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.
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.
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!
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!