Ask the Coach – Swimming Fitness

Ask the Coach – Swimming Fitness

Jessica says that poor cardiovascular fitness is limiting swimming improvement and wants to know how to fix this.

I first need to question the statement on poor cardiovascular fitness. I happen to know that Jess trains regularly in JuJitsu. While that is a primarily anaerobic sport, there is a cardiovascular component so her fitness probably isn’t at poor as she thinks.

So what can make swimming so hard for her?

1) Swimming is such a technique oriented sport that usually “fitness” won’t be the limiter, but rather technique. The fittest marathon runners will struggle to swim 25 yards if they don’t have good technique. You can revisit my post on swimming for athletes with some tips for drills to improve body position, which is key for swimming.

2) Inadequate breathing techniques can cause an athlete to either not expire enough air and build up carbon dioxide (the breath holders) or expel too much air and not inhale enough oxygen. So make sure you are exhaling, but not too much so that you end up gasping to fill your lungs. Here are some tips on breathing from

3) A third item to consider is how much you are kicking. If you are getting winded swimming but feel much better when using a pull buoy, you are probably over-kicking.

swimmer with pull buoy

If you kick from your knee instead of your hip (a common flaw with runners, cyclists (and martial artists, which I know from personal experience!) you are engaging much larger muscles that require more oxygen. Kicking from the knee also takes your body out of the ideal streamlined position and causes more drag, which will make you work harder to get across the pool.

Once basic technique (especially body position), breathing, and kicking are addressed, you should find it easier to get across the pool. Then you are ready to do a variety of workouts to improve swimming specific fitness.

Coach Nicole is the author of The Triathlete’s Guide to Race Week. She is also the founder and head coach for NEO Endurance Sports & Fitness, a Colorado-based endurance sport coaching company. She is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and also coaches triathlon for Team In Training. Learn more at You can contact Coach Nicole with your questions for the Ask the Coach column on facebooktwitter or via email at

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Nicole Odell


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