10 Things Non-Swimmers Will Never Understand About Swimming

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here. Originally published 5/17.

Although we spend most of our waking time either in the pool, going to or from the pool, or thinking about the pool, we also interact frequently with people who aren’t swimming up and down that black line with us, or yelling at us to swim faster up and down that black line.

People that will never know the shared misery of Hell Week. Or of doing 10×1000 for time. Or of spending long hours, soggy from a weekend of racing, in the back of a coach bus with some of your best friends.

Here are ten things that our civilian friends will never understand about swimming:

1. How we can train more times than there are days in a week.

For those of your friends who have a hard time with arithmetic, this one will particularly jar their noggin. Ten workouts (plus dryland sessions), in only seven days? Mind. Blown.

2. How we go to a 3-4 day competition to swim a combined 7 minutes of races.

It must be nice to go a game, play for most of it, and be in and out of the facility in the course of 2-3 hours. If a session at a swim meet lasts 3 hours something feels off. Those poor distance swimmers and their families know this better than most, with the end of prelim sessions usually being stacked with timed finals 800 and 1500 heats.

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3.  What the gibberish on the whiteboards mean.

Swimming has its own language, and the workouts that coach scribbles up on the board exemplifies this superbly. Each coach takes this a step further, with an individualized dialect of shorthand and codes that only makes sense to him or her, and some of the more attention-paying swimmers. When a non-swimmer asks what you did for practice, all you can do is sigh, and knowing that it would take far longer than it is worthwhile to explain, simply say, “Laps and stuff.”

4. How our season is never ending.

How many times have you told your friends that you would hang out with them more once the season was over? That once those two-a-days and long afternoons in the pool were over that you could summon the energy to spend some QT hanging outside of the pool? But then you spent the entire two weeks off sleeping and eating ice cream with a ladle? How quickly does the excuse turn from “I’m tapering, I need all my energy” to “I’m in aerobic building mode, I need all my energy.”

5. We would rather swim in cold water than hot water.

My ears and head would always perk up every time a non-swimmer would complain to the nearest lifeguard about the water temperature at the pool: “It’s soooo cold!” I would stare at the lifeguard, and with all of the telepathic energy available to me, would zap him with a – “Don’t you even think about turning the pool temperature up.” Have you ever tried doing wind sprints in a sauna? Yeah, that’s what we are dealing with here.

6. Dryland.

The easiest way to explain to your jock friends that you do in fact do things outside of the pool, that you sometimes lift weights, sometimes throw a medicine ball around, or do crunches bare-back on the pool deck, or stretch, is to throw all of these activities under one tent and rather drolly name it “dryland.”

7. Taper.

To be fair, tapering mystifies many swimmers still. It is baffling how we can go from feeling six feet deep in the dumps to swimming at supersonic speed in a matter of days. The sudden explosion of energy renders us equally neurotic, joyous and psychotic, and while coaches refer to the application of a taper as an art and a science, for swimmers it is the best of times, and the worst of times.

8. Your idea of sleeping in is a wee bit different.

Those early mornings come, well, early. We’ve all known that one poor son-of-a-gun on the team whose family lived way out in the sticks and had to get up 3:45am to make it to 6am workout. While we don’t all have it that bad, when our non-swimmers tell us about how they slept in until the PM part of the day last weekend a wave of envy invariably washes across our faces.

9. The qualifying process for the Olympics.

The moment a non-swimmer realizes that you are mildly serious about the sport the next question is, “Do you swim in the Olympics?” It doesn’t matter that you are 12 years old, the question is still gonna come in hot. Explaining the pyramid of meets that you have to qualify, and that you have to place top two in the country and also under the FINA A standard, but that you can sometimes also place on the team if you swim under that time prior to Trials, can leave your non-swimmer friend wishing they had never asked. But guess what, ya did!

10. We can complain about the sport. But somebody gonna get hurt real bad if a non-swimmer talks smack about the sport.

That while we can complain about the long sets, the lost weekends, or the sheer fatigue we endure to improve even a fraction of a second, the non-swimmers among us better not whisper a bad word about our favorite sport.

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This is so true!


Triathlon. All 3 combined


Wow I had no idea that Triathletes swam 10 sessions a week, 12,000 metres a day, and had to concentrate on technique immensely. Could have fooled me with most triathletes being basically un streamlined and fighting the water with lob sided strokes.


Triathletes are some of the most physically and mentally fit athletes out there. Not many swimmers could race a mile in the ocean, bike for forty miles, and then run six. Give triathletes some credit dude.


actually once a swimmer knows the basic stroke of swimming they can pace themselves to do a mile or 2

Cadyn Hesnon

thank you so much! you won’t believe how my friends say swimming is the easiest sport! I am 11 and in the hardest group, I am working my butt off.

Olivia *insert last name here*

I am also in the hardest group! (I’m also 11) Don’t these trigger you?? People are saying “OMG I HAVE SO MANY PRACTICES FOR BASKETBALL!! TWO WHOLE TIMES!!” I get so annoyed when people say that!! Two practices? Seriously? Swimmers got it rough ):


This can be used for any sport…like running…or cycling…


not really…their bodies don’t ache all over all the time, bones and joints crack whenever they move, and wake up for 4:30am swim practices. And don’t forget about how much food swimmers eat


Yes, all of those are true for most sports.


…said someone who is obviously a non-swimmer


This debate of “swimming” vs “other sports” is kind of ridiculous. There are many similarities between the above mentioned 10 points that relate to other sports….not all the points, and certainly not applicable to all sports, but they do apply. Many athletes for different sports wake up and hit the gym or road before 5am, many train every single day up to twice a day, etc etc. Whether it’s swimming, or it’s another sport, the respect must be given.


Why are you even on swimswam, you swim hater


That was a joke btw no hostility meant, we see to much hostility in these comments, where’s the love


The debate can be settled with one name: Gwen Jorgensen.


No, it’s not. I’ve done tons of other sports, and none of them exercise your whole body but swimming. It can make you sore as crap, and there won’t be a single part of your body that’s not.


I swam D-I. Some iron heads from the crew team got together with some fools from the x-country team and got into a debate about which sport was harder. I stepped in and did the math for them…..we were swimming further then they would run or row in a single day.

We were SWIMMING farther then they were RUNNING or ROWING in a single day…..get it?


It’s not called the “Crew Team.” It’s called Crew, Rowing Crew, or Rowing Team. If you call it the Crew Team, you’re basically calling it the “team team.” My Father and Brother rowed Crew. I tried it. I was a national level distance swimmer, but I wasn’t “tall enough” for crew. GRRRRRR

Cmon man

Arthur, a low week for a D1 cross country guy would be around 60 miles. 60 miles is 105,600 yards. While I’m sure there were a few weeks where you got up to 100k, it wouldn’t be an every week type of thing. Swimming can be great without dissing another sport


I’m not sure if you understand, but swimming is IN THE WATER. The water resistance is much worse than air resistance. Of course swimmers swim less mileage; it’s still much harder than other sports do. Furthermore, most practices, the longest rest you will get is two minutes. When I did competitive volleyball (and we got 2nd at the national junior olympics), we would get 10 minute breaks every 45 minutes during practice.


How do these guys still walk 10 years after college? WOW. Yes, I ran cross-country, D3 in the early 1980s. The MOST I did in one week was 10 miles on EITHER Saturday OR Sunday and otherwise it was no more than 5 miles a day…


But does Arther vary his practice or is he just doing junk yardage? Swimmers go through a variety of sets all created for different focuses because technique is very important. We don’t just swim these yards straight. Also, there is a resistance difference between water and land so of course Arther is going to squeak in more yardage. Now that’s just common sense…


In regular season we swam mostly 20k/day over 6 days (actually on saturdays we usually hit more). And by regular season I mean from early November until about February/March depending on your taper schedule.

I don’t diss other sports by comparing; every sport obviously has it’s challenges (the low potential for immediate injury being one of the best perks of swimming compared to heavier contact sports). But in terms of pure distance and unabridged aerobic athleticism, nothing compares and clearly the numbers support my claims.


You must not be a Nordic skier. The University of Wisconsin did an in-depth study and Nordic was unmatched in terms of calories burned and muscles used. Female swimmers on my ski team (as Nordic and Boys’ Swimming are winter sports in Minnesota) have said as much. Don’t get me wrong – I have the utmost respect for swimming as my three boys swim year round, and I struggle in a Masters’ program. I’ve skied plenty of marathon events as well as a solo 24 hour race, yet despite swimming 4-5 times per week, I find it infinitely more difficult. The Madison study, however, tells a different story.

David O

Try wrestling. I you are not in peak physical and mental state you will get beaten every time.
Wreslters have multiples practices. And for swimmers you could practices by yourself. In wrestling you have to find someone to practice with within five pounds of your weight. Not to mention they if the practice partner does not push hard enough it effect your preformance. No knock on swimming but if you apply yourself as hard as you can in any sports the same fatigue will come.


But swimming is the same way. If you did not train to the best of your ability in practice and your not mentally prepared, those few seconds in the water will be absolute torture. As for practice, your wrong. High level swimmers usually endure doubles (both morning and night practices in the same day.) And we do experience more practices than days in a week. Also, swimmers need others swimmers in their lane to push through those grueling main sets. Swimming is more than just doing laps…. but no hate on wrestling, the physics contact on that is incomparable.

Bean ??‍♀️?

Swimming is harder trust me


that is true. I am a highschool swimmer but you got to guve respect to the wrestlers. Everday after practice I see the wrestlers sweating buckets and youy can’t forget how they have to cut weight which is a sport all in its self


Cross-country skiing uses your whole body. Believe it or not, it is the highest number of calories burnt per hour. Yes, I’m a swimmer. However, I also am an exercise physiologist at the Master’s (M.A.) level… 🙂


. . . .’at the Master’s level’ — oops!
. . . . I’ve got 2 of them thangs . . . but pulling out the alphabet soup after one’s name?
. . . . Not Kool! the “thing” is the argument, not the degree(s)


how hard to become a swimmer


Try attending more practices than there are days in a week. Jumping into a freezing pool at 4 in the morning. Enduring a coach that is nit picking your strokes constantly. Making it through a main set that depletes your mental state, kills your cardiovascular system, and makes every last muscle in your body ache. Racing other swimmers until you are at your breaking point. Try swimming butterfly for long distances, sprinting freestyle at unworldly speeds, and holding a perfect breaststroke for an entire mile. Try surviving the competitive at an elite meet or finding yourself in a slump where shaving even a tenth off your race seems impossible. Or struggling to swim a cut for more than half a… Read more »


Yeah, but try convincing my MOTHER of that. She told me once, “Girls don’t want brownies and cookies at your school. That’s why I only send care packages to your Brothers.”



I run, swim, play football, and play basketball. I can tell you that swimming takes the most dedication by far. You spend hours in the pool training in hopes of saving little fragments off of your best time. Swimming is a sport that unless you do it it’s almost impossible to understand

Swim Girl

Some of you might know this, but:
Swimmers do more flips than gymnasts,
More turns than dancers,
More kicks than soccer players,
More sets than a volleyball player,
More yards than a football player,
More dives than baseball players,
More swings than a tennis player,
All while holding our breath.

Or this one:
Swimming is the only sport you get yelled at for breathing.


I’ve done both swimming and cross country competitively seriously, and I can say for a fact that swimming is way more intense. Cross country is hard, but 2 hour practices 5 days a week is nothing compared to 10 practices + dry land every week, especially where I live since there are no heated pools and the water is freezing cold in the winter. I’ve never dreaded cross country practice, but I can say that I’ve almost always dreaded jumping in a freezing pool 10 times a week. It takes an insane amount of dedication to succeed in swimming.

The Grouse

Swimming, schwimming. These comments are generic to ANY sport these days. Nothing special about swimming. What people really DON’T get is the arms race that has transformed all sports over the past 25 years. They try to apply what they think they know about all sports to what the athletes do today. Of course, what they think they know is usually about 25 years behind the times. Off seasons? Yeah, right. Did you just get dropped in from 1990? One-a-day practices? Maybe for 6 year olds, but after that they better find their dedication or quit wasting everyone’s time. Early practices? Sorry swimmer boy, but 6 AM is NOT early. Try playing hockey, speed skating, or any other sport that… Read more »


Hate to break it to you, but yeah swimming is kinda special. Unless you are a pro in your sport, there ARE off seasons. Most sports have ONE practice a day, and it’s not just for six year olds. So don’t come here to a SWIM ARTICLE and act like our sport is as easy as a walk in the park when YOU quite obviously have never swam competitively seriously. We have to work harder, because hate to break it to you but endurance on land means nothing in the water. We have to spend hours upon hours upon hours building up our endurance to act like fish. They while we do that we have to use EVERY muscle in… Read more »


Ok, don’t dis a sport unless you’ve competed in it. True swimming is a sport in which training is hard, but running is no different. And there is no off season in running either; even taking one weekend off is bad. You have to run every day, even in the technical off season. I’m not saying swimming is easy, only that it’s not harder than other sports. Any sport, taken seriously, becomes a lifestyle. And especially in running, if you don’t live and breathe runs you won’t succeed. And don’t even get me started on the flak runners get. NO ONE thinks it’s a hard sport, until they hear about the hour long runs, insane workouts, and runs we do… Read more »


I just came back from a meet today and I can most definitely say swimming takes a lot more dedication than track or cross country ever did combined. I probably won’t do it competitively again this season because of studies but swimming taught me so much more than any other training. Having to plan schedules around pool times compared to a run practically any time of day is also very difficult and frustrating.


You obviously haven’t trained as a competitive swimmer. If you did, you would know that swimming is the only athletic endeavor where an athlete must exploit their aerobic and/or anaerobic systems while being trained and compelled by their will to hold their breath.




just thought I would tell you Grouse, 6am is the LATEST swim practice a swimmer will ever get, which means sleeping in to 5:10 is a blessing


I had practice starting in the morning at 5 am I woke up at 4 and left at 410 so your wrong lucas


I do 8 am practices =P And I only need to wake up at 6:30 at the earliest.


Also, swimmers can do nearly any other sport other than like diving, gymnastics, and stuff…football, baseball, basketball, running, cycling, etc. is a walk in the park for swimmers…and you can’t trash talk swimming unless you have tried it competitively


Swimming is a beautiful sport and I love it to death, but…

Swimmers can do any other sport? At what level? Please… swimmers WHO ONLY SWIM (aka vast majority of high level swimmers) will get lit up in every sport by anyone who’s half decent at that particular sport. 100% of the time.. superiority complex is unprofessional… reminds me of Crossfit.

-Someone with competitive experience in swimming.

Nick Masciandaro

Been swimming for 12 years, currently on a national team, and can’t play basketball for my life


Well, the fact that you can’t play basketball means that you never did any basketball whatsoever. I’m a high-level swimmer and I never did basketball, but I can kick-ass some of the basketball athletes. Just because we’re pretty dedicated to the sport 100%, doesn’t mean we can’t be bad at every other sport. Research shows that if you play a sport high-level, you will succeed at any other sport. Not saying that if you’re a swimmer you’re a kickass ninja in any other sport, this applies to all the sports, except sports that are not really sports, like horse-back riding or parachuting (or whatever it’s called) where you’re not doing the effort. But if you play a sport, you have… Read more »


I have been a competitive swimmer for my whole life – more than 30 years now. I also rode competitively in college. If you think riders don’t do any work up there, you are SORELY mistaken, pun intended.

Let’s stop trashing other sports in an effort to make us look better.


I’m not entering a debate where swimmers can “do any” other sport, but I’ll say when I transitioned away from swimming and into volleyball I had literally zero experience in the sport. At my first away game I missed the ball during hitting lines and it hit me in the face. 9 months later I was the starting strong side hitter on a nationally ranked team. What got me there was the obsessive behavior that led to early mornings/late nights focus on figuring everything out, even being in the gym alone from 7-11pm at night propping balls and working on movements. This type of obsessive behavior into sports I absolutely got from years and years of swim training. I would… Read more »


Yeaahh. What John said is true. While swimmers might have the strength for any other sport, we often lack the coordination needed it for. And endurance on land is way different than in the water.


dont think you realise that all sports have horrendous practices and many sports have more than one practice a day. I do triathlon and I’m doing up to 3 a day from a run in the morning, bike at lunc and a swim in the evening…I agree that there are some points here that are specific to swimmers like the stuff on the board etc. but I can also eat tons too! 😀


My son started swimming when he was six. In those days T16 times were listed for 10&unders, and he had three. Swimming taught him about hardwork, rewards and TEAM at a very young age. He stopped swimming after his 12yr season, but went on to all-conf in HS football and now plays NCAA D1 lacrosse. He will tell you that swimming established his athletic basis for hardwork and focus.

I did not swim, but I can say, swimming was an awesome way for our son to learn how to achieve.

Finally, athletes are athletes — no matter the sport. Would Phelps be a great wide receiver? Maybe. Would Lebron be a great 50-free guy? Maybe.


Either way, the endurance on land should be a joke. If you’ve ever truly been a competitive swimmer, you know that in order to be good, you need to work out in the gym and on land. Every day, I work out in the gym for two hours focusing on things that will benefit me in the pool, and I’m not even in the highest level.


I swim and do Trampoline Gymnastics so yeah…


Well actually not all of those points apply to any sport as you say. For example would a runner have to worry about rather swimming in a cold pool than a hot pool during practice; would cyclists worry about sprinting in a sauna? Do ice hockey players have a specific taper for a big meet, for which they are probably only going to be swimming for 7 minutes. Don’t baseball players and football players have specific on and off seasons for games. And do any non-water sports have a specific “dryland”? No, because they are on dry land! So in conclusion, while some of those points can be pretty generic(morning practice/ qualifying for Olympics/ double days/ defending the sport with… Read more »


Hockey player have five practices in 7 days where most swimmers have 8 in 6. Yes, hockey players are probably the most well rounded athletes apart fro swimmers, but whereas hockey/basketball/football players have their sports in the forefront where anyone can learn about a 1-3-1 zone, a 3-4 coverage, or an open net, swimming is taboo to most people. NOT ONLY THAT, but i frequently have to remind people that while they may only get a 5 minute water break, swimmers only get a 5 second air break.


You are just jealous you are incapable. Don’t be dissing us swimmers just because you don’t have the physical strength yourself.

Big Dog Swims

you lookin to catch this Dong mr. non swimmer female dog

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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