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by Scott Bay

November 1, 2022

You can do this long swim—you just need to build up to it

Many people have said “never” when faced with the prospect of swimming a mile or more without stopping. Just because you haven’t doesn’t mean you can’t. So, the question becomes, what’s stopping you? As the saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Swimmers and athletes come in all shapes and sizes and with a variety of backgrounds and abilities. There’s is no one right way to get swimmers ready to swim a mile without recognizing the various physical and psychological traits that make everyone different. See if any of these strategies might work for you.

Brute Force Method

Years ago in the world of competitive swimming, coaches threw everyone in the pool and instructed them to swim as far as they could. The next day they repeated the process. They kept going until they reached their goal (or everyone quit) and what was left over was the swim team.

Coaching has since become a lot more sophisticated as far as training and philosophies. For some athletes, however, using a similar approach produces results.

Each time you go to the pool, try to swim a few more lengths than you did the time before. If you’re just returning to fitness, don’t do this every day—give your body a chance to recover. The positive part of this approach is that you have measurable results on a standard timeline. The downside is that it can be boring and setbacks due to lack of variety can be discouraging. 

Interval Training Method

Interval training, AKA watching the clock, is central to competitive swimming. But interval training can help any swimmer looking to improve fitness and stamina—it doesn’t require competition if that’s not your thing—you’re only challenging yourself. Here are two different ways to enlist the clock’s help in reaching your goal.

Rest Intervals—If your goal is to swim a pool mile (AKA 1650, which is 66 lengths of a 25-yard pool), start out with short-distance efforts such as 25s or 50s, and build to your goal. So, rather than swimming the 66 lengths without stopping, swim 33 x 50. Choose a rest interval that enables you to complete all 33 repetitions. If you need 10 or 15 or 30 seconds of rest after each repetition, take it. As you repeat the experiment, start to reduce the amount of rest. So, the first time you swim 33 x 50, you might have needed 30 seconds rest after each one. But as you build endurance, you might only need 10 seconds rest after each 50. When you’re ready to make a bigger leap, make the repeat distance longer and adjust the rest again. As you build stamina, try 100s, then 200s. Continue playing with distance and rest until you have long efforts with short rest and before you know it, you’ll be swimming a mile or more without stopping. This approach is easily customizable, and you control your pace and rest, but it does require patience as you build your stamina.

Repetition Intervals—In a variation on this theme, you can swim with a repetition interval instead of a rest interval. One example would be 25s and 50s using a 30-second interval base. Swim 66 25s on 30 second intervals. So, no matter how long it takes you to swim the 25s, leave every 30 seconds. Sometimes you’ll get more rest and sometimes you’ll get less. In this example, you would use a 1-minute interval for 50s. Vary the number of 25s and 50s as you gain fitness and confidence. Build to doing more 50s on 1 minute than 25s on 30 seconds. When you’re ready, incorporate 75s on 1 minute and 30 seconds and 100s on 2 minutes, then 200s on 4 minutes, and, eventually, 500s on 10 minutes. The combination of distances is up to you, and your repetition interval is steady. This approach offers the same ease of customization but might take a little longer to build capacity and fitness.

If it seems like these approaches take a long time, you might be right. At the same time, if your goal is to complete the distance without stopping because you have your eyes set on a distance or open water event, building that capacity both physically and mentally is very rewarding. The examples above are just a few of the many ways that can be used to get to that magical mile swim and can be used for longer distances. If you’ve trained for long distances and want to share how you did it with your fellow swimmers, post your approach in Community.


  • Technique and Training


  • Distance