View Full Version : Advice Needed - Focus on endurance or technique?

December 1st, 2006, 02:38 PM
:dunno: or :lolup: ?

Since I'm new to swimming i have a problem and need of advice. I've been swimming 5 days a week for about a month now at my local 25 yard gym pool. I've gotten to a point where my technique is somewhat good but i cannot swim more then 50 yards straight without coughing a lung (or at least feeling like it). Yesterday i got some inspiration and did about 400 with a couple of seconds breather every 25 yards. To my surprise it went well, and i actually felt i was improving my technique (endurance breeds efficient swimming?). Anyways, I find it extremely hard to focus on technique wen I'm trying to work on endurance and here lies the problem.

Do i keep working on establishing second-nature proper technique and keep doing 25/50 yards until i feel i'm ready to overcome long distance, or should i start working on endurance regardless of whatever technique faults i think i have at the moment.

I see swimmers doing laps at my pool and i can't help but think about their faulty technique. i don't want to be one of them.

December 1st, 2006, 02:43 PM
Good post...we sound like we're around the same mark.

December 1st, 2006, 04:35 PM

Endurance is something the body can do for long periods of time. Stamina is something the body can do for short bursts of speed/yards in multiple sets on the clock. For some people, it takes longer to build stamina than for others. Granted, no one wants to just swim a 400 with poor technique, but you need to work on your aerobic base for swimming by challenging yourself. Stamina and aerobic conditioning are crucial for maintaining proper technique. So my vote is to work on stamina. And I do not mean to just swim some 200s and 400s. You need to be doing "sets" on a clock if you have one there at the pool.

6x75's; 8x50's; 16x25's; 75's going kick, swim, kick; 4x100's. Now these are just some examples; the sets can be mixed and matched to your abilities. You need to allow a rest period inbetween each swim on the set. And, to try to keep your swim times the same throughout the set. These will help with aerobic conditioning/stamina and they may be short enough in distance so you can maintain your stroke. Some of my most difficult workouts were those of very short yardage but of a "sprint" nature.

There are a thousand combinations. Maybe some others will have some good ideas, too!!!

Keep on swimming,


December 1st, 2006, 09:18 PM
I'd like to offer an alternative viewpoint. The conventional definition for swimming endurance is "ability to resist fatigue." I define it as "ability to repeat effective swimming movements for a duration and speed of your choosing."

Swimming is a game of skill, more than a fitness test, particularly at the level where you are just moving beyond the ability to complete a 50 without "coughing a lung."

Here are some suggestions for improving your skill through practice that focuses on movement quality. At this moment, reducing energy waste is your primary opportunity for increasing swimming endurance. And you'll be training your aerobic system at the same time.

Pick one of the focal points outlined below and swim short distances (25 to 50 yds/mtrs) slowly and easily, trying mainly to feel as described. Between repeats, take three to five deep, slow “cleansing” breaths until you feel ready to swim with ease again. To test the affect of each on your efficiency, count your strokes for 25 or 50 before beginning, then compare your stroke count for that distance after practicing one or more of the focal points.

1) “Hang” Your Head

Why: Head-spine alignment is essential to comfortable, efficient swimming.
How to Practice:
· Relax your neck muscles and release your head’s weight to find its most natural position; never hold it up.
· Look directly down, not forward.
· Aim to create and maintain a straight line between head and spine, especially while breathing.

2) Lengthen Your Body

Why: A longer body line reduces drag, allowing you to swim smoother, faster, easier.
How to Practice:
· Focus on using your arms to lengthen your body line, rather than pushing water back.
· In freestyle, slip your hand and forearm into the water as if sliding it into a Mail Slot.

3) Move like Water

Why: Water rewards fluent movement and penalizes rough or rushed movement.
How to Practice:
· Pierce the water; by slipping your body (head, arms, torso) through the smallest possible “sleeve” in the water.
· Swim as quietly as possible -- minimizing bubbles, waves, or splash.

4) Get the Air You Need
Why: If you can’t get all the air you need, when you need it, you’ll be too distracted to think about your stroke.
How to Practice:
· Focus on the exhale. Exhale actively – and constantly. Inhaling should be relatively passive.
· Breathe by rolling to air, not by turning your head. Keep head and spine aligned and follow your shoulder back with your chin. (I.E. To breathe left, as your right hand lengthens your body, your left shoulder rotates back and up. Follow it with your chin.)
· Keep chin and sternum aligned and the top/front of your head close to the surface as you roll to air.

Leonard Jansen
December 2nd, 2006, 09:18 AM
Do i keep working on establishing second-nature proper technique and keep doing 25/50 yards until i feel i'm ready to overcome long distance, or should i start working on endurance regardless of whatever technique faults i think i have at the moment.

Simple answer: The better your technique now the farther you can go later. You can always build endurance, but an ingrained bad habit is like sanding wood: If you accidently sand against the grain once, you have to sand with it 10 times later to get the scratch out.


December 2nd, 2006, 11:45 AM
Hi again Dorianblade,

I know that my answer to your dilemna was to work on endurance/stamina, but as you mentioned your technique was coming along pretty well and your words indicated to me that you were having trouble with a swimming aerobic base.

I do, absolutely, agree that technique is crucial and without it a person will never swim very well. Terry's Item #4 was the one I agree with. I, many times, assume that all swimmers are exhaling because, quite frankly, how could they not? Well, the "not" would prevent them from swimming any distances comfortably. And I missed the boat even when I read your words that you were so out of breath. Not exhaling will cause this.

I still believe that as you work on technique, you can do small yardage sets on the clock. This may be the best of both worlds.

And I do not know if you use a specific "swimming theory" for your technique. Do you swim using TI methods, on top of water, or your own combination of one or more?

You might also want to consider doing anaerobic sets (swimming w/o oxygen), like some 25s pulling only. You could also work on your stroke doing those and because you won't be using your legs, the lack of oxygen will be much easier to tolerate.

Gosh, if all of us could present swimming videos for other people to critique; sure would be so much eaiser than trying to explain through words!!!


December 2nd, 2006, 12:05 PM
I'm increasingly of the opinion that you cannot separate technique and conditioning. One difficulty is that it's hard to objectively assess the quality of a person's technique, so when someone is swimming faster than they were, we don't know where the improvement has come from. And even if their technique could be proven to have improved, it may only have been made possible by an accompanying improvement in conditioning.

I normally train 5 times a week in the following pattern - train, train, rest, train, train, train, rest. The interesting thing is that my technique feels at its best on the days after I have had a day's rest, because my muscles are fresher and I'm better able to make my body move in the way I want it to.

It's approx 18 months since I started Masters swimming, i.e. joined a club, though I had been swimming by myself prior to that. When I first joined the club, if we did a lactate tolerance set of 10 x 100m free on 3:00, I could only just do each one sub 1:20. Now I can do 10 x 100m free on 1:30 at an average of 1:10, so clearly there has been a drastic improvement in some department!

I do believe that my technique has improved, however I also believe that no matter how much time I had spent working on technique at low speed, that alone would never have got me to where I am now, because when I'm repeating 1:10 on 1:30 I'm using a very large number of muscles all over my body to keep everything moving the right way, particularly core body muscles. Even now, when those muscles get tired, I then become unable to sustain the quality of technique that I'm aiming for.

I don't agree that you can't develop both technique and conditioning at the same time. I think that with practice you can concentrate on technique while working hard. Your limbs might be too tired to do what you want them to do, but I think that as long as you're trying to perform the correct movements, it will all come good with time. I'm also not convinced that it's as hard as some people say to change your technique, I've been constantly evolving my own technique over time. I think it's important to a) develop a sense of awareness of what your body is doing while swimming along, b) have a mental model of what your body should be doing, and c) gradually bring what your body is actually doing closer to your mental model over time.

December 2nd, 2006, 12:22 PM
I say, Amen, to Notveryfast,

We are in agreement, even though technique is crucial. Swimming slow with technique will keep a swimmer swimming slow with technique. No top-of-the-line aerobic base will be developed, so even though a swimmer may have a beautiful stroke, they won't swim at higher speeds and feel well doing it. This also applies to the one mile swim in triathlons. People get in and swim a mile. I don't swim a mile; I swim 400s all through it. My race pace is my 400 time and I usually get to the finish much faster than those who swim a "mile."

Physical conditioning is crucial to swimming technical. As you mentioned, even though the stroke may start to fail or fall apart at the end of some highly challenging sets, the person "knows" this is happening and it is due to fatigue.

And I especially liked your mentioning about developing your own swim style. I have always taught the basic things that need to happen with anyone's stroke, but if a swimmer's stroke looks different from another's, so be it. Or, even body position in/on the water. Keeping a person's stroke as natural for them as possible, will make it much easier for them to swim and they will not be working against what is normal for them. There is more than one way to swim correctly.

:drink: Here, have a drink on me for your excellent observations!!!


December 2nd, 2006, 01:29 PM
I think perfection of technique comes first. Surely you will find that in the quest for perfect technique you will also be developing your endurance...and with the improved technique you will need less endurance to accomplish an equal amount of work/yardage. I am ALWAYS aware of my technique, even in sprint sets. If I fatigue to the point of falling apart in a sprint I will end the set and either start kicking or do some easy free to allow my muscles to regenerate.

Having said that, I don't think that slow paced swimming will get you very far with technique or endurance. Working on technique at a moderate pace is what has worked best for me. As I have said many times on here before though, everybody is different and what works for me may not be the best thing for you.

December 2nd, 2006, 01:50 PM
Great replies. I am starting to get more confident in pushing both my technique AND stamina and results are showing. I do get scared of lack of air/weak limb work/sinking and i can work on those things both by technique and simply pushing my body to swim longer!

To answer you Donna, i'm doing a combination of some TI ideas along with Grant Hackett's and Lindasy Benko technique. I find theirs to be the most suitable for my style. I'm still trying to figure out the intracasies such as swimming on top or below the water... on top of the water certainly make me feel more powerful but i also feel less efficient. it all depends on the purpose i guess.
Another thing is high elbow that hackett uses is amazing, but i find it hard to get good propulsion in the catch. like i said i enjoy the discoveries as much as i do the swim.

December 2nd, 2006, 02:00 PM

I am just so glad that everyone's answers to your questions can help you. This is the bottom line and I know it can be confusing sometimes with so many different ideas about swimming.

But swimming your own "theory" may be what is best. But as you get more proficient and your stroke becomes more technical and it is "yours", you will figure out things as you go.

Don't be afraid of being out of breath or having those weak legs. I think we all go through that as our conditioning develops.

I'll be posting something a little later about Swimming Theories where I am speaking of them, as well as asking questions. Maybe there will be a lot of good information under one big thread.

After all, I don't have all the answers either!!!


December 2nd, 2006, 02:33 PM
I hav used the head down, lengthening body aspect and rolling to breath and went from barely completeing 2x25y without needing David Hasselhoff; to now going 4x25y in quite good style and maybe just the last few strokes I stuggle with breath and stuff...

It's not that I cant crawl I just want to do it better...and the techniques here and advice are all worth a look and finding what works.

The Fortress
December 2nd, 2006, 05:37 PM

Maybe you should use that dorkle/snorkle thing occasionally so that you can work on your stroke mechanics without worrying about breathing? I'm told it works well for that purpose. Of course, mine is sitting in my closet because I can't yet do flip turns with it... But I've seen college kids using them for freestyle. I think I recall Allen using it for breaststroke.

December 2nd, 2006, 06:35 PM

Maybe you should use that dorkle/snorkle thing occasionally so that you can work on your stroke mechanics without worrying about breathing? I'm told it works well for that purpose. Of course, mine is sitting in my closet because I can't yet do flip turns with it... But I've seen college kids using them for freestyle. I think I recall Allen using it for breaststroke.

Sprint Girl:
I'm not a big fan of equpiment for swimmers. While I may see using paddles or fins as good for certain reasons...I would feel a total conspicious fool with a snorkel in a pool.
I'll keep at it the traditional way, as I think learning to swim with not breathing will just give me another issue later...of course this is just my opinion for my style of learning. If it works for others that's great!

December 2nd, 2006, 06:59 PM
If you accidently sand against the grain once, you have to sand with it 10 times later to get the scratch out.

Great analogy. I'm gonna steal that one for sure. I do say it takes twice as long to unlearn a stroke error as to learn correct technique from the start, but the wood grain analogy is more pithy.

Leonard Jansen
December 4th, 2006, 01:44 PM
Great analogy. I'm gonna steal that one for sure. I do say it takes twice as long to unlearn a stroke error as to learn correct technique from the start, but the wood grain analogy is more pithy.

Feel free - I used it with my racewalkers and it seemed to resonate, at least with those who had some woodworking experience.

Nice pun, BTW.


December 4th, 2006, 02:56 PM
Everyone needs some baseline sets to help determine if they're improving or not. If your trying to improve endurance and technique, try using a 500 yard swim as one of your baseline sets. After you've tried swimming a 500 a few times, use your best time as your baseline. Then follow these tips and training strategies and I think you'll see a lot of improvement in both your technique and endurance.

First focus on improving your propulsion by improving your Early Vertical Forearm position. Go to the thread EVF training to learn more. The websites show great streamlining techniques and most importantly EVF technique.

Now, take your baseline time, let's say 7:30 and take a time that will show you that you are really improving. Let's say 6:40. Now, when beginners train, we should expect them to drop a lot more than a seasoned swimmer and the times above, assume that the swimmer is not seasoned. With that being said, the goals you set for yourself must be realistic. The goal setting is very important and it is difficult but the important thing is that you've set a goal that is realistic and fits you as an individual.

Here comes the great set. I want to swim a 6:40 and have worked conscientiously and consistently to improve my EVF. I want you to swim
20 x 25 @ 1min and maintain 20 second 25's. Now this should be easy and if it's not, increase the interval. When you become comfortable and are able to maintain 18 second 25's, you reduce the interval by 5 seconds until the interval drops to 20 seconds. The two seconds under your pace gives you the confidence to repeat 20-25's at 20 seconds, which will get you your goal time.

Please email me if you are confused and please go to

www.techpaddle.com for more EVF information.

December 5th, 2006, 01:49 PM
Hey dorian -- I'm not sure what your goals are. If I recall correctly, you're a new swimmer like me. It sounds like we've each approached swimming differently.

You've focused (primarily) on stamina -- practicing laps very often -- whereas I've focused (primarily) on stroke technique -- taking four lessons per week, plus TI drills.

The result is that I'm almost certain you could beat me in a 25 yard sprint. And if that's your goal, great.

Personally, I just want to swim well and enjoy myself. I don't want to compete and I don't have any particular fitness goals -- although if I become more fit, I'm certainly not going to complain.

The result of focusing on stroke technique is that I can swim 25 yards of freestyle with a 2-beat kick and just a few strokes, breathing maybe twice or three times and be very relaxed at the other end.

And I'm just a beginner.

I think the thing to remember is that the vast majority of folks on this board are competitive, life-long swimmers whereas you and I are new swimmers. We have completely different goals than a competitive swimmer.

I used to be into body building. I didn't want to be arnold. I just wanted to build a bit of muscle. I had the same problem as I have with swimming -- all of the advice is geared toward people who want to be huge and ripped. Supplements. Complicated diet plans. Tricky workouts.

The secret to body building for average Joe is good form, high intensity, rest, water, and a balanced 'meat and potatoes' diet. The rest of the stuff is crap that you can throw out unless you want to be a pro body builder and not just a dude with nice pecs.

If I were training for a competition, I'm sure I would be terribly concerned with my stamina and endurance. But the only thing I'm training for is that time when I accidently get thrown off a boat, or that time when I go on vacation and I want to impress everyone by swimming effortlessly across the hotel's pool.

For those situations, it's stroke technique that I'll need.

I think there's a false dilemma between the positions of KaizenSwimmer and islandsox (er, Terry and Donna?).

In order to compete, you obviously need stamina. And in order to be world-class, I would guess that you need your "own" style of stroke -- but I have no idea. And I suppose that's Donna's point.

But whether you're a beginner swimmer or an expert swimmer, why wouldn't you want to swim in the most comfortable, efficient and easiet way possible? And I think that's Terry's point.

I don't see how the two are incompatible.

Anyway, yay for swimming. I'm hopelessly addicted now...

December 5th, 2006, 04:09 PM
hey alphathree, good to hear from you.

I do have to disagree with your views. First of all i mainly work on technique. There's not a single lap where i don't think about my body/hands/legs. I swim 25 yard laps because i do not have a teacher and the best way for me to work on technique is applying ideas in real time and space. whenever i work on a new element i try to focus and feel it as i swim, then compare it to the time it took to execute it (at moderate tempo). True stroke technique can stand the test of time, literally.

I don't think working on stamina/endurance and technique should contradict each other. if anything, the better technique i apply during my laps improve my swimming capabilities. I also think a "beginner" like you and I can be as competitive as everyone else. maybe it's just my mentality but in my eyes i have no limits.

My current goals are first of all enjoying, because that's the only reason i go to the pool 5 days a week. my second is to be the best swimmer i can be in the shortest time possible. in other words, perfect my movements as much as possible and develop enough stamina/endurance for a 3 mile run. those are my goals.

Here's my take on swimming TI/stamina as you call it. you can have long beautiful strokes and you can swim fast like a hurricane, but combining both is where the true "sweet spot" is. maximizing your speed and efficiency, that's what i'm trying to do.