How to Build Up Your Swimming Endurance

How to Build Up Your Swimming Endurance

By Nicole Morell, For

Swimmers might all have the same end goal: to build distance. That doesn’t mean the path to achieve that goal is the same for everyone. When it comes to reaching that endurance and distance endgame, it’s critically important to factor your starting point into your training, says Craig Lewin, a USA Swimming Coach, former member of the Boston College Division I Swim Team and founder of Endurance Swimming.

Lewin, an experienced swimmer and a nationally ranked triathlete, knows not everyone starts training with distance and confidence under their belt. Lewin recommends building your endurance slowly, no matter your end goal. Your body needs time to adapt to the challenges endurance swimming presents.

“People are land animals, not water ones, and as a result swimming does not come naturally to most people,” Lewin says. If you’re unsure where you stand in your abilities or where to start, you can have an analysis done by a coach at your local pool.

Progress Gradually

Once you’ve established a starting point, take the early parts of your training program to get comfortable in the water with some slow, moderate distance training. No matter your base level, Lewin advises a simple schedule for training, remembering that the level of difficulty is different for each swimmer.

“Everyone’s body adapts differently, but a common periodization plan will have blocks of training in which a swimmer does three weeks of hard training and then the fourth week is a recovery week. This is an essential piece of training for all levels because it allows your body to heal and adapt to the training, and it also gives your mind a chance to recharge and get ready for the next block of training,” Lewin says.

Learn to Breathe

Not many sports require you to think about breathing quite like swimming. As such, managing your breath is a big part of endurance training.

“Swimming uses a lot of muscles that people generally are not used to using. As a result more oxygen is needed in the early stages of learning to swim properly,” Lewin says.

Breathing is also important for balance in swimming and many coaches encourage bilateral breathing, but Lewin recommends his beginning swimmers find a manner of breathing that allows them to swim consistently. Many novices stop often to breathe, making it difficult to build up endurance.

“Once comfortable with breathing and swimming laps, then the swimmer can begin bilateral breathing for a well balanced, efficient stroke,” Lewin says.

Beginner Workout

Beginners should focus on building yardage. No matter the experience and fitness level, most endurance swims will follow the same basic format.Lewin shared a basic swim workout formula that can be adjusted for all levels:

Warm up: 200 to 1000 meters just to get the body going
Drill set: Focus on technique
Build set: Work on getting the heart rate up and body ready for the main set, can be kick, pull or swim
Main set: Longer, slower swims to build endurance and distance; save the last portion of this set for after the recovery set
Recovery set: Short to prepare for the final portion of the main set
Last piece of main set: Should be the most challenging part of the main set
Warm down: Drills or easy swimming

Add Technique

In the beginning, endurance swimming might be about challenging yourself to complete the distance in anyway without exhausting yourself. As your endurance builds, your actual stroke starts to play a bigger factor in ability and resulting fatigue.

“Take the time and learn how to swim the right way before you develop a stroke with several bad habits that can lead to injury and inefficiency,” Lewin says. He recommends working with a coach at your local pool or to check out when adult-level classes are offered.

Be Patient

Like many new skills and abilities there’s a learning curve with adding endurance to your swimming. It’s important not to be discouraged by it.

“Once you get over the hump, this is a sport that you can do well into your later years because it does not cause stress to the body like running,” Lewin says.

Nicole Morell is a writer, marketer, runner and swimmer who enjoys the San Diego lifestyle and New England sports.