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by Jim Miller MD

July 7, 2020

Tackle the basics and then train to increase speed and strength and improve your technique

Is improvement in performance and conditioning possible after you turn 60?


What are the keys to this seemingly daunting task?

This answer is complex.

First, the Basics

The first stage of this quest has to do with maximizing your health, regardless of your underlying medical conditions. The basics are simple to identify but can be difficult to execute.


As basic as this sounds, few adults pull this off. Start with the healthy basics of fresh fruits and vegetables. Add to that fiber and healthy protein. Protein is not the core of a healthy diet. Protein can be plant based or animal based, but you’ll want to be selective. Plant-based proteins carry triglycerides, and animal-based proteins carry cholesterol. So, understand the pros and cons of your protein choices!

Consider nutrition as fuel for your engine. Fuel when your engine is running hot and slow down your fueling when you slow down. And your grandmother was right: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Weight control can be a problem if the bulk of your calories are at the end of your day. Spread out your fueling. Remember that nutrition includes before, during (if longer than 30 minutes), and after your training.


This is easy and hard at the same time. Consider yourself hydrated if your urine is clear by mid-day. Yellow means you’re dehydrated, unless something is imparting color to your urine. There are vitamins and other supplements that can cause urine to be dark, so consider taking your supplements later in the day so you can see if your hydration is adequate.


Restorative sleep is critical to repair and rejuvenation. Although different people require different amounts of sleep depending upon the efficiency of their sleep cycles, no one pulls this off in five hours per night. Optimal is seven to eight hours, and this is NOT with your electronic devices pinging and ringing at your bedside.

Underlying medical conditions and medications may affect how you approach these three cornerstones of nutrition, hydration, and sleep, but usually not by much. If in doubt, consult your medical practitioner and make a plan. Chances are you’ll need less medication the healthier you become.

Next, the Training

Now, how to enhance your training, get faster, and enjoy your training. Remember that none of this works unless the above rules of the game are followed.

Train Speed

In order to swim fast you have to train fast.

Your engine has several types of muscles: slow twitch (type I muscle fibers; mostly aerobic; used predominantly by distance swimmers), fast twitch (type II muscle fibers; mostly anaerobic; used predominantly by sprinters), and fibers that are more flexible and can function as either, depending upon how you train them. Regardless of your age, you can stimulate fast twitch fibers to develop. True, this transition is much faster at age 20 than at 60-plus, but it isn’t impossible. You have to plan to recruit fast-twitch fibers.

If you, like many Masters athletes, are swimming the same aerobic set with short rest, then you’re training slow aerobic muscles to swim slowly. Yes, maybe you have an open water event or a triathlon that requires you to swim a long distance. But do you want to do it slowly? And how do you cope with the sprint at the start, around a buoy, in a cross-current, in a crowd, or at the finish? Easy answer: You can’t if you haven’t trained correctly.

The message here is train all muscle types, which requires planning. You need a plan not just for some practices, but all practices.

Train Strength

In addition to swim training, strength training is critical for the 60-plus athlete. So which muscles should you train? Answer: the swimming ones and the muscles that support the swimming muscles. The swimming muscles are the ones that surround the rotator cuff, scapula, and core. This FINA video outlines the process.

Train Technique

So, you’re a 60-plus athlete and you’re training the right way and supporting that swim training with strength training. What’s next? Technique.

Swimming is an incredibly technical sport, and you’re training horizontally in a denser medium than air. This means that it can be difficult to know where your hands, arms, legs, head, core, etc., are while you’re swimming.

The key here is find a coached workout. Without a coach guiding you, your technique and your stroke efficiency slowly deteriorate. This can lead to injuries, doctor bills, time out of training, and surgery. A coach is your best investment.

Enjoy, swim fast, get healthier, and have fun. The more candles on your cake, the longer this takes to accomplish, but, with patience and planning, you can do it.


  • Technique and Training


  • Age