.

The thing I did to ensure this (as well as rapidly increase my swimming fitness) was to apply the same principle that has been shown to optimize muscle and strength gains with weight training:

VOLUME.

While I could only ‘comfortably’ swim 25 meters at a time when I started, I knew that if I performed a lot of sets, I would accumulate a lot of volume, and this would eventually improve my swimming.

It did.

My first swim session I 24 sets of 25m for a total of 600m (certainly nothing to boast about).

My second session I did 32 sets of 25m for a total of 800m.

I made a point to increase the total volume of each swim session (even if it was just by 100m), regardless of how long it took.

This is because I knew that the more volume I put in (without over-doing it), the faster my body and mind would acclimate to this essentially brand new movement.

A few weeks later, I began doing numerous sets of 100m, for totals of 1500 – 1800m per workout.

While I was certainly progressing, I still wondered how long it would take for me to be able to swim, say, a mile without stopping.

Well, weirdly enough, I managed to swim 2000 meters non-stop on my 9th swimming session.

It was instant.

For whatever reason, my body (and mind) just felt much more comfortable in the water, and I was able to continuously push myself without freaking out about drowning.

While it took me slightly over an hour to complete the set (since my technique is not great), I was encouraged that I was able to quickly achieve a much higher level of swimming fitness and mental comfort that I sorely lacked when I began.

Now that I have a semblance of confidence in the water from the miles I have put in, I believe that it is now time to focus on drills to improve technique (while still maintaining a decent amount of volume).

This way I can hope to drastically improve my swim times by making my stroke more efficient, which is precisely what good technique will do.

The other upside of achieving good swimming technique is that a more efficient stroke will allow you to preserve energy over longer distances, which will make these distances easier to perform.

 

CONCLUSION

While it is up to the swimmer (or swim coach) on whether they should prioritize technique first or simply immerse themselves into the sport by putting in as much volume as possible, I personally prescribe to the latter strategy.

As mentioned before, on top of increasing swim fitness, putting in a lot of volume will get you more comfortable in the water, which will go a long way in being able to train technique in the first place.

See you next time.

 

 

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