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by Scott McDonald

January 19, 2020

Whether it’s once or seven days a week, here’s what to know

As you get older, the distance you swim in each workout can sometimes trend downward. To keep up your activity levels in the pool, it’s helpful to know how often you should be swimming every week. 

Terry Heggy, a U.S. Masters Swimming–certified Level 3 coach, says exercise places stress on your body, regardless of your age. This includes both muscles and the cardiovascular system.

“The more you exercise, the better you get,” says Heggy, who adds that it’s just as important to get in the pool for recovery days. “The way to determine appropriate workload is by finding the point at which your recovery becomes inadequate. As long as your body holds up under the stress, there’s no reason to ‘pace yourself’ in the pool.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your swimming routine.

How Many Times a Week You Swim and What it Means

  • One time: You’re woefully inadequate and basically starting over each time you get in the water
  • Two times: You might get some benefit from swimming, but you’re still probably losing out
  • Three times: Your fitness level will remain decent but is not likely to break through to the next level
  • Four times: Potential for improvement
  • Five to seven times: If you’re extremely fit and feel good with extra workouts, then go for it. If you find yourself depleted, use a couple of workouts as “recovery” (technique-focused, low-intensity swim) efforts

Heggy, a Colorado Masters Swimming coach, recommends not only spending off days in the pool to recover but to also mix up the strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke)—even in recovery—to constantly work as many muscles as possible, and not constantly pushing only the muscles meant for freestyle.

Indicators That You Need Additional Recovery

Your body will tell you whether you should dial back your workload with these (and other) things:

  • A resting heart rate that stays elevated into the following day
  • Sore muscles
  • Inability to perform at your normal intensity
  • Feeling like you need more sleep (aka involuntary napping)

Recommended supplementary training tips to help swimming workouts

You should supplement your training with the following:

  • Cross-training: Running, biking, playing tennis, etc., can adequately substitute for the fitness component of swim workouts. It doesn’t substitute for the technique work required, but if your aquatic skills are good, that’s OK.
  • Weights: Everybody should be doing resistance training, regardless of age or swim frequency. Dryland work on flexibility and core strength is also required.

Consider These Factors in Your Planning

Not every swimmer is the same. When developing your workout routine, consider the following:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Potential injuries
  • Intake: The nutrients and toxins that you eat, breathe, and absorb (these include what you eat, whether you smoke or drink, what prescribed or recreational drugs you might take, and more). For most swimmers, diet probably has the most influence.
  • Lifestyle elements such as your activity level (sitting, exercise, stretching), sleep, stress, relationships, risk-taking (skiers and weekend warriors have higher incidence of knee injuries, etc.)
  • Attitude 

Heggy adds that swimming is a technical sport, and he recommends always practicing technique (drills, slow swimming with focus on form) even when your body is telling you it is still healing from previous workouts. This is especially important for swimmers who haven’t yet mastered their strokes. 

“Each day you’re not in the pool working on improving is a day in which your body is likely to remember bad habits from the past,” Heggy says.


  • Technique and Training


  • Distance
  • Workouts