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How Old (or New) Are You?

Determining your 'swimming age' could hold the key to improvement

Chris Ritter | November 11, 2013

Unlike many other sports, swimming requires participants to operate in an usual environment. Free from worries of sweating or gravity, swimmers can enjoy swimming at some level throughout their entire life. Not many other sports can offer that sort of longevity to its athletes.

Because of this long-term participation, a key training component swimmers should determine is how “old” they really are in relation to the sport. Determining your “swimming age” can improve your training, performance, and ultimately your enjoyment of swimming over the long haul.

So what do I mean when I say “swimming age?” I’m not talking about your age bracket for the next meet. Rather, I’m referring to how long you’ve been training and competing in swimming. For example, two, 50-year olds are standing behind the blocks at a meet. They should be treated the same in training, right? Not necessarily. Just looking at their age doesn’t really tell you anything about how they should be training compared to each other.

One of them might have grown up in the sport, had a lot of success, and a few injuries along the way. The other swimmer might be in his first few years of discovering the sport and have less experience in both training and racing. Despite that, he may swim just as quickly as the lifer on the blocks next to him. Therefore, determining the difference in swimming or training age is as important in designing an appropriate training program as your biological age is.

Successful training boils down to the dose and response relationship. Do “X” in training and your body will respond with “Y.” It’s why you train in the first place—to compel your body to change, to compensate, and improve for next time.

A quality training program strikes an appropriate balance between the need for steady progression with variety. The “younger” or newer you are to the sport, the more your program should focus on constant and methodical progressions. For example, today you may swim 6 x 100 on a 1:30 interval while holding a certain pace with good technique. In a week, you may increase this set to hold the same pace and technique, but swim 8 x 100 instead of six. And in a few more weeks you increase the length of the set again to 10 x 100. This steady progress changes just one training variable at a time so that most of the training is still familiar, but there is some change in your program, thereby allowing your body to slowly adapt.

However, the “older” you are within the sport—you’ve been swimming and training for many years—the more you should trend to the other end of the spectrum, the end that holds more variety. For a more seasoned swimmer, a three-phase progression of that same set might look like this:

  • 6 x 100 @1:30 holding a specific pace and good technique
  • 16 x 50 @ :45 holding half of the previous pace
  • 5 x 200 @ 3:00 holding double the pace of the 100s

Although exactly the same yardage, this version changes multiple variables at once; but an “older” or more seasoned swimmer wouldn’t have any problems completing this correctly. Pacing, in particular, is a skill that comes with a lot of time and practice in the water, a “younger” swimmer may not be able to complete the second set properly, simply due to lack of experience.

Still, no matter who you are, your body is incredibly adaptable. This means beginners to swimming can, and really do, make a lot of progress in the sport quickly. At the same time, if you’ve been around for a while, you need to constantly change your training so that your body will continually adapt.

From Olympians to beginners across all ages, no matter your goal, determining your swimming age will help you focus on training for the best results for you.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Chris Ritter

Chris Ritter is the founder of RITTER Sports Performance online training programs and the author of the e-book, SURGE STRENGTH, which details how to strength train specifically for swimming performance. Ritter, a swimmer himself, has a degree in kinesiology and exercise science and he specializes in training athletes of diverse abilities, ranging from beginners to Olympians. Follow him on Twitter @RITTERSP or like his Facebook page for updates and training tips.

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