How to swim without getting tired

How to swim without getting tired

As swim teachers and coaches, we often get asked “why can’t I swim more than 25 or 50 metres without getting tired?” Most people who are not already swimmers might expect to go to their local pool and swim laps comfortably as a form of exercise. They will most likely be disappointed by their inability to do so, no matter their level of physical fitness. Getting tired whilst swimming is not a reflection of one’s physical ability but rather the misunderstanding of what is required to move efficiently and effectively in water.

Why you get tired whilst swimming

Swimming efficiently for any extended distance comes down to two simple things – how much stress/body tension you have and what you are doing with your breathing. Exercising is generally approached by people as activities which require you to over-exert yourself by working hard to tense muscles to create a certain desired movement. Using a push-up as an example, body tension can be understood in the following way: we lower ourselves towards the ground and back up, and to create this movement our arms and legs must remain engaged, our muscles tensed almost to the extreme. Without this tensing of the arms, legs and core muscles, a push-up would be impossible.

Swimming does not require body tension to the extent that a push-up does as we are working directly against gravity, and if there is too much stress on/stiffness in your body you will be unable to sustain this over 25-50 meters and will become too tired to continue. A common misconception with most forms of exercise is that in order to generate the most speed/get the greatest result, one must over-exert themselves. Note, we can over-exert ourselves in a push-up going for the extra effort. However, due to the varying degrees of influence from gravity related to the viscosity of water and forward momentum, swimming needs almost the exact opposite – the less tension in your body the better (this is also the case for push ups but in relative terms!). This is because the water does a lot of the work for you when you swim. If there is too much tension in your body in the water, you will find you actually move in a forward direction less rather than more due to resistance generated from distorted and inefficient shapes of your body.

In addition to the need to be less tense in the water, you also have to know how to breathe effectively. This is because how you breathe whilst swimming drastically impacts the tension in your body even if you don’t mean for it to. If you clench your arms and legs right now as tight as possible, notice what happens to your breathing. You will have unknowingly held your breath. Similarly, if you purposely try to hold your breath, you will cause tension throughout the rest of your body.

Tips for swimming without getting tired

Recognising the difference between Tension (over-connected) and Tone (connected).

If you make a tight fist, you will feel all the muscles of your arm contract, and in turn the muscles of your shoulder also become tense. If you make a loose fist, however, with your fingertips resting lightly on the palm of your hand, the effect on the rest of your arm is more subtle. This tension is not a forced movement and does not require you to clench any part of your body in an unnatural and uncomfortable way. This is the kind of tension required for swimming and is known as Tone: the middle point of Floppy (loose, relaxed, no effort at all, disconnected) and Tension (over-exertion, stress and strain, overconnected). Understanding that swimming does not require you to force movement but rather needs you to remain soft, smooth, fluid and relaxed as the first step to swimming greater distances more efficiently.


Training yourself to breathe easily while in the water will make a big difference to your ability to swim more than two laps of a pool. Without even getting in a pool you can easily make a distinction between relaxed, comfortable breathing and tense, unnatural breathing. When you hold your breath, your entire body changes, becoming tenser and stiffer. When you breathe evenly in and out, your ribcage expands and contracts but does not cause you to over-tense. If you force yourself to hold your breath whilst swimming you will make it harder for yourself to move because there is too much tension in your body. To swim a greater distance, you will need to focus on maintaining a comfortable breathing pattern that doesn’t affect the tension in your body. How can I relax my body in swimming and breath comfortably, you may ask yourself? The concept of accepting water versus avoiding water is very significant in relaxing your body. Avoiding water in the mouth creates tension, anxiety and a jerky lift of the chin, away from the surface when breathing. Therefore, when you accept water in the mouth and do not fight it, your body relaxes and you become more athletic and fluid with your movements. Some people have this avoidance of water in the shower. If this is you, before being comfortable in your swimming you must start accepting water into an open mouth during a shower. This will make a big difference in developing your comfortable breathing when swimming.

Swimming 25-50 metres without getting tired

If you can combine tone in swimming (connected, not over-tense or too floppy and relaxed) with even, steady breathing you will find that swimming 25-50 metres is not so much of a challenge, and you will easily be able to swim that distance without getting too tired. The most important thing is to not try and swim 25 or 50 metres the second you get in the pool without stopping and resting. Give yourself and your body time to adjust to a new environment, especially so you can remain calm and breathing easily once you attempt to swim a few laps. It is also important to swim short distances first over 5-10 metres before attempting a lap. This is so you have time to adjust your stroke as necessary, work out what is comfortable for your breathing and how much body tension you have. Stopping and resting as much as possible will have a greater impact on your swimming than swimming continuously without rests.

Interview with Masters Swimming Championship Medalist

Interview with Masters Swimming Championship Medalist

Darryl Flukes is one of our “students” here at JSSS. He’s the captain of a Masters swim club, the Surrey Park Seahorses, and now medallist at the 2019 FINA World Masters Swimming Championship. I say “student”, as Darryl is an excellent swimmer already (good enough to take on the world championship!), but asked John to work with him, to push him further and reach his goals. We interviewed Darryl to find out more about his life, his goals and his swimming.

Hi Darryl, it’s great to have the chance to talk with you. Tell me a bit about yourself! What do you do for a living?

I’m from the UK. I moved here in 1998 to marry Louise from Ballarat. I’ve worked in the energy industry all my career, earlier in energy markets, gradually becoming more involved in renewable energy. Now I’m passionate about the transition to a clean energy future.

When did you start swimming?
Swam as a child/teenager, played water-polo until my mid-twenties. Got back into swimming in my mid-thirties when my daughter joined a club and I was invited to participate in the parents’ race. Have not looked back since! Being in the UK there was limited pool space and very few 50m pools. Only when I came to Australia could I take advantage of the facilities and swim culture to improve as I have.

What keeps you motivated?
The positive feeling “endorphin-kick” after a good training session. Setting and pursuing goals. The club camaraderie.

Can you tell me about your experience at the masters championship itself?

Took place in South Korea, following the 2019 World Championships. The meet itself was very well run, very slick with the jacketed officials and uniformed, regimented turn judges etc. It really felt like an elite event, compared to the casual environment we have become used to at masters.

What event did you race in?
I raced in the 50m, 100m & 200m Butterfly, as well as the 200m & 400m Individual Medley
I received a medal for 6th place in the 200m butterfly).

What is it like competing at such a high level?

Hard to say really. Inspiring and satisfying?

Tell me about the Surrey Park Seahorses

Surrey Park Seahorses is a medium-sized masters swim club with around 40 members ranging in age from 30s to over 70. We train/meet formally 4 times a week at the Whitehorse Aquatic Centre Box Hill and Boroondara Sports Complex Balwyn; also, informally (i.e. uncoached) 2 or 3 times a week too. Many of our members compete in state, national and international meets. Some focus on the open water swims over the summer as well, and a number swim just for the fitness and company.

Have you got any goals you are working towards with your swimming?

The big one has just been met, medalling at a world championship. Right now, I am relaxing and enjoying that but new goals will emerge again I have no doubt.

Have you got any advice for aspiring Master swimmers?

Join our club! Not only to improve your swimming but for new challenges and to be surrounded by life-minded providing motivation and inspiration.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?

As the body ages, we need to swim smarter, not harder. This is where club swimming should be complemented by sessions with the John Sugden Swim School to improve, even change, swimming techniques. This is what happened to me 4 or 5 years ago when I had a very disappointing Nationals Championships, having trained so hard leading into it. The 50+ year old body just wasn’t going to continue taking the pounding I was giving it. A call to John sought to change all that and the results have been demonstrated.

Darryl has since entrusted John with teaching his granddaughter, and continues to train and improve for the next swimming challenge.


Safety in Water

Safety in Water

Safety in water is perceived as swimming from point A to point B. However, there are many ways to swim from point A to point B. The 2 extremes are with number one with panic or number two calmly. If the swimmer is panicking they may swallow water, start doubting their ability to make it and need help. They will get very tired very quickly and what is perceived as fast swimming is “panic swimming”. If the swimmer is calm they will not swallow water, never doubt themselves and wont need help. They wont get tired! What is perceived as slow swimming is efficient and effortless and allows for a higher energy for longer as they are relaxed. The person is “athletic” in the water!

Have you ever watched sports people who look relaxed, be it, a golfer, runner, tennis player or swimmer, etc? They look calm and often slow at times. Take the golf swing, if someone looks graceful they often look slow, but there is a calmness to it and an efficiency that makes the ball travel a long way. A more aggressive golf swing means the ball will not travel as far and there is a much higher chance of slicing or hooking. It’s the same in swimming – but we get exhausted because we have to swim distance! Distance in swimming may only be 10 metres or 25 metres for those learning to swim. So, we need to accept “us humans” as being buoyant and enjoy the floating feeling before worrying about speed. The speed will come if your mind believes you are safe in water!!!

Fear of Water

Fear of Water

The best place to start learning to swim is usually considered the bath, then the swimming pool, however, with 30 years of exploring, talking, watching and observing its clear the best place to start is the shower!! Every time you have a shower allow the water to drip into your mouth and then dribble it out as much as possible with soft lips, cheeks and surrounding face and neck muscles. This is often helped by doing your teeth in the shower. Every time you have a shower take time to feel the sensation of the water dripping/running/flowing down into your mouth or anywhere on your body (skin). This will allow you to start accepting the water and not fight it. Fighting does not allow you to breath easily. Fighting blocks your airways and accepting provides for open airways. A natural flow like land breathing!