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Thread: Adult beginner swimmer -- Endurance

  1. #1
    Participating Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2018
    Raleigh, NC

    Adult beginner swimmer -- Endurance

    I am 74 and have taken up freestyle swimming this year, originally as part of Triathlon training (I completed 2 sprints this year), but find I love the sport of swimming in its own right. I am up to 100 meters in 3 minutes, but I still struggle with breathing as it puts me at times off track with my high elbow pull, rotation, flutter kick, etc. After swimming 100 meters I am breathing really hard and have to stop. I feel confident it will all come together as I swim more. I am convinced that to learn to swim you have to swim! I view YouTube frequently and I have many books on improving swimming technique.

    Here is the issue I battle. Yesterday is just one example. A tallish thin girl, no obvious bulk in her musculature, was swimming freestyle, lap after lap, conceivably like she could swim forever I truly believe, at twice my best speed for 100 meters. As a male, I am certain I have greater muscular strength in my arms, back and legs than she, yet she can easily outdo me in her ability to swim.

    What allows a swimmer to have so much endurance? She flowed in the water like she owned it, so I'm sure she has been practicing and swimming for years. Yet, I thought endurance required muscular strength in addition to good technique?

    Baffled, jealous, but in great admiration of persons who swim so naturally and so beautifully.

  2. #2
    Very Active Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2018

    Re: Adult beginner swimmer -- Endurance

    Short shameful confession: I do most of my long sets (warmup, or a mile in the lake for example) in breaststroke. I can breaststroke for far longer than I can freestyle at this point (ironically when I was a kid I hated BS). My freestyle endurance is pretty terrible. So much of freestyle to me seems to be technique - kicking and pulling and rotary breathing and being able to take in a good breath and putting that all together.

    The woman probably has better technique but better aerobic capacity as well. It doesn't matter (well, it does, but it's not the be all end all) how much muscle or bulk you have if it's not properly fueled, ie with a good oxygenated blood supply.

  3. #3
    Very Active Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Pittsburgh, PA

    Re: Adult beginner swimmer -- Endurance

    Swimming can provide incredible fitness and and feeling of well-being and energy if you can sustain it. If you can manage to swim three times a week and spend 20 minutes or more for a few months, you will find a great spring in your step.

    But sustaining it is the key. For me, that means whenever I start swimming after a break, my first task is to develop my patience. I swim in a university pool. If I get antsy at people swimming faster than me, that doesn't help me become fit.

    One summer, I had taken a year or so break. It seemed every time I went swimming there was this woman in the next lane swimming faster than me, farther than me. She was 7 or 8 months pregnant. Very visible. "Swimming for two." In my mind I called her "Moby Mama", or "The Great White Mom."

    I consoled myself with the idea that I was buffing up pretty well, but my best friend, who could NOT get in the pool without trying to swim faster than any of his neighbors was getting flabby.

    At the end of a lake race once, I got to hug the guest of honor, Janet Evans. She was (and probably still is) a slender little person. Big hands, sure, but slight in body. In her prime, she could have swum in rather tight circles about the 70-75 year old master's 1500 M world champion. And maybe not even get winded.

    Technique is important, so lessons can help. I'm sure you -and me too- could swim faster and farther with less energy.

    But the important thing is to be comfortable with a sustained swimming program. And alas, for those of us over 50, that usually means accepting with equanimity those skinny little snot punks that can outswim us.

  4. #4
    Very Active Member Sumorunner's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    Latham, NY

    Re: Adult beginner swimmer -- Endurance

    Technique. Learn how to get streamlined by doing sets for stroke improvement, catch, arm extension, etc. There are lots of videos on line. My YMCA has a coached masters team practice and at 70 I cannot keep up with any of them, but I am improving my style and that's all I care about.

    Your legs may be too deep, causing too much drag. Try getting them up, having the whole body near the surface and getting some propulsion from the kick. A year or two ago I could not kick AT ALL because the legs were too deep, now I have a kick, a poor one, but at least there is one. Find a team practice to get some idea of what you need to do to improve.

    Build endurance by doing sets with a little rest between. Novice runners will go to a track, run a lap, rest, run another, etc. Eventually you have the ability to keep going 2 laps, then 3, then more. I once did a push-ups challenge, beginning with 4 sets of 10 with a minute rest. Worked it up to 8 sets, then increased a set or two to 20, then more, and more... By about 4 months into it I did 10 sets of 50 with a minute rest between. I was only 65 at the time.

  5. #5
    Participating Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2011

    Re: Adult beginner swimmer -- Endurance

    Wow! I'm impressed! You are starting swimming at 74! You are already amazing in my book and have no reason to feel intimidated by anyone else in the pool. Unfortunately, I think that I will have to burst your bubble a little bit and tell you that while swimming is about a lot of factors, it is mainly about technique and not about brute strength. I was a lucky child and able to get great coaching from a young age, and now, I hate to tell you this, but yes, I can literally swim forever without effort and without getting out of breath. At a low pace, swimming for me is easier than walking. But I started from childhood building everything that I needed to be that way. Is your situation hopeless because you started later? Of course not. But it does take time. Here's a few of my suggestions: 1 - if breathing throws off your whole stroke then you are probably rotating too far when you breathe and taking too long to breathe. Try breathing out most of the way with your head down looking at the bottom of the pool then turn your head to the side to "catch a breath" as quickly as you can and turn your head back down. Make sure not to move your body at all when you move your head. 2 - breathe only in set intervals such as every 3 strokes. If you can't manage that then you are working yourself too hard and you need to slow down. The harder that you exert yourself the more oxygen that you will need. It seems dumb to tell you to swim slower, but once you get the pace down you will learn to use your muscles properly to exert your effort by pulling more efficiently and *gasp* you may even learn to kick! Sorry a little humor, which brings me to 3 - Use fins to swim, then take your fins off to practice kicking only. If you can't do #1 and 2 then use fins until you build up the right kick. Small fast kicks will balance your stroke so that you are not over-rotating. 4 - try a snorkel! They look silly, but if you still need long languish breaths then wear a snorkel for sprinting work or for when there are a lot of waves in your pool and you get a face full of water every time that you take a small quick breath. 5 - practice holding your breath out of the water. 6 - when you practice kicking push yourself to hold your breath as long as possible under water to build your lung capacity.
    Good luck!!!

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