The Villages, Florida (https://www.thevillages.com/), located about one hour’s drive northwest of Orlando International Airport on the Florida Turnpike, is a retirement community that promotes, almost demands, activity for every age and ability. Triathlon is one of the activities growing in The Villages thanks to the triathlon club.
If you have visited a bike shop recently, you will find a mind-boggling number of styles of bikes. The many options are aimed at different budgets and designed for different types of riders, terrains, and activities.
For seniors, swim training is a tremendous way to build endurance while reducing the potential for overuse injuries. While many of us are getting back into the water as pools and beaches reopen, it can feel like relearning to swim. On the other hand, since we are more or less starting over, we might as well do so with attention to the basics. For swimming, this includes our stroke, kick, and breathing.
With this in mind, it seemed an excellent time to update a post about swim training for seniors from the earliest days of SeniorTriathletes.com.
If you have questions about swim training as you start or restart swimming, please share these in the Comments section below. I will get you an answer – guaranteed.
Introducing Swim Coach, Bob Jennings
During each visit to The Villages, Florida, I am reminded how active its residents are. According to its official website, The Villages is “America’s Healthiest Hometown”. It’s difficult to argue with this, given the number of fitness facilities, athletic activities, and clubs including those for swimming, biking, running, and triathlon.
During one visit to The Villages, I came across an article in The Villages Daily Sun (picture above) describing a resident’s return to swimming after quadruple-bypass surgery. In attempting to track down the gentleman profiled in the article, the article’s author introduced me to Bob Jennings.
Bob has been a lifelong swimmer, even swimming in college. He began to coach swimming in 1973 and has continued to this day, currently serving as coach of The Villages Aquatic Swim (VAST) team. In mid-2020, the VAST team has 80 members covering ages from the 50s to 90s. The roster contains two members in their 90s, three in the 85 to 89 age group, and four in the 80 to 84 age group.
In addition to being a swimmer, Bob has been a longtime runner and has competed in triathlon since its earliest days.
Bob’s Thoughts on Swim Training for Seniors
I spoke with Bob Jennings to get his views on questions that many senior triathletes have about swim training. Below, I summarize our conversation.
Senior Triathletes: From your experience as a masters swim coach, what are the differences between training for younger and older (50+) swimmers?
Bob Jennings: Younger swimmers tend to have better breath control, are stronger, and heal more quickly. They also have less time given family and career obligations. On the other hand, older swimmers tend to be better at listening to their bodies. They also have more time for rest, more flexible schedules to ensure they complete their training sessions, and are more eager to learn and to perfect their strokes.
Restarting Swimming After a Long Break
Senior Triathletes: If someone has not been swimming for a while, where do they start?
Bob Jennings: Get into the pool. It is best to join a group such as Masters Swimming, an adult ‘learn to swim’ program, or another workout group for the benefits of a ‘hands-on’ coach who can view your stroke and define a customized training plan. The work-out group will provide camaraderie and support to encourage you as you progress and for those times you may not feel like training.
Plan to start small and gradually build up, remembering to listen to your body. Initially, a new swimmer will swim for a short amount of time to avoid injury. The distance swam will gradually increase in later sessions.
“I don’t want my swimmers to be sore.” Bob Jennings, VAST Swim Coach
Senior Triathletes: As one progresses from a beginner, what are the main goals of swim training for a senior triathlete?
Bob Jennings: The goals are to improve the efficiency of your stroke and build endurance. Swim practices include a mix of long swims for endurance and shorter sprint sets for speed. When not in the pool, we attend swim meets with college and professional swimmers and talk to the swimmers about their strokes. I also recommend weightlifting three times per week. Use low weight with high repetitions to avoid shoulder injury.
Related Post: See Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes for swimming-specific exercises.
We also encourage our triathletes to learn strokes other than just freestyle. In triathlon, you can use other strokes like backstroke and breaststroke if you become tired or are ‘getting beat up’.
A Resource for Swim Gear
A swim coach will also provide guidance on swim gear for swimmers and triathletes. For example, here is a more recent exchange between Bob and me.
Senior Triathletes: What can I do to ensure my swim cap stays on during a swim? Today, my cap came off after about 900 yards. Some swim caps provided by race organizers have come off within even shorter distances.
Bob Jennings: Try a different size cap to keep it on your head.
It’s Never Too Late for Seniors to Begin Swim Training
Senior Triathletes: Any final comments?
Bob Jennings: It is never too late to start swimming and you are never too old to start.
What If There is Not a Swim Club Near Me?
What if you don’t have access to a swim coach like Bob Jennings? There are other options, with varying degrees of the personal touch given by Bob.
First, many community centers and fitness centers offer individual and group swim training classes. For example, in a post titled Making Fitness a Lifestyle – Jeanne Minder’s Story, Jeanne talks about swim training classes she leads at her local community center.
A second option is Tri Swim Coach. Coach Kevin Koskella provides video training tools, video analysis of your swim stroke, and customized training for swimmers and triathletes.
What Swimming-Related Questions Do You Have?
Do you have a question about swimming for Bob Jennings or one of our other Senior Triathletes?
Add it to the Comments below and I will get you an answer..
This post was originally published on March 13, 2016. It was edited on July 16, 2020 to include current information about The Villages Aquatic Swim Team and Bob Jennings’s latest advice on a personal swimming question.