When you started swimming, you were probably inundated with tons of do’s and don’ts for your time in the water. Make sure you breathe on both sides; pack as much distance into your workout as possible; don’t eat before you swim.

What if we told you that you don’t actually have to follow these swimming rules? Keep reading for seven swimming norms you don’t need to stick to, and what to do instead!

1. Swimming Lots of Yardage 

Old-school swim nerds might tell you that you need to spend hours and hours swimming to see improvement. But that’s just not the case! 

Longer distance doesn’t always equal improved performance. Swimming insane distances can cause your technique to break down, which makes you prone to injuries.

Related: How to Prevent Shoulder Injury While Swimming

Shorter workouts are more time-efficient and allow you to hone in on specific aspects of your stroke or work on pacing for your next race. So if you don’t have 2-3 hours a day to devote to training, don’t worry about it! 1 hour, 30 minutes and even 20 minutes is enough time to get a good workout in.

In recent years, Ultra-Short Race Pace Training (USRPT) has risen in popularity. This training method removes any “garbage yardage” from your workouts, focusing only on swimming at race pace. It has helped lots of swimmers (including US Olympian Michael Andrew) swim faster than ever! Learn more about USRPT here.

2. Doing Flip Turns

Depending on your goal, flip turns might interfere with your enjoyment of the sport. If you get frustrated doing flip turns and don’t like them, just don’t do them!

Related: How to do a Freestyle Flip Turn

However, if you want to improve your overall speed and efficiency, learning to do a flip turn can help, especially if you’re planning to compete. But if that’s not your goal, flip turns aren’t necessary!

3. Bilateral Breathing in Freestyle

So many swimmers are taught that bilateral breathing (breathing on both sides) is the “correct” way to breathe in freestyle — breathing on one side is a no-no! Well, that’s just not true.

Breathing on one side can actually be a great way to set a solid rhythm in your stroke. If you take a look at nearly all elite swimmers, they breathe on one side, and most breathe every 2 strokes!

You may have been taught to breathe every 3 or 5 strokes, and while that’s a great training tool that can help you improve your breath control, bilateral breathing isn’t the end-all, be-all breathing pattern for swimming.

Check out the Airofit Breathing Trainer for more help increasing your vital lung capacity and breath control! Use code MySwimPro for 15% off >

4. Breathing Every 2 Strokes in Butterfly

Speaking of breathing, there’s an unwritten rule that you should breathe every two strokes in butterfly. We’re not sure who came up with that, but it’s not a one size fits all rule. 

Related: The 5 Worst Breathing Mistakes Swimmers Make

The world’s top butterfliers use a range of breathing patterns. Michael Phelps and Kristof Milak breathe every single stroke, while Caeleb Dressel breathes every 2. 

The most important thing when swimming butterfly is to find a breathing pattern that works for you. Similar to freestyle, it’s about finding a rhythm in your stroke that you can maintain. If that means you breathe every stroke, every 2 or every 3, stick to it, and you’ll be golden. 

5. Don’t Eat Before Swimming

There’s an age-old rule that you shouldn’t eat one hour before swimming. Well, that’s a bunch of baloney.

It’s important to fuel your body to swim fast! If you don’t, you might feel sluggish during your workout. If your stomach can handle it, try having a light snack an hour or so before your workout. Have a mix of carbohydrates and protein, and drink plenty of water! Check out our interview with a registered dietitian for examples of pre- and post-swim snacks >

A slice of toast with peanut butter or a banana are great pre-workout fuel options. This goes without saying, but eating an entire pizza before a swim is probably not the best idea!

Some swimmers feel best when they swim in a fasted state — if this is you, keep doing what you’re doing, but make sure to fuel up after your swim with plenty of calories.

6. Focusing on Your Kick

This might be the most controversial rule we think you should break…kicking is overrated!

Your legs are the largest muscles in the body, and suck the most energy while you swim. And despite that energy usage, they don’t provide nearly as much propulsion as your arms!

Think about how long it takes you to kick 100 meters compared to pulling 100 meters. Your pull is probably much faster!

Related: The 5 Biggest Kicking Mistakes Swimmers Make

If you’re a beginner, focus on driving rotational momentum from your hips and core. Your kick will help keep your body in the right position to initiate that rotation on each stroke.

All that said, it’s still important to work on your kick if you’re trying to get faster. We recommend including a bit of kick in every workout, often during your warm up. Make sure your kick technique is on point and that will help you swim faster and more efficiently. Check out the Kick Technique Bootcamp in the MySwimPro app >

7. Swimming With Your Fingers Together

Raise your hand if you were taught to swim with your fingers cupped tightly together! Turns out swimming this way might actually make you slower. Studies have found that swimming with a slight gap between each finger (just a few millimeters) can help increase the surface area of your hands and improve the strength and power of your pull in all 4 strokes.

Bonus: Swimming Without a Plan

Some people enjoy swimming because it’s meditative. They show up to the pool and swim random sets without a game plan. This approach works fine if you don’t have a specific goal, but if you do have a goal in mind, it’s important to have a plan so your workout is efficient and worthwhile. 

Whether you follow a structured training plan in the MySwimPro app or build one-off workouts day by day, having an idea of what you will focus on during your workout makes a big difference!

For more swim tips, workouts and technique videos, download the MySwimPro app. Unlock personalized Training Plans, Workouts and Analytics with MySwimPro Coach.



  1. Brakespear Stephanie on

    Breathing in fly depends on your strength and ability to hold a good body position. When learning breathe every 2 or you end up nearly vertical. Once strong you can swap to every 2.

  2. Absolutely brilliant ..I have been saying all this for years and it is so good to see it written down .
    I am an open water swim coach in the UK

  3. Christine Morrill on

    I would say I was a competition swimmer . but when it comes to years later ( ok decades) I still love to hit the water and just GO . I love this post/blog because even over time the rules we learnt and trained still apply..
    One thing I personally would love to discuss is the what not to do’s of training.
    I was 11 when I started weight training and between the crazy hrs I put in i ended up with a soft T12 vertebrae due to flips and weight training . And eventually a collapsed vertebrae .
    I wish I had waited on doing some things in my training till I was a bit older .
    What your are reaching is perfect. And I know kids development is different . But my couch peaked me to early and I burnt out why to early and it was sad
    I did take what I had learnt to develop a great special Olympic swim team . And my.love for the sport is something I will carry all my life.
    Thank you again and God bless you and your family for all you do.

    • It’s so great to hear you’ve used your love for swimming to give back to others in the Special Olympics! Keep it up!

  4. Thank you for all the help in MySwimPro. Your videos have helped me go from being a sedentary 64 yr old in November 2020 to my first open water competition in Lake Tahoe next week, August 29, 2021. Big thanks also to Olympian Debbie Meyers, in Carmichael, CA who corrected my strokes with just 1-2 months of lessons over 15 years ago. I like MySwimPro because all the videos seem to align with her fundamentals and the physics I know. Your format makes it easier to visualize and “feel” what I need to do. thank you! This process has given me courage and many life lessons!

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