The Benefits of Long, Unbroken Swimming

Michael Butler
Written by
Last update:

“Garbage Yardage”

I have been training avidly for many years. I've had coaches and I've also trained on my own. And I'm now fortunate enough to train with some of the best swimmers in the world. And every one of these swimmers–no matter what divides them, no matter where they come from, no matter what country they represent, no matter what age group they're in–every single one of my teammates wants to swim more. Or at least, they want to swim better. And they're willing to swim more to do so.

There are only so many hours in the day and, frankly, the number of hours you can train is limited by the amount of time you have to sleep, the number of meals you have to eat, and the amount of recovery time you need. So, when you think about the number of hours each swimmer in our team has available to him or her, it actually seems like swimmers have a really limited amount of time to dedicate to making themselves better.

It turns out that, no surprise, the amount of yards you swim per practice is one way to measure how hard you work to improve. While your stroke count and quality, as well as the number of sets and repeats you do per practice, certainly contribute to your training, the sheer amount of yardage that you swim in practice is also a major factor.

Distance work isn’t and shouldn’t just be about building an aerobic base.

In fact it can be one of the most useful ways to build a foundation for a variety of other training goals.

Distance work promotes aerobic adaptations that actually have a positive impact on your body’s ability to develop muscle strength, and explosive power.

Answering Coach Chris’s question about the benefits of long, unbroken swimming, it’s important to note that interval training and classical energy systems work has also historically been an important swimming paradigm in the sport.

But, the sport has changed over the last decades and not necessarily for the better. Some of the new paradigms focus more than ever on aerobic capacity and stroke mechanics as opposed to exploring and challenging other areas of the body.

This isn’t a bad thing, especially if the goal is to shave another tenth of a second off your personal best time, but it’s also important to expose your body to new training variables so that it continues to develop.

But I hope that you will challenge yourself to spend time working on your endurance and increasing distance sometime soon.

Back in the day, distance training was called “long-slow distance” work (LSD). And, when performed correctly, it can be as valuable to your training as speed work someday in the future will be.

Anything not race pace is essentially drill work.

A 200m swim at race pace will take you around a minute, which sounds very easy. But we all know that a minute of hard swimming is pretty tough!

So doing a single length (100m) at race pace will be hard, really hard. This is why you do most of your swim sessions with slower, more relaxed swimming. Where does this fit in?

Drill sets are often used as a warm-up and used to improve technique. If you can swim faster, you’ll be able to go faster for longer. The main benefits of long, unbroken swims are:

You can show you’re working harder than you actually are.

You get more work done in one session.

You can build a more positive relationship with drill work (i.e. progress faster).

You can work on technical drills at race pace (although you can also do longer swims at pace to practice technique).

You crush the fundamentals .

You’ll note that most things we do in the pool, including turning and kicking, are achieved by moving our arms and legs differently. Translated to swimming, this means that if you’re using your arms and legs at different times to create motion, you need to think about how you’re moving them differently. Practicing backstroke on the assumption that it’s the same when you’re swimming freestyle could result in you swimming with your legs…all the way to the wall.

You improve your breath control. Breathing is a fundamental part of the freestyle stroke, and you can’t rely on your rhythm or timing when you’re first learning how to swim. That means you have to take a breath on your own, which forces you to slow down and stay focused.

Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme.

Relaaaaxxx your mind!

The word swim originated in the 17th century from the word “smime,” which means “to immerse and move through water with ease.”

You’ve likely heard of a long, slow distance aerobic workout. This is simply exercising at a low intensity, such as walking or riding a bike, for a prolonged period of time. It’s been around for almost a century and has shown positive health effects.

You may have heard of a slow and steady wins the race, and the same is the case for long, slow distance swimming. “Long,” could mean 30 minutes for the average person or hours of laps, and “slow means taking your time at a considerably less pace than you can do. “Unbroken” means that you don’t stop for more than a few seconds at a time.

If you’re a cyclist, you can apply this strategy of “long, slow distance” to riding by cycling at a steady pace for an extended period of time.

Automate better habits in your training.

Swimming is a great, low-impact exercise.

Compared to other sports, it’s not nearly as stressful to the joints and inflammation is kept to a minimum if you do it correctly. It’s also a perfect exercise for weight loss and for overall health. It’s a great cardio workout and it’s also pretty fun because it’s so customizable. You can do some great workouts in a lake or the ocean, or you can do relaxed laps in a pool.

But not everybody knows about the virtue of long, unbroken swimming.

This video is about how to maximize the rewards of long, unbroken swimming. We also show you how to avoid the push for lap swimming that’s popular in many communities.

Anyway, watch the video. We think you’ll love it.

You improve your relationship with the water .

Since you’re in the water for longer periods of time, you have more opportunity to practice your skills. Swimming fast isn’t everything. If you want to improve for a triathlon , for example, try practicing things like your starts, breathing techniques, or stroke technique. As your skills improve, you’ll find that you’re less afraid in the water, and that will prompt you to swim in more challenging and deeper waters.

Since you’re in the water for longer periods of time, you have more opportunity to practice your skills. Swimming fast isn’t everything. If you want to improve for a , for example, try practicing things like your starts, breathing techniques, or stroke technique. As your skills improve, you’ll find that you’re less afraid in the water, and that will prompt you to swim in more challenging and deeper waters. You get a full body workout. Swimming provides a full body workout. Not only do you need strength and endurance in your upper body to keep lifting your arms or to stay above water as you swim, you also need strong legs to push yourself through the water, and you need strong core muscles to activate while you’re swimming. Long unprotected swimming strengthens all of these muscles.

Even sprinters can do this .

Imagine being able to swim effortlessly for over an hour non stop. If that sounds impossible, you’re in good company. It certainly sounded impossible to me. So when I saw a video of an elite paddler from the UK named Hugh Dolan swimming 80 km nonstop, I was, needless to say, duly impressed.

Although long distance non-stop swimming is gone from the Olympics, there are people out there who are trying to bring this event back, including those who are attempting the “FINISHLINE Challenge.” The website for the “FINISHLINE Challenge” lists the rules for this feat, which states that you must swim continuously for 60 hours.

The challenge also seeks to raise money for people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. Although it will take an enormous amount of dedication and physical endurance, it’s a challenge that’s not impossible.

But why exactly would you take on such a challenge? Well, aside from the obvious challenge and bragging rights, there’s some clear benefits to long distance swimming.

It will teach you to really focus .

One of the problems with doggy paddling laps is that you’re likely to fall into autopilot. Your head is up in the air, and you’re checking out your surroundings while you power down the pool. You’re probably not engaging your muscles to fire as fast as possible and you’re probably not breathing as efficiently as you could be. You’re probably not totally focused on the job at hand because your mind is wandering and you’re stressed about the clock ticking.

When you swim, don’t look around, don’t think about anything else and don’t pay any attention to the clock. Set yourself a goal of swimming for 1,000 strokes. Stay focused on your arm and leg kicking, your breathing and the rhythm of swimming.

Concentrate on doing the exercise as efficiently as possible. Focus on going as fast as you possibly can and keep that focus as you move through the water. As you do the exercise over and over again, you’ll be getting increasingly focused and becoming increasingly fast in your power swimming. I don’t care who you are, this is going to push you.

Two Keys to Making This Kind of Swimming Really Work

This kind of swimming is really just a general term for any kind of endurance exercise that presents more than a passing resemblance to what lifeguards do in the pool (although that’s not to say that this kind of training isn’t also beneficial for athletes).

While the specifics can vary widely, I’ve found that the core methods are two things: a considerable increase in the number of repeats and swimming without an intervening pause.

Generally, the number of repeats is the primary means of increasing the difficulty of the training (and also your conditioning). You can also alter your breathing and your strokes to keep the program mildly varied.

One of the simplest ways to do this kind of swimming is to take a series of 25–30-yard/meter repeats in a lane and to swim without a break.

The objective is to swim continuously for ten or fifteen minutes without getting out of the water. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear a suit that’s made by a trusted brand and that provides the optimal amount of support and comfort.

The Caveat

You may start to feel better than ever once you start swimming. But remember that exercise and any activity in general comes with a cost. Between starting a new routine and keeping it up, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. You’re going to have work later, stay up later, and get less sleep. You’ll also have to accept that you won’t be eating breakfast or lunch. Finally, you’ll have to have reasonable expectations about the time and date of your first big swim.

If you’re not willing to make at least some of these sacrifices, then the swim’ll have to wait.

If you’re not willing to make at least some of these sacrifices, then the swim’ll have to wait. But if you are ready willing and able to make these sacrifices, then it’ll definitely be worth it. Basing exercises off of metrics is one of the most efficient and effective ways to improve. Believe me, you’ll be giving your fitness a jump start. Just make sure that you have the right mindset before you start.

More Stuff Like This: