Swimming Hacks: Why You’re Swimming Too Much & What To Do About It

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Articles, Fitness, Workout & Exercises

When it comes to getting the most benefit from training, it’s no secret that quality trumps quantity.

If you read my article “Top 10 Reasons Exercise Is Bad For You“, then you know how too much exercise can be harmful (and what you can do about it)…

…and my post on “10 Ways Ironman Triathletes Can Avoid Chronic Cardio Self-Destruction” goes into good techniques for triathletes to get the most training efficiency.

Swimming is no different, and in today’s guest post is by Kevin Koskella, from TriSwimCoach.com, you’ll learn why you may be swimming too much, and what you can do about it.

Whether or not you’re a swimmer, there are concepts in this article that apply to all forms of training…

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And now, let’s hear from Kevin Koskella…

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“How much did you do today?”

That’s often the question heard around pools where triathletes practice. Usually, the answer is a number measured in yards or meters that we swim.

Common wisdom is that the more you can do in a single workout, the better shape you are getting yourself into. I’ve even heard swimmers complain that they “only had time for 2000 yards today!” – as if there is some number that qualifies as a complete workout and anything short of that is utter failure.

Nonsense.

Back in the 1970’s, the popular notion in age group swimming communities was the more, the better. Let’s train 4 hours a day in the pool, 10,000 yards wasn’t enough, let’s do 15,000 or 20,000 on big days! Long Slow Distance (or LSD) was the name of the game.

Physically, this led to a lot of shoulder injuries and other signs that bodies were breaking down.

Mentally, this led to burnout.

And the bottom line was, high yardage wasn’t working. It was overkill. Throughout the next couple of decades, the massive distance workouts came down to more reasonable levels with most clubs.

But today, there is still a hangover from those days of staring at the “black line” at the bottom of the pool for hours at a time.

We still compare ourselves with other athletes and with what we did yesterday or last week. “I must up my yards!” we say, but this idea of “more is better” is just outdated thinking.

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In recent times, we have seen ultra marathoners posting PR’s after cutting their training time in half. We have seen the value of sprint work for marathon training, the benefits of weights and yoga for swimming. However, we still insist on adding up yards, laps, and miles in the pool.

I’m here to tell you that there is a better way!

Quality should be emphasized over quantity. Stroke technique is the most important thing you can work on if you’re a beginner swimmer. Nothing will make up for poor technique – including adding distance to your workouts.

If you’ve got an adequate stroke for triathlon swimming already, then you’re in luck. Workouts can become a lot more fun than what you’ve been doing and I, as a swim coach, officially give you permission to cut down on your pool time.

Most people are doing long boring workouts in the pool like:

-Warmup: 500
-Drill: 8x50s
-Main Set: 10x200s
-Warm Down: 200

Often times, these are mindless workouts, done on an interval and a pace that doesn’t vary. This will train your body to do what it has done in the past, but nothing more. You won’t lose speed but you won’t likely make gains either.

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Let’s take that swim workout above and “hack” it, and make it more quality and less quantity. Here’s what that would look like:

Begin with 12×100’s
-#1 is a warm up 100
-100’s #2-11 90% effort, with :30 rests after each
-#12 is cool down 100

Get out of the pool and do 3 rounds of:
-10 pushups
-10 burpeess
-5 pullups

That’s it!

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TriSwimCoach

Click here and use code BENG10 to get 10% off any of Kevin’s swimming programs.

You just cut your swimming down by about 2/3rds and probably saved half the time you would have with the old workout- and you’re getting even more out of it. Of course, this workout may be too advanced for your current fitness level, so you can feel free to cut it down – you will be getting benefits from it no matter what level you are currently.

Finally, keep in mind that the key to improvement is recovery. The swimming hacks are not meant as intensity shortcuts – in fact, these workouts are much more intense than what you’re probably used to. There is no one-size-fits-all. You may need more rest between workouts than you were taking before. Listen to your body and don’t be tempted to go back to the old ways of adding up yards and laps in the pool to measure progress!

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What better time to start your swimming hacks than right now in the winter? Leave your questions, comments or feedback below and be sure to check out TriSwimCoach for even more swim tips (you can use 10% discount code BENG10 on anything there)!

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20 thoughts on “Swimming Hacks: Why You’re Swimming Too Much & What To Do About It

  1. Robert Patocchi says:

    I am a 63 year old swimmer. This year I think I will will do 24+ in 50 free 103+ in the 100 back. I have done these times recently. What I do is a ketogenic diet. I do race pace training low yardage.

    Monday
    Warm up 200

    8 all out sprints. @5 yards or less for each swim.
    2 stroke work.

    Then free a total OF 300 yards. at race pace speed faster than 200 speed.

    Fifty yards 10 sec rest, if I go race pace i repeat, if not I go 1/2 lap race pace swims with 10 seconds rest between swims
    After 10 seconds rest I try the 50 again. If I make the time I keep doing the 50. If I fail two fifties., after doing two half laps swims with 10 seconds rest I switch to 25’s. If I fail a twenty five , the I do the two half lap swims and try the 25’s again. If I fail. I go to 1/2 lsp swims until I finish.

    I do that same with backstroke backstroke. Then i do a few butter fly sprints
    I .
    I might start with a 75 at times for the first swim

    rest 10 sec rest repeat. Rest 10 seconds and try again then i try again . If i make it I go again, if i fail I go half lap , half lap, half rest 10 second rest. i fail twice I switch to 25’s. If i make the race pace I keep going 25’s until I miss and then i go 1/2 lap 1/2 lap and go 25 again , if I fail twice i just do the half lap swims with 10 seconds rest Until I finish. I then do some drills and repeat the set with backstroke. Repeat this with backstroke.

    The next day I do the same type workouts but kicking.
    Then I take a day off. Since i am 63 years old and am on a ketogenic diet I need the kicking set for glycogen recovery and body recovery

    This i crazy low yardage but it does not only work with me. My 14 year old and 18 year old do this with me in the off season and they seem to do close to their best times after this at the start of their high school season. But they do better at the end of their high school season after a taper.

    When I do other type training I break down and gain weight. 220. When I do this diet and training I weigh less than 200 and go fast for an old man. Last year going back to the ol;d ways I went slow a snot at nationals and weighed 220 pounds.

  2. Phyllis Tipton says:

    Im 58, over weight, trying to lose for back surgery. Swimming is only excercise I’m allowed (which i do love). Im 6 weeks in and have been pushing to increase my minimum amounts. I am to 8 laps x100 ft (which is,trivial I know) but then 5 nonstop laps. Suddenly. I can barely do the 8 laps and my pullup excercises. I give out half way thru. Where i was feeling great suddenly im exhausted befor i finish. I have been unable to excercise for years because of my back. When i started 6 wks ago i barely eaked out 500 ft. Im very upset. I was so happy woth my progress.

  3. Jack says:

    I am 92 and swim10 25 yd laps twice a week. Too little or too much.?

    1. Depends on a variety of factors….I can't make a recommendation without knowing a bit more about you! But either way, congratulations on staying fit and healthy into your nineties, wow! https://greenfieldfitnesssystems.com/product-cate…

  4. Doc B. says:

    "Listen to your body and don’t be tempted to go back to the old ways of adding up yards and laps in the pool to measure progress!" I agree to this point. There are times that we're desperate for something that we do every possible ways that we can to get what we want, but only to find out that we're just moving to achieve what we want and we overlook that we also need to focus on our development.
    -Doc B., Eye Doctor Long Island

    1. Lan Nguyen says:

      Can I swim one hour every day, when I feel good and not tired at all . I’m 60 year old,

      1. Listen to your body. If you feel good and not tired, it should be fine. At the same time, totally depends on your goals. You may want to check this out: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/e…

      2. Keith Davies says:

        I am same age, I swim 2.5km every day this takes me 1 hour

  5. Denaj says:

    Good article. I've been out to prove this to coaches for years! I would like to know the science behind it and the applications to the makeup of a competitive swimming workout.

  6. I think a slightly longer warmup doing various IM type strokes (scull with the dolphin kick instead of full on butterfly) for 200 is good. Picking up speed toward the end of the warmup. I then do 4×100 free and try to go faster with each 100. Then I switch 200 free then 200 IM. As you get closer to your event switch things up so that you get in some longer distances. Instead of 200's do a single 400 for example. Also don't rely on flip turn efficiency as much if the approaching event is not in a pool (I swim 10m underwater sometimes after a flip turn).

  7. Lisa says:

    I 100% agree with quantity vs quality, but for some swimmers, especially open water marathon swimmers, the training in the pool has got to be there. Ultra ocean water athletes understand the possible shoulder wear and tear, but push until they can no longer push based on pure passion for the sport. I also belive there is much to be taught and discussed about technique, quality skill and good coaching also reduces the injury.

    I am a marathon swimmer but find myself after 26 yrs of competitive swimming, suiting up for a shoulder reconstruction this year. … But I can’t say it wasn’t worth every mile, yard or meter.

  8. Mike says:

    Hello! I was wondering if the reduced yardage principle also applies to traditional age-competitive swimming. Our aquatic club just became a US Swim sanctioned program and some of the yardage for such young swimmers concerns me a bit. The emphasis seems to be more, more, more without any regard to technique. 10&U’s with 3-4K, 14&U 5-6K…and that doesn’t even include what the school program puts them through. The kids who participate in both swam 45K yards in 4 days last week. Whenever I bring this dilemma up, Im looked at like I have 3 heads….”everyone else is doing it”, etc. Im quite concerned for my kids, and the other children since they are already beginning to see the writing on the wall and mention how they want no part of HS swimming…and Im not the type to “make” them do something they have zero desire for. Your quick thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you!

    1. swim mom says:

      Excellent observations. Follow the money…USAS wants their coaches to be employed full-time, year-round, so they need swimmers swimming long hours year-round. Then there’s a ponzi aspect to getting as many swimmers to swim as many meets as possible since the fee structure pays money to the club, LSC, and USAS. It’s a successful business model at the expense of kids’ health. They need this huge base of swimmers to support the jobs at the top, and the tiny number of men and women who become olympic athletes. Let’s not forget the importance of selling that unrealistic Olympic dream. USAS doesn’t provide PT assessments or make any representation about whether their high-yardage programs are healthy for kids. That should give everyone pause. I wish more parents thought like you. The athletes who become Olympians are exploited too. Read the articles about how if they don’t medal they don’t eat.

  9. Johnny Clemons says:

    Thanks for the information! I love swim! However I do have the problem with the pool. I swim at our YMCA. The pool has chlorine in it. When I get out of the pool and dry off my skin gets really dry and Itchy. Sometimes I get hives. Do you have any info to help me with Problem? Maybe I should just stay out of the pool. Sometimes I will get like this after a long shower.
    Thanks Ben!

    1. Kevin says:

      Hey Johnny, sorry about your troubles with chlorine, I used to have the same thing. I love the Tri-Swim anti-chlorine products- shampoo, body wash, and lotion. They do the job and smell great, no more dry itchy skin. You can get them at tri-swim.com or amazon. Good luck!

  10. John says:

    Wondering what your opinion is on using a tethered swim system for Ironman training. Access to a standard pool has become more difficult for me , so I would consider something like an I-pool if it really was a useful training tool . Thanks for any thoughts..
    John

    1. They're OK. I've messed around with them a bit. Only issue is that they can get A) boring and B) I find can seem to affect my swim stroke a bit by almost tilting me slightly up. But it's better than not swimming at all for sure!BenWill YOU Become Superhuman This Year?Join me March 8-9, 2013 in Spokane, WAAll details at :http://goo.gl/b24U7

  11. kelcey says:

    How many days a week do you recommend swimming? Do you recommend any longer workouts at all, maybe once a week? That seems to be necessary for me come open water season and longer distance races.

  12. Kevin says:

    Hey Brock,
    There really is no "right" way to do it. Whatever works for you is best. Some coaches have set ways of doing these workouts, but I don't. Try both and see how it goes! Also, mix up the strength exercises. You can get a lot of ideas from Ben here, and from crossfitendurance.com. Cheers to giving it a shot!

  13. Brock Skywalker Armstrong says:

    I've got a question about the "hacked" workout – are those pushups, burpees and pullups actually done immediately after the swim, right on the pool deck? Or do you shower, change and hit the gym?

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