How often should a swimmer practice?

Swimmers are individuals and, therefore, respond differently to training. Some thrive on six practices per week while others, of the same age and ability, struggle with four. Determining the ideal number of practices depends on a number of factors including swimmers’ ability to adapt to the training stimulus. Those who appear challenged, but not overly, should remain with the current level of training while those who are sincerely struggling may be over their heads. Pushing swimmers too far beyond their current physical capacity can bring about undesirable consequences, including high levels of fatigue, injury, a decline in stroke quality, a drop in performance, and a loss of motivation. There is no advantage to giving swimmers more training than they can successfully handle.

Most team structures require that swimmers attend all designated practices. For example, if the “Silver Group” practices five times a week, every swimmer in that group is expected to attend that number of practices. A good coach will monitor swimmers to ensure that the training stimulus is appropriate and make adjustments where needed. If adjustments are not made, parents should arrange a meeting with the coach to discuss their concerns respectfully. Should the issue persist, parents would be wise to allow their child to miss an occasional practice. Though many coaches disapprove of this practice, some children need additional time to adapt. In my view, one size does not fit all and one practice regime does not fit all.

The amount of weekly practices offered differs from team to team. As a general rule, swimmers who compete at the local level should attend three to four practices a week. State-level swimmers should attend at least four to six practices a week. National-level swimmers should attend at least six to eight practices a week. International-level swimmers participate in eight or more practices a week.

Parents must keep in mind that the career of a committed swimmer can last 10, 15, or even 20 years. An excessive number of practices early on can have a detrimental effect over the long term. Finishing strong is more important than starting strong.

Excerpt from Coach Nick Baker’s Book In The Know, available here.