If you’ve pursued a distance or speed goal in swimming, you’re probably familiar with conventional thinking about training--summarized in three catchphrases familiar to all swimmers and coaches:

  • Get the yards in.
  • Get your heart rate up.
  • Move your arms faster.

They’ve become widely accepted because similar prescriptions do work reasonably well in other endurance sports:

  • Runners who increase mileage improve.
  • Cyclists who increase intensity improve.
  • Runners or cyclists who increase leg speed go faster.

But the vast majority of swimmers have very different outcomes. Often, they go slower. And even when they go faster, it’s not for long--because the increased effort isn’t sustainable.

In fact, the only guarantee is that you’ll fatigue faster.

[Don’t forget the millions who have tried and failed to complete even a single pool length: Their hearts were racing, and their arms turning like turbines, when exhaustion stopped them in mid-pool.]

The reason swimming doesn’t work like other sports is because of the Three Percent Problem, a challenge unique to swimming.