25 Coaches Share What They Think Is The Hardest Event

We all know swimming is one of the hardest sports out there, if not the hardest. But it is often debated what the hardest event in our sport is. What immediately comes to mind? The 400 IM? 200 fly? Mile? Sure, they are the hardest physically. But what about mentally?

The debate continues as 25 coaches share which they think is the hardest event and why. What do you think? Leave your opinion in the comment section below!

  1. While the 200 fly is grueling, I think the hardest event has to be either the 200 meter (long course) breast or the 400 IM. With breast, you’re fighting with the “Ferrari” of strokes, trying to maintain technique, and there is no “muscling it out” option. Trying harder can be like fighting quicksand. So you’re fighting the natural inclination to just try harder. It’s all about discipline. The 400 IM puts you through all your paces. You’re constantly changing strokes. You have to be proficient in all 4 or deal with swimming 100 of your weakest. You never know where challengers will make their move. And those sneaky breaststrokers can make up a lot of ground. It’s the decathlon of swimming. But all done at max effort.
    Brad Robbins, OR
  2. Mentally, the 200 freestyle. The perfect intersection of sprinters and middle distance, where everyone knows they need a better middle 100, but it falls out of practice so easily to swim the right race. It takes great self-awareness to know what gear to hold onto for that one. For a generic swimmer the 200 fly. I feel that the better the swimmer gets (at true racing strokes), the more that shifts over to 200 fly being easier to handle, and the tougher a 200 breast becomes. The stroke of a great 200 breaststroker is very different from a midrange one, and it’s really tough to maintain those explosive mechanics and rhythm over the longest 200 out there.
    David Cameron, MN
  3. 200 Breast, and more specifically, 200 LCM as Brad mentioned. With preservation of momentum off the walls being so important, fewer walls makes that challenge even worse. On the other hand, I find the 400 IM SCY to be more difficult than LCM. There are too many opportunities to hang on the wall. The constant change of direction and strokes is difficult to deal with. If your turns are weak in your weakest stroke, those weaknesses are amplified. You only have to do one of them LCM vs. three SC.
    Michael Clemente, NJ
  4. The 400 IM. Really the distance isn’t the struggle. It’s the combination of turns, proper pacing, and maintaining technique over time that is the challenge. If your turns and stroke transitions are poor, you’re in deep trouble. As you tire out, your technique is definitely going to fall apart. Go out too hard in the Fly, and you’ll be doing too much recovery on the backstroke, and your breaststroke won’t have a hope. Go too easy on the fly and you’re forced to overcompensate on the backstroke, and you may end up spinning your wheels on the breaststroke. You can really see the need for a game plan with the 400, it’s not at all a simple event to swim.
    -Stephen Smith, MI
  5. The 50 Free. Literally zero room for error. Start and stop watch as fast as you can. 10 guys (or girls) touched the wall in that span. 8/10 of those are disappointments every 4 years.
    Ned Swanson, NC
  6. Most coaches overlook the physical and mental demands of the 50 YD Free. It’s easy to say “Oh it’s just two laps,” when in reality you cannot afford to completely clear your mind or overthink, while at the same time exerting 110% of your body’s complete energy. There is no other event where even the slightest mistake (breakout breathing, bad dive, bad finish, etc.) can cost a swimmer that much in their race. All other events have moments where you can regain you lead or improve a bad start, NOT the 50 Free. A successful athlete in the 50 YD Free has to learn how to clear their mind during their race, but at the same time learn how to not make the slightest mistake, ALL while pushing their body to the extreme limit. That is why the 50 Free is the most overlooked event when it comes to the physical and mental demands of this sport.
    Alexander Mareda, CA
  7. I would like to offer up my reasoning for why the 1650 is the hardest event (although I think the 200 fly truly is). As a miler I always found this race, especially not tapered, because how you took it out made all the difference. Every time I thought I could hang with someone much faster than I was every part of my race would fall apart at around 1050 and I had to swim 600 yards both physically and mentally depleted. Being asked to still give 100% when you have nothing left in the tank for like 7:00 or more was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.
    Lucas Hetzel, WI
  8. Michael Phelps swam every event at an elite level and he’s commented that the 400 IM is the hardest event because of the amount of conditioning it required. And he was able to break world records in other events after effectively dropping the 400 IM from his program. Look what happened in 2012, when he tried it. You can’t just show up even if your MP and win in that event.
    Anthony Preda, AZ
  9. The way the 500 free is now swam…to be considered very good, you have to treat it like a sprint. To train for it and then swim it in competition takes both mental and physical preparation.
    Grant Dahlke, IL
  10. Hardest event is the 200 breast. The discipline to hold stroke mechanics, pace and strategies is massive. The nature of the race with breath holding, leg engagement, full body fitness and even explosive quickness with glides makes a great challenge like no other. Evidence: Amanda Beard highlights.
    Mark Rauterkus, PA
  11. 400 IM long course. There is a reason Lochte was broken mentally and physically by it this year at trials and a reason Phelps quit the event. It takes focused training and youth in order for it not to trash your body. Phelps won the gold medal in the 200 fly so that leaves little question as to which is harder.
    Gian Alessandro, MD
  12. The 50 free can be either brilliant or a bust by mere hundredths of a second, since the question was hardest mentally/physically I’m going to have to go with 200 meter breast. 1: being a breaststroker and switching from short course to long course in this event requires drastically different approaches (in my experience and opinion) – maintaining tempo and power between the walls is more challenging than short course and is very hard to get consistently right. 2: breaststroke being the fickle mistress that she is has a lot of room to “leave you in the lurch” in the middle of this race at which point your stroke devolves to a cross between a drowning squirrel and a doomed submarine.
    Caroline Best, GA
  13. 10K Open Water…it is a very long sprint.
    Carol Breiter, CA
  14. The hardest is an individual thing…the event that tests talent and training…the 400 IM.
    Jay Chambers, IN
  15. As an age group coach, I often discover the young/rookie swimmers perceive the swimming the 200yd Free for the first time ever as challenging both physically and mentally. To these young athletes,they face many genuine first timer’s concerns such as fear of miscounting laps, not having enough energy to finish, having to perform seven flip turns, realizing everyone is watching every lap, being passed by another swimmer, choking on water due increases due longer time in water, and numerous other challenges.
    Mickey McNeil, OH
  16. This could go any direction and I don’t think that there is a wrong response. I have always felt that the 200 free and 400 IM are the events that determine the true prowess of a swimmer. The 200 free is the ultimate in speed, endurance, and strategy. Unlike the 200 IM, in the 400 IM you cannot hide any deficiencies in a stroke, and takes pushing human body’s limits to be elite.
    Daniel Wohl, WI
  17. Preparing for a race shouldn’t be any different mentally if it is the mile or 25 yard free. Just race. If someone is a racer, everything else is secondary. Teaching someone this might be the toughest challenge in coaching.
    Brian Dickmann, OH
  18. Hands down – 50 Free.  The 50 free is the one race which has to be performed perfectly.  If it is not performed perfectly, you have no chance.  You have to mentally prepare to have a perfect race.  You have to go over and over and over in your mind what you are going to do, all the way to the very last detail.  Your start, underwater kicks, streamline, breakout, stroke tempo and technique, turn approach and plant, pushoff, underwater kicks, streamline, breakout, and finally the finish.  Each detail has to be perfect and you have to believe that.  Regardless of whether you are racing the clock, or the person next to you, you also have to believe that your perfection is better than the swimmer next to you.  I know that you are supposed to focus on your lane only, but in the 50 free, it becomes a matter of believing that you are faster than the other person, more so in my opinion, than any other race.  Gary Hall Jr. and Anthony Ervin are perfect examples.  They knew before the race even began that they were going to win.  They had perfect mental preparation. Derek Amerman, IL
  19. I would have to say the 200 breast & that leg of the 400 IM are the most difficult for a coach to help prepare an athlete to perform at a high level without stroke breakdown and loss of velocity occurring. The detail in training this stroke to resist such effects of the stresses of these events is monumental. You have got to develop great stroke mechanics and then train them with a high level of intensity, without allowing athletes to fall into a survival stroke. As for the athlete’s mental perception, I believe that varies from athlete to athlete. The great athletes seek new challenges and embrace the concept of “hard” rather than avoid it anyway.
    Raymond Keown, PA
  20. The hardest event is the 200 Freestyle. It is not a sprint but not an endurance event. Physically, you need proper training to be successful. You also need proper strategy. Being too aggressive can hurt you in your 3rd and 4th 50’s. For example, over kicking your first 25, (or 25-35 Meters in LCM), and not breathing enough. On the flip side, taking it out too smooth can set you back. For instance, making your tempo slower than practiced or pacing slower than any of your practice paces in your first 50. You will not be able to get yourself going, instead, you’ll watch as your competitors go by you. With that said, it now becomes a mental game. You then try harder or tend to back off the next time you swim the race. As you find what works it becomes more MENTAL than PHYSICAL.
    John Spadafina, CT
  21. 200 Fly and 50 Free. Let’s face it every race is a mental race, every race is a physical race. There’s simply isn’t a wrong answer. A majority of swimmers or where I am from every swimmer want to swim the 50 Free. 2 swimmers want to swim the 200 Fly.  You can’t make a mistake on the 50 and recover well.  200 Fly is very demanding, just the thought of it is intimidating to most. Finding your rythme is key and when that wall comes up you need to find that confidence and will to push thru it.  Maybe the question should be most rewarding race?
    Melissa Pettit, IL
  22. 50 Free. It has to be swum perfectly, with absolute optimal speed, and even then, you might encounter someone slightly faster or taller where they get a stroke in before you and you eat waves the entire race. –Sean Clothier, PA
  23. 200 fly…it hurts when you go fast and hurts if you go slow. Might as well go fast! –Chris Belair, DE
  24. I am going to read way too much into this, the hardest event for a swimmer is a swim meet.  It doesn’t matter if it is a 1 or multi day event.  The time and effort for any age swimmer giving their best at a meet is more than some adults will do in at their jobs over the same period of time.  It is important that swimmers understand what they put into their sport to just be good.  The hardest event is showing up to a meet and racing every race.
    Jon Cabel, IL
  25. 400 IM. It’s the true test of a great swimmer… 100 of all 4 strokes.  You have to be solid in all 4 strokes if you want to do it well.  You can muscle your way through a 200 IM, but in the 400 IM you have to have the technique to do all 4 strokes well and the endurance to finish the race.
    Sean McCrudden, NJ

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

How is there any doubt or discrepancy the 400IM is the most difficult event? As many legendary coaches have highlighted-you can even look to other events as training events for the 400IM. All the 100’s are your first 50, the 200’s your endurance for the second, events like the mile train you for the back half of a 400IM while the 50’s and 100 free set you up to go out fast.
400IM is the quintessential event that encompasses swimming as a whole.

Reply to  Swammer181
3 years ago

Because there’s an event that almost 4 times longer than it.

Reply to  Swammer181
4 months ago

You know, as in like a form of toughness, then 200 freestyle is definitely the hardest because you cannot swim too slowly nor too quickly, or else you will either add time or either lose energy. In terms of winning a medal, 50 freestyle is the hardest because many people can tie in time. But overall, the 10km marathon swimming is the hardest because there are no lanes and a total of 25 swimmers. It is even tougher when we say: It is in the open water, and the competitors will not be too far behind the leader. It takes AT LEAST 1h 45 minutes to finish, so the muscles can get very sore.

3 years ago

200 back-lots of underwater kicking.

Reply to  Panda
3 years ago

Personally, agree with you here. I wanted to quit on these like no other race (even 200 fly, 400 IM, 1500/1650). Endless agony.

200 breast LCM? Sweet spot. All day. Any day. More please. They can go to hell occasionally, but you never felt like your survival was in question.

Distance Swimmer
Reply to  Panda
3 years ago

Guess all you 200 back strokers out there are just to tough to swim the mile on day 3…

3 years ago

Personally I think the 200free LCM is the hardest events. I dread swimming even though it is one of my better events and the one I train the most for.

About Bryana Cielo

Bryana Cielo

Bryana Cielo Shortly after Bryana Cielo’s birth, she developed her love of water at her family beach house–and hasn’t stopped since. At the conclusion of her swim lessons at age 7, it was recommended that she try out for the local summer swim team. After her first season, she won the …

Read More »