6 Things That Happen After A Year Off Of Swimming

Written and courtesy of Hillary Atkinson.

As many of you know, taking time out of the sport of swimming can be tough. Getting back into the sport of swimming…even tougher. I was a competitive swimmer from age 6 to 21. When my senior year of college swimming ended, of course I was ready to be done. Who isn’t?! But it didn’t last very long (about 1 month to be exact) until I was back in the pool. I did not train the way I used to. Nor did I swim frequently enough to build back all the endurance and strength that I used to have. In fact, I was only swimming about once a week for 30 minutes at a time…nothing nearly close to the 3 hour practices, 6 days a week that I did in college. But no matter whether I went a week or a month between workouts, I could always find my rhythm in the water. Swimming was always natural. I may not have been as fast or as strong as I used to be, but I would always feel like I still had it.

Then, this year, I stopped swimming. I’m not sure why. Maybe I felt that I finally needed that long break that everyone talks about. Or maybe it was that I was too busy with my job. But whatever the reason, it was a terrible one. A retired swimmer should never stay out of the water too long! Here are 6 realizations I had while struggling through the 2,000 yards that I swam for the first time in over a year.

  1. Your legs basically become inactive in the water. Not that my legs were ever my strength. But seriously, I couldn’t coordinate my kicking with my arms. I was just trying to stay afloat!
  2. Even if you do yoga-type classes or frequent stretching, your body will forget how to be flexible. Streamline hurts. Yes, even something as natural as a streamline. My shoulders felt like they’ve been stuck at my sides for ages, which made streamlining feel very unnatural.
  3. You forget how to keep track of your laps. I used to be the one who always knew how many laps into the set we were. I even knew how many laps into the set the people 3 lanes away on a different interval were. I love math and my brain just works that way. But after a year off, I could barely keep track for a 2,000! For all I know, I swam more than that!
  4. Good news. You will not forget how to feel the water. You definitely won’t feel as strong, even if you continue to lift weights. But your natural stroke technique will always come back.
  5. Your off strokes may become your best strokes. Seriously! I used to be a backstroker and you’d never believe how much my shoulders hurt after swimming some easy backstroke. My breaststroke used to be terrible. Trust me. If you’d ask any of my past coaches, they would tell you they never wanted to sit around to wait for me to complete a breaststroke set. But something amazing happened after a year off. I became a breaststroker! My breaststroke felt so smooth. I felt like I was flying through the water!
  6. You will definitely not miss the goggle marks that stay on your eye sockets for at least 12 hours after your workout. (Or maybe you will.)

Good luck to anyone trying to get back into it! It is definitely an experience that I never thought would happen to me. And I hope it doesn’t happen to any of you. Swimming is a great lifetime sport and a competitive swimmer should never let that go.

Hillary’s Bio:

Hillary Atkinson is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She swam for Trident Swim Club/Diplomat Swim Club since she was 7 years old. In high school, she also swam for the Hempfield Swim Team. In college, she swam for Towson University. After college, she came back and coached for Diplomat Swim Club.

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5 years ago

I took 15 years off. The first workout was an 850. Then up and up until I was doing endurance races. As a kid, I was always put in the sprint events, but I’m a terrible breather. Now that I choose the workouts and races, I’m racing open water and coaching and teaching lessons. You take some time off, and you might find out you are a whole different swimmer. Don’t just swim the same thing every season, every year. Flex all those muscles, switch it up. Good luck.

5 years ago

I swam on a competitive team from 5 to 18. Then I just stopped. Totally burned out. At 49 I decided to do a Sprint triathlon. Now I had continued to work out in different avenues. But getting back in the pool to train for a tri was eye opening. I was thrilled when I could do a 1000 meters in a half hour. I thought I was not going to be able to finish a 25 meter fly. Which was one of my strokes. Although after all the struggles to get back into ​the swing of things, I have continued to swim a couple times a week and I enjoy being back in the water. After all I am… Read more »

5 years ago

Recently back to competitive swimming at Masters level, after leaving college swimming around 5 years ago…only 3 months back into it and starting to see some progress but man its an uphill struggle! Could relate to this post – speed slowly coming back but flexibility/fitness need some work! Frustrating but ultimately a fantastic feeling to be back into regular training and in the pool again!

5 years ago

Nice article, Hillary!

Peter Ratcliff
5 years ago

I have only been swimming for 5 years cold water in London, UK. I have lost speed and strength after a three month break but am accepting it and enjoying less obsessive swimming. It really is not do important. What is the really bad one is not reading the Bible for a while. We can live without swimming but as Jesus said, we cannot live on bread alone but on every word of God.

Reply to  Peter Ratcliff
5 years ago

I stopped reading the bible when I was 10 & got mocked at Sunday School for wearing the same dress every week . I received a new summer one & a winter one each year . WTH – how many dresses do you need for church ? It wasn’t the dresses but they hated poor ppl & still do .

On the other hand I had the same red nylon speedo for 3 years including races & weekends & no one iever mentioned it . Give me swimming any day .

Reply to  Peter Ratcliff
5 years ago

How did we get from swimming to Jesus? Jesus walked on water, he didn’t swim in it.

5 years ago

You think that first workout after a year hurt, you should try taking 27 years off! Even with open turns where I hung on the wall to steal a couple extra breaths, 500 yards felt like a 10k marathon open water swim….and took nearly as long. too.

It’s all good, now, though. I don’t expect I’ll ever be as fast again as I was at 18. But were I to swim against my 15 year old self, I’d give the younger me all I could handle in most events.

5 years ago

I have very similar effects if I miss more than two practcie in a row.

Reply to  50free
8 months ago

yes, I can agree
but after a week back into the sport you feel good as new.