Thursday, March 06, 2008

How to do Multiple Laps with Flip Turns without Tiring

I am known at my pool as a guy who swims for a long time without stopping to rest. I guess that's supposed to be a complement (I think I'd rather be known as a guy who swims fast, but I'll take what I can get). When I swim my laps, I typically will do 1600 to 2400 meters at a time without stopping. All my turns are flip turns, and I don't rest at all until I stop for a half-minute or so before I switch over to the kickboard. Why am I not tired? Why can I go from lap to lap without stopping to catch my breath? What do I do different from the guy next to me who stops every one or two laps to rest and catch his breath?

This post will share how I got where I am. I didn't start this way. I WAS the guy in the next lane stopping every one or two lengths to hang and catch my breath. My conversion came slowly, with patience. Let me explain.

When I first started swimming regularly, I was very jealous of the guys who could swim non-stop. I even had a nick-name for them - the "human lungs". I was amazed they could go on and on and on. What was the trick? I'd try what they were doing and fail miserably. I'd figured out the flip turn, but so what? I was still tired and ready to plant my feet down and stand up right after the turn (if even I had that in me).

I decided that a good approach would be to go slow and trim, and it worked. By swimming as trim (torpedo/pencil swimming) as I could to minimize effort, and by taking it easy, I found that I would use less energy and oxygen. Thus I had enough to get through the flip and start the next length. When I started feeling tired, I'd drop it another notch, until I'd recovered and then resumed speed again. Over time (over a couple weeks of practicing this), I found I could maintain a decent pace without having to do the slow down. Over a longer period (a few months), I even found I could crank up the speed and hold it for a while before scaling back. Today, I can do a full 2000 meters at my top speed (as long as the water is cool enough).

Bottom line, just take it easy, find your easy speed that doesn't tire you out and cruise through. You'll improve your speed and ability by default. Just don't put your feet down!


  1. Encouraging! I can barely swim a full lap without drowning. I tried slowing down, but I think if I go any more leisurely I'll be at the bottom of the pool. Any suggestions?

  2. Thanks for the comment. Like I said in this post, go slow until you have built up the capacity to go a bit faster. This may take weeks, or even months. You are still exercising through all this, so you're not really losing anything. Even slow, you are building muscle memory. Add speed as you feel comfortable and scale back when needed until you feel like you've got enough to push it again for a (short? long?) while. Good luck!

  3. This is interesting...
    I have a triathlon coming up sooner than i would like (my first) and I am very apprehensive about the 1/2 mile swim. Because, right now i am the guy in the lane who's gasping for air after two laps.

    I'm going to try to slow it down a notch and will let you know...

  4. Hi. Thanks for this post. I get what you mean. I too have noticed that when I swim slowly I can swim more. I make use of a swimming watch to monitor my laps, calories, etc. And I have noted that when I swim slow, I burn a calorie or two lesser. When I swim fast, I burn more calories. So, does this mean that my body is not burning more calories when I swim slowly. Which approach should I follow - Swim fast and burn more calories, or swim slow and do more laps. Pls help. Thanks!

  5. Hi Vicky - Thanks for your question. I'm not a physio-anything so take this advice for what it is ... opinion, but I think that if you scale down your speed, your body may not be working as hard i.e. it is burning fewer calories. You may indeed need to add additional laps (additional time) to your slower routine to get an equivalent calorie burn to your faster-swim-speed sessions. BTW, that sounds like a great swimming watch!


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