Swim Training Advice from a Senior Triathlete
Each time that I visit The Villages, Florida, I am impressed with the activity level of its residents. According to its official website, The Villages is “America’s Healthiest Hometown”. It is difficult to argue with this given the number of fitness facilities and activities.
Introducing Swim Coach, Bob Jennings
During a recent visit to The Villages, I came across an article in The Villages Daily Sun that described one resident’s return to swimming after a quadruple-bypass surgery. In attempting to track down the subject of the article, I was eventually introduced to Bob Jennings, Head Coach of VAST (Villages Aquatic Swim Team).
Bob is not only a swimmer but has been a lifelong runner. He has coached swimming since 1973. And, like the subject of the above article, Bob swam in college.
He has also been involved in triathlon since its earliest days.
The Villages Aquatic Swim Team includes around 70 members with one female swimmer aged 91 and several swimmers in their 80’s.
Our Discussion About Swim Training for Seniors
I spoke with Bob Jennings to get his views on questions that many senior triathletes have about swim training. Following is a summary of our conversation.
Senior Triathletes: From your experience in Masters swimming, what are the differences between swimming programs for older masters (50+) and younger?
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 that they complete their training sessions, and are more eager to learn and to perfect their strokes.
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 when 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 be gradually increased in later sessions.
“I don’t want my swimmers to be sore.”
Senior Triathletes: As one progresses from a beginner, what are the main goals of a triathlete for swimming?
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.
We also encourage our triathletes to learn strokes other than just freestyle. In triathlon, you can use other strokes like backstroke and breaststroke in case you are tired or are ‘getting beat up’.
It’s Never Too Late
Senior Triathletes: Any final comments?
Bob Jennings: It is never too late to start swimming and you are never too old to start.