Why is Swimming So Hard!


January 24, 2013 by IowaTriBob

Ever since I was young I can remember going to the public swimming pool. Like most kids I never went to swim, just to socialize with others, horseplay in the pool, and act crazy on the diving boards (mainly to impress, and try to soak, all the girls sun bathing around the deep end).

I’ve shared before but it wasn’t until this past summer that I actually tried to swim my first laps in a pool and although I’ve greatly improved from that first excruciating 200 yard swim, swimming is still just so hard…

Case in point – today I had my first 1000 yard swim time trial. I had done a 500 yard time trial twice before but this was my first time doing it at 1000 yards. The workout consisted of a 600 yard warm up of swim and kick drills, the 1000 yard time trial, 3×200 yard pulls, and a 100 yard cool down.

The results of my time trial and 100 splits were:

2:02 – 2:05 – 2:05 – 2:07 – 2:08 – 2:08 – 2:07 – 2:07 – 2:01 – 1:51

For an average of 2:04 per 100 with my total time being 20:41.

The results were pretty disappointing and I realized when I finished that I could and should have pushed harder but never having done a 1000 trial before I was a little afraid of gassing half way through and not finishing. However, even if I had pushed harder it still wouldn’t have been a dramatic improvement as my fastest 100 yard ever has been 1:38 and my last 500 trial averaged just over 1:50 per 100.

Now don’t get me wrong. Coming from a non swimming background and only starting to swim this past summer I feel pretty good about where I’m at today but the results are still very slow, hard to come by, and have taken a lot of work to get to this point.

This is especially true when I compare it to my son’s YMCA meets that I’ve been taking him to over the past month or two. Even at his age group the kids are swimming like fish. This past week most of the 11-12 boys were swimming the 100 yard free in less than 1:30 pace with some a lot faster. Absolutely amazing!

I’m just in awe of those that find swimming so natural and you can instantly spot them in the pool. Their stroke is so fluid and their speed is nothing short of shark-like. This definitely isn’t me and the swim has been both the most rewarding to learn but also the hardest for me to improve.

Like anything else I’m sure it just takes continued hard work, effort, and dedication to putting the time in the pool to ensure the improvements continue to happen.

Are you a natural swimmer?  If not, has swimming been the hardest for you to improve?

15 thoughts on “Why is Swimming So Hard!

  1. sollyd says:

    If it makes you feel any better, Bob, we’re at about the same speed. I just did my 1000-yard marker set too, with similar splits. If you’re above 2:15 on your splits, you’re pretty much an intermediate level swimmer. Don’t be so hard on yourself! You’ve got the basics down, now, just keep refining that technique, build fitness, and you’ll get faster (and more shark-like). Mostly, remember what it’s like to have fun in the water. Don’t stress so much about time and form to the point where it becomes a chore. Pretend you’re a merman, a dolphin, or a shark stalking that fast swimmer in front of you. Swimming is freedom, enjoy it!

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Thank you and I’m definitely not being hard on myself as I’m pretty happy that I can complete a 2000+ yard workout consistently without having to crawl out of the pool. Swimming is just one of those things thats not very natural for me and is going to require a lot of work to continue to see improvements. Definitely glad to see that I have company with my pace as well :-).

  2. Carrie says:

    Good news–the next #TriChat on Feb. 3 (2 p.m. EST to accommodate for the Superbowl) is all about swimming! Going into triathloning, I was really lucky because I took swimming lessons as a kid. Yes, prior to triathoning the last time I had been in a pool to swim laps was when I was 10, but at least I sort of knew the motions. (Also, I am *definitely* making my kids take swimming lessons too.) During the summer, my mentality was simple “survive the swim” and move on. Hands down, the swim was–well, is–the most challenging discipline for me, and it’s also the one that needs to most improvement. Luckily, I had a few one-on-one lessons, which helped a ton!

  3. bgddyjim says:

    I am a natural swimmer, but my oldest daughter is much more graceful in the water than I am and the younger will be catching up soon enough. The old man can still kick their butts but I don’t imagine that will last for more than four or five more years. That said, best advice I’ve heard is to swim like you’re on a surf board – on top of the water. I’ve been told that lot of folks who struggle tend to swim with their legs and trunk too low in the water creating a lot of drag… Good luck brother.

  4. elisariva says:

    Swimming has been by far the hardest sport for me to improve, but I have. First one question – are you sure it is a yard measured pool and not meters? I swim in a 25 meter pool – a gal I swim with who is very fast didn’t realize it and was unhappy with her 1:10 pace per 100 (!) until she learned it was meters not yards.

    As for improvement, I learned three things were essential. First – firm over body movement. To run or cycle fast you just turn over your legs faster. In the pool kicking and stroking faster can create drag and slow you down while wearing you out. Once I got my form down I improved my speed and actually slowed my turnover saving energy. I can not say enough about the Total Immerssion method. I bought the DVD and it is worth it. Second – yards yards yard. I spend three months (Sec-Feb) focusing on swimming. As you have read, u am in the pool four to six times a week. Practice makes perfect. Third – swim with others. A Masters program would be the best way. I am fortunate to train with several triathletes at my gym and we have our own “swim team”. When you are swimming 10×100 on a 2:10 send off you are more inclined to reach farther on strokes to hit the wall with everyone else, maybe out touch them too.

    Be patient. It works but takes a while. Good luck!

    • elisariva says:

      Sorry for type-os! Early morning and iPhone typing before coffee!

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Thanks for the great advice. By good coincidence, yesterday I just ordered the TI DVD, book, and another TI drills DVD. I completely agree it can’t be a matter of brute strength and from what I read TI seems to have a focus on glide and streamline. I figure I’ll give that a try and see if I can rebuild some fundamentals and then work on speed after efficiency.

      4-6 time in the pool a week sure can’t hurt either!

  5. Swimming is extremely hard! I am not a triathlete, but use swimming as a form of exercise to supplement running or when I am injured and cannot run. Needless to say, I am happy if I pass ONE person in the lanes when I swim. I swim so slow! There is so much technique involved in it.

  6. I also had some issues with the pool when I first got into triathlon. I was never much of a swimmer and thought that 100 yards was an incredibly long distance. Like you’ve mentioned, a big part of getting the results that you want is consistency and perseverance. However, what really made the difference for me in getting my 100 pace down from 1:45 to 1:20 was when I took a shot at leading the lane at group practices. The feeling that I had to set an example for my teammates gave me the boost I needed to push a bit harder and the results were astounding. I can even say that swimming became my favorite discipline for awhile. If you can find that trigger that lets you push it just a bit harder on the sets that call for it, you’ll be surprised by how quickly your overall result will improve.

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Great feedback and something I’ll definitely give a try. When I swim with the Masters group (which isn’t very often these days) I usually try not to lead just because I don’t want to hold anybody up. As you point out, this might be part of the slow improvements.

  7. Steena says:

    Practice makes perfect! Just keep at it. Soon enough you’ll climb out of the pool and think, “That was a breeze!” Promise. :)

  8. Yes, keep it up! I never thought I’d say this, but there is some crossover point where you will go from “swimming is hard” to “swimming feels good!” For me, joining a tri swim team was huge. We did a lot of form work and swimming in a group and getting feedback was really helpful. I’m still not fast, but swimming feels more natural and I get a good gliding feeling when I’m doing it right.

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Thanks for the feedback and I hope one day (soon) I can say the same thing. I’m not blessed with a lot of patience so its definitely frustrating at times. The endurance part is definitely getting better but if I try anything over 100-200 yards my pace seems stuck at the 2:00 min / 100 yard mark. Doesn’t matter if its a 500 trial or 1000 trial, its pretty much a 2:00 min pace. I just got the total immersion book/video so we’ll see if there are any good pointers there and I’ve started heading back to the masters swims for some feedback as you mentioned.

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