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by Scott Bay

February 8, 2021

Get the most out of your routine by incorporating all strokes into your workouts

As any pool lifeguard will tell you, there are people who walk in every day and do the exact same thing: same time of day, same stroke, same distance. Having a routine is important, and several things happen within that routine that are great both physically and mentally. There are, however, some things in your routine that may be holding you back as a swimmer. Here are the goods and bads of routine and how to use individual medley­–based training, in which you train all four strokes, to overcome the bad. 

The Good

Many people are comfortable with structure and routine. There’s nothing wrong with that—they give you a solid foundation to plan around. Here are the great things about structure and routine.

  • Stability. There’s something calming about knowing what’s going to happen the next morning or afternoon or evening. So many yards at such-and-such a pace.
  • Less productive days are forgotten. Bad days can be measured against the day before and the day after. Everyone has them, but if you miss your benchmark one day, hitting it the next makes everything all right.
  • Comfort. There’s comfort in routine. You get to zone out a bit while you go through the familiar motions and get some stress-relieving endorphins going.

The Bad

The problem with doing things the way you’ve always done them is that you always get what you always got. Worse, as you age you start to get less than you always got because fitness and strength benefits tend to wane with age and routine. Here are some reasons to mix things up.

  • Boredom. Is there anything worse than doing 20 x 200s on the same interval? If that’s your routine, have you ever lost count? Same thing happens with the same workout day in, day out. Even if there’s a menu of workouts you use each week, it has to get old after a while.
  • Muscular imbalance. Training the same movements all the time can lead to muscular imbalances, in which one movement or part of the body is strong and another is weak. Swimming freestyle all the time, for example, can result in over-developed back muscles and under-developed chest muscles.
  • Injuries. Overuse syndrome is a real thing in swimming because of the repetitive motions. If you’re tied to a routine, when the feedback you get from your body is pain, you might ignore it as if it will go away. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Consult a qualified healthcare provider to find out if an injury is a result of overuse.

Free Yourself From Freestyle-Only Workouts

Combining the good parts of routines with something new, such as IM-based training, is a good way to combat the drawbacks of doing the same thing over and over. Swimming a mix of all four strokes not only breaks up the routine but also provides a number of other benefits. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Take a lesson. Get instruction from a USMS-certified coach who’s knowledgeable about stroke technique. You could also find someone with a competitive swimming background and ask for help. More often than not you’ll find fellow swimmers who love to share their knowledge of the sport.
  • Process and progress. When you’re learning a new stroke or movement, remember that it’s going to be tough the first time, the second, and a few more times after that. If you concentrate on the process, you will make progress.
  • Find your way. There’s no one right way to swim each stroke. Swimming strokes are different for everyone depending on strength, fitness, body geometry, and age. Seek to build what’s sustainable for you.
  • Forget the yardage. Accept that all yards are not created equal. Your energy expended in, say, butterfly, will probably be different than it is in backstroke over the same distance.
  • Study up. Use the numerous articles and videos on the USMS website to help incorporate what you’re learning.
  • Baby steps. When learning a new stroke, don’t keep going if your form falls apart. Do three perfect strokes off each wall, and then resume freestyle for the remainder of the length. Once you can do three perfect strokes, up it to four, then five, and so on. Before you know it, you’ll be able to swim the new stroke correctly for an entire length.

Tailor Your Approach

Not everyone is capable of swimming all four competitive strokes. For example, your physician might not recommend breaststroke kick if you have limited knee mobility from a previous injury or replacement. You can, however, ask your healthcare provider if there’s treatment or other options that could make new movements not only possible but also helpful in your overall health. For example, if you’re having imbalance issues or injury from too much freestyle, some tailored resistance-band exercises and adding some backstroke into your routine could help promote shoulder strength and stability. Finding a healthcare provider who understands the mechanics of swimming is important.

Special Lessons From 2020

For many, the pools were closed. For some, they still are. For others, they’re open but on a limited basis with time and lane restrictions. Now is the time to mix it up if you’re lucky enough to find a pool. If you only have 45 minutes instead of your usual 90, then find something that breaks you out of your routine if for no other reason than it isn’t available to you anymore. You might find that the switch, even if for a terrible reason, puts you in a place where you can learn new things and grow as an athlete.

USMS Workout Library

U.S. Masters Swimming has created a database of searchable online workouts developed for seven swimming specialties featuring all ranges of distances, strokes, and skill levels. In this member-only feature, you can do the following:

  • Subscribe to receive workouts for the week emailed to you every Monday morning
  • Filter by course, desired distance, and type of sets you want to do
  • Send workouts to your smartwatch via our integration
  • Customize a workout via and truly make the workout yours
  • Print workouts easily so you can bring them to the pool

Get IM Workouts in USMS’s Member-Only Workout Library


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