If you want to swim longer workouts or compete in longer races, improving your endurance should be at the top of your list. But that doesn’t mean you need to swim for three hours every single day to get there…thank goodness!
Keep reading for our top tips to efficiently boosting swimming endurance, plus a sample endurance-focused swim workout that will help you get started.
How to Build Endurance in Swimming
1. Improve Your Technique
You might be thinking: “I just want to improve my cardiovascular fitness. What does my technique have to do with that?”
Well, let’s break it down! Water is 800 times more dense than air, which means that poor technique will slow you down and tire you out very quickly.
You should focus on improving your overall technique, but especially your body position, as much as possible so you can leverage all of your strength and power with every stroke.
When you swim with poor technique, you will definitely be working harder, but you also won’t be able to swim as far.
If you’re curious to see how your stroke changes as you get tired, count your strokes for one length of the pool at the beginning of your workout, and count again in the middle and at the end of the workout. Most likely you’ll find that your stroke count will get higher as you get tired. That’s a sign that you can work on your efficiency and distance per stroke!
2. Mix Up the Strokes You Swim
So many swimmers think that if they’re only training for a freestyle race, they can ignore the other strokes. And while freestyle (or front crawl) is a great stroke and is the most efficient of the four competitive strokes, you’re leaving some potential speed on the table if you choose to only swim freestyle all the time.
Training all the strokes will help you develop a really strong feel of the water, and will challenge your muscles in new ways, which can help boost endurance.
If your goal is to swim a fast 200 freestyle, or crush the competition in a 1,500-meter open water race, incorporate some stroke work in your pre-set or cool down. If you don’t want to swim all the strokes, start with backstroke or breaststroke.
Mixing up your strokes has more benefits beyond endurance. It can also help you avoid training plateaus and injuries! When you swim the same stroke for hours and hours, you could be at risk for an overuse injury in your shoulders. Break up your big blocks of freestyle with a different stroke to give your body a break.
3. Train With Equipment
Do you think using equipment is cheating? You shouldn’t! Incorporating equipment into your workouts can be a great way to boost your endurance and make your workouts more fun.
Equipment like fins, paddles and parachutes add extra resistance that can help you build strength in your arms or legs, while a snorkel can challenge your lungs and help you zero in on your technique.
If you struggle to swim longer distances without equipment, adding fins might help you last a little longer in the pool. Fins help you keep your body position in line with less effort and takes pressure off your shoulders, which is a good thing while you’re working on building endurance.
The key here is to make sure you don’t rely on equipment too much. Try to keep your equipment usage to no more than 50% of your total workout volume for the week.
4. Vary Your Heart Rate & Effort Levels
If you’re swimming endless laps at the same slow pace, you might improve your endurance but it will take a long time to get there. Instead, vary your workouts with a variety of different paces to get your heart pumping and push your body to adapt.
In the MySwimPro app, you’ll find seven different Effort Levels that vary from easy swimming to all-out sprint efforts. Depending on the workout, you might focus on more moderate swimming to build your aerobic base, or high intensity speedwork to improve your sprints.
The Effort Levels can be broken down into aerobic and anaerobic categories:
Aerobic Effort Levels
Anaerobic Effort Levels
- Best Average
- Race Pace
To improve endurance, focus on keeping your heart rate between 70-80% of your maximum heart rate – ideally in the Endurance or Threshold Effort Levels above. These sets will generally have shorter rest, and you’ll be working hard. Anaerobic Effort Levels will give you more rest. Learn more about Effort Levels here.
For a general heart rate guideline, use 220 minus your age to calculate your maximum heart rate, Then, multiply your max by 0.70 to calculate the 70% range based on your personal max.
We recommend swimming with an Apple Watch or Garmin with the MySwimPro app for guidance on Effort Levels & goal splits within each workout, and to track your heart rate variation.
5. Moderate Your Rest & Breathing Pattern
If you’re an experienced swimmer, you may have noticed that you’ll get longer rest between sets during sprint-focused workouts, and less rest in aerobic or endurance-focused workouts. This is done on purpose: When you’re sprinting, you need extra rest to allow your heart rate to decrease. When endurance is the goal, though, more rest isn’t always a good thing.
Try to minimize the amount of rest between sets during your endurance workouts. This will increase the density of your workouts, meaning that you’ll swim more distance in less time. And that’s good for your endurance!
Related: How to Breathe in Freestyle
This also applies to rest between workouts. If you only swim once a week, your body won’t adapt sufficiently and you probably won’t see big endurance gains. If you start swimming two, three or four times a week, your body will start to change and your endurance will improve.
Monitoring your breathing pattern can also help to boost your endurance. Whether you breathe every two, three, four, or more strokes, try incorporating some breath control sets (called hypoxic sets) to work on your lung capacity.
Pro Tips for Building Swimming Endurance
Ready to commit to swimming endurance training? Try these tips to reach your goals quickly:
Maintain a Consistent Routine
Choose a routine and stick to it every week. Maybe you swim three times a week and do dryland three times a week. Stay consistent for three or more months, and you’ll start to see results.
Train in Cycles
Give your body a chance to train hard and to recover. You can’t perform at 100% all the time! Instead, break your training into a few phases:
- Technique Focus: Spend a few weeks building your base and refining your technique as your total training volume increases.
- Peak Training: Your training volume will max out during these weeks. You’re doing your toughest workouts here.
- Taper: Give yourself a week or two to reduce your volume and intensity. If you aren’t tapering for a race, think of this time as a rest period to let your body recover before ramping up again.
Add Variety in Every Workout
Don’t swim the same workouts over and over. Instead, mix up your strokes, try different distances and set structures, and challenge yourself with different intervals and equipment.
The MySwimPro app creates personalized workouts and Training Plans specifically for your goals. Each plan is designed with smart progressions that incorporate the proper training cycles while also adding variety to keep you motivated.
Check out these popular Training Plans to start improving your endurance!
- Couch to 1k
- 1,500M Open Water Race
- Improve Endurance III
- Improve Endurance IV
- 5k Open Water Race
- 10k Open Water Race
- 10k Challenge
Try This Endurance-Focused Swim Workout
Get a taste of endurance training with this swim workout! The distance will vary depending on how many times you choose to repeat the main set. For more swim workouts like this one, plus personalized Training Plans, Test Sets and analytics, download the MySwimPro app!
- Distance: 1,500 yards/meters with 1 round of the main set, 2,000 yards/meters with 2 rounds of the main set
- Duration: 30-40 minutes
- 6×50 Freestyle @ :50 Easy
- 4×50 IM Order @ :55 Moderate
- 1×200 Pull @ 2:40 Endurance
Main Set (1x or 2x)
- 4×25 IM Order @ :30 Moderate
- 3×100 Freestyle @ 1:20 Endurance
- 1×100 IM @ 2:10 Best Average
- 6×50 Freestyle @ :50 Easy
However you choose to train, make sure you stay consistent. You might not see endurance changes over night, but give it a few months and your hard work will pay off. Share your tips for boosting endurance in the comments!
If you’re ready to start your swimming journey, download the MySwimPro app and get your personalized Training Plan today!