No matter where you are in life, we want you to always remember that you are more than capable to reach your goals and become the best swimmer you can be – at any age.
Your body might be changing, or you might not have as much energy as you used to, but if you train correctly and have the right mindset, it is absolutely possible to get stronger and swim faster than you did in your younger years.
It’s time to make peace with that fact that you are no longer 20 years old.
Stop comparing yourself to how fast you used to be, and start creating habits that are sustainable and healthy for many years to come. There is nothing more inspiring than watching a 95-year-old get on the blocks and compete at international masters swimming competitions.
If you want to swim for the rest of your life, check out tips from MySwimPro Community Member Sean Riga!
Hi, I’m Sean
My name is Sean Riga. I’m 49 years old, and I made my swimming comeback in June 2018. Here is what I’ve learned getting back in the pool, and some tips for any “older” folks looking to improve their swimming.
Related: How To Make a Swimming Comeback
I returned to the pool after many years of not swimming or exercising, due to complications associated with kidney stones. My return to the pool was not a simple one, and it took some time for me to learn how to better prepare myself for the pool, how to recover from workouts, and how to get the most out of each and every yard that I swam. The last time that I worked out as intensely as I am now, these tips were not even a thought or consideration to me.
But as all of us age, we begin to battle past and current injuries, medical conditions, fatiguing bodies, reduced endurance/stamina, as well as overall dwindling energy levels. Through some simple personal care tips, one can enjoy the wonderful benefits of swimming, while mitigating some of those effects of aging.
1 – TAKE TIME TO WARM UP
When I first returned to swimming, I would often only use a 200-400 yard easy swim as my warmup. I quickly started to experience pain in my shoulders until my muscles were actually warmed up.
To help facilitate this more, I started to do simple slow arm circles, both forwards and backwards, while varying the angles of my arm circles. I do these until I feel a decent burn in my shoulder muscles. The purpose of varying that angle of the arm circle relative to the plane of my body is to engage the entire shoulder muscle group. Warming up my shoulders in this way eliminated any pain that I had previously felt during my warmup swim set, and better prepared me for the stresses placed on my shoulders once in the water.
Shoulder injuries and damage from swimming is a major concern, both Julie Kamat and Sara Lark have shared their experiences overcoming surgeries, and any lifelong swimmer should take steps now to minimize any chances of injury.
2 – STRETCHING IS IMPORTANT
I have noticed that my muscles do not rebound as quickly as they used to. To help loosen tense muscles and reduce cramping during my swim workouts, I always make sure to stretch before I get in the water.
Related: Try These 5 Stretches for Swimmers
Another way to help reduce cramping is to significantly increase my water intake, and reduce alcohol, coffee and tea consumption. I also make sure to add fruits, vegetables and nuts in my diet to help provide the nutrients necessary to eliminate lactic acid that can buildup during and after workouts resulting in cramping or sore muscles.
3 – SELECT TRAINING AIDS CAREFULLY
Training aids, such as swim fins and paddles can be a great tool to emphasize certain portions of your stroke while working out. The downside of some of these is that they can enhance or even intensify the stresses placed on muscles, joints, and bones while swimming.
As a result of this reality, I had to eliminate the use of paddles from my swimming, as well as limit the number and distances of pull sets within my swim workouts, and even through the week.
Additionally, I have to be very careful with swim fins, because for some reason I am prone to stress fractures in my metatarsal bones in my feet.
4 – VARY YOUR WORKOUTS
When I first got back into swimming, I focused heavily on the distance and duration of my workouts. I did not vary the strokes, distances or even entire workouts enough, which was slowly training my body to swim at only one speed.
The easiest way to break this is to vary the sets within a swim workout, and not focus as much on swimming for a specific time or distance.
I use the Workout of the Day (WOD) in the MySwimPro app to change up my workouts. Another method to advance your swimming would be to utilize the MySwimPro Training Plans, which are designed to achieve a specific outcome. I would recommend checking these out.
Varying your training zones, rest times, distances, and strokes can boost the efficacy of your swim workouts. Varying strokes is a great way to develop your swimming skill as a four-stroke swimmer. I see too many swimmers and especially triathletes who only swim freestyle for their entire workout. Swimming other strokes engages your muscles differently, as well as different sets of muscles than by only swimming freestyle. For instance, when swimming backstroke, the main muscles engaged are the stabilizing muscles for freestyle.
Additionally, swimming only one or two strokes does not allow your muscles to rest during a single swim.
When you span this out over several days of swim workouts, you have a chance of severely injuring your main muscles and setting the stage for an injury.
Variety can also be achieved through exercising in other forms outside of the pool. I like to couple my swim workouts with cycling workouts either out on the road, or on my trainer to enhance my cardio fitness, maintain low impact routines, and strengthen my legs for swimming.
5 – INCORPORATE DRYLAND WORKOUTS
Dryland training (another term for strength training) can be a great way to get stronger. In addition to warmups and stretching, dryland training has many advantages for the swimmer who is looking to feel more powerful in the water and improve their times. Check out the Dryland Training Plans in the MySwimPro app, along with the dryland resources below!
Bodyweight Dryland Exercises
Low Impact Dryland Exercises
Swiss Ball Exercises
Best Core Exercises for Swimmers
Resistance Band Exercises
6 – FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE
None of us are getting younger, and as we age, we inherently lose muscle mass, energy and speed.
Refining one’s technique is so important to improve your efficiency and combat your natural loss of physical ability. The MySwimPro app has a full library of Technique Videos demonstrating drills that you can incorporate into Workouts that will improve your stroke performance.
The Training Plans and WOD incorporate many of these drills, which is a great way to develop your stroke while achieving other goals. Doing these drills in my workouts and watching the stroke videos has helped me to become a more efficient and powerful swimmer. Improving my technique reduced the amount of effort that I was using in each stroke, which most often results in additional resistance, more expended effort per yard swam, and overall slower times.
7 – EMBRACE THE I.M.
I have never been a good butterfly swimmer, and have taken many efforts to avoid swimming butterfly in my workouts, despite the fact that I knew how beneficial it could be to my overall performance.
Recently, I completed the workout below for the first time, and it has become one of my favorite workouts to swim. The first time that I went to swim this workout I was not even sure that I could complete it, and I was pleasantly surprised when I did, while keeping my times appropriately grouped based on the training zone specified for each set.
- 1 x 400 yd Freestyle Easy 6:00
- 6 x 100 yd IM Moderate 2:00
- 5 x 100 yd IM Endurance 1:55
- 4 x 100 yd IM Threshold 1:50
- 3 x 100 yd IM Best Average 2:20
- 2 x 100 yd IM Race Pace 3:00
- 1 x 100 yd IM Sprint 4:00
- 2 x 100 yd Freestyle Easy 2:00
FYI – This workout is not for everyone. If you’re looking for something more novice, try this free 500 Meter Swim Workout.
8 – STOP COMPARING YOURSELF
Swimming is obviously a competitive sport that is based around comparing your own performance against that of others. This is a very hard habit to break, and it can undermine your confidence and proficiency.
While it can be advantageous to swim with others to push you harder than you can yourself, it is necessary to not be overly critical of your skill or speed.
Make peace with the fact that you are no longer 20 years old. Strive to be the best swimmer that you and your body are capable of. That said, look into swimming with a Masters Swimming Team, or equivalent, can help to push your workouts to the next level.
9 – DON’T LIVE YOUR AGE
While some accommodations must be made in order to continue swimming at an older age, that does not necessarily mean that you are a less proficient or weaker swimmer. It is equally important to prepare yourself for the pool physically as it is to prepare your self psychologically.
While it is true that you are no longer in the prime of your life physically, you are still capable of great things. Remove those mental barriers and stop limiting yourself. Check out this video of Ambassador Patty Deters competing for the first time in years!
10 – ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE
One could easily argue that enjoying swimming needs to be the first tip in becoming a better swimmer. If you have negative feelings prior to a swim workout, then you are much less likely to get as much from the experience.
Additionally, the chances of sticking with a long-term swimming routine increases exponentially when you are enjoying yourself. For me, my time in the pool is a nearly peaceful alone time that I have in my day, which allows me to focus on me and not be interrupted or distracted with life’s demands.
For some inspiration, meet Ralph Davis, who made an incredible swimming comeback after a heart transplant. “If a guy who had a heart transplant can still swim competitively, anybody can”
I hope these tips help you become a happier and healthier swimmer. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below, or chat in our MySwimPro Global Community Facebook Group.
Need help with your swimming? Get Swimming and Dryland Workouts, drills and videos in the MySwimPro app! Sign up for MySwimPro Coach to unlock personalized Training Plans, Guided Workouts and 1-on-1 coaching. Save $35 on your first year of training with code SWIM35 >