Which is harder, sprint or distance swimming?

Which is harder, sprint or distance swimming?

This is something which is often argued amongst swimmers. Who trains the hardest? Who’s got it easier? The list goes on… But which type of swimming is actually harder? Sprinting or distance? We look at the possible arguments for and against both below:

Sprint swimming could be considered more difficult for the following reasons:

Florent Manadou sprint swimming - Tiide Swim

Swim training is more intense 

Generally, sprint training is completed at a higher intensity than distance training. Swimming at ‘race pace’ is very common and is often very difficult. It leads to a massive spike in your heart rate and the quick formation of lactic acid in your muscles. This leaves you feeling a burning sensation throughout your body. For sprinters it tends to build up in higher quantities and is more difficult to break down.

No margin for error

When competing in a sprint race, there is little or no margin for error. Make one mistake, in any part of the race and this can cost you precious time, time which is hard to get back. To swim a good sprint in any stroke, you must have excellent technique. Given how technical swimming is, this is very difficult to completely master. There is no doubt that sprinters need to have impeccable technique in order to swim fast. In a distance race it is easier to make up for small mistakes by having superior fitness and mental prowess. (NOTE: This is not suggesting that distance swimmers do not need a good technique, this is important for them too!)

Lifting weights is required

To be successful in sprinting, gym work is required in order to build more power which you can transfer into the pool, this helps generate more speed. This is normally done when an athlete is fully developed (in terms of body growth) to reduce the chance of injury. This adds a new element of difficulty to swimming, as you now have to swim with muscle DOMS as well! 

Distance swimming could be considered more difficult for the following reasons:

Katie Ledecky distance swimming - Tiide swim

Swim training is longer

Generally, a distance swimming program is a much higher volume that sprint training, you can swim upwards of 70,000m per week. This requires true mental grit and a body which allows you to keep going for as long as your body can handle. Swim training becomes a mental game, and a tough one at that. You still build up lactic acid, but you have to keep going because that’s what you do. Just because the sessions are longer doesn't mean that you can swim at a lower intensity, oh no! The coach wants it to be on race pace too, right on the edge of your bodily limit.

You need to lift weights even more

Forget 6-8 reps of exercises in the gym, you have do do more. More reps, more sets, more pain and more swimming on top of that! You better be able to recover fast…

You need to be mentally strong

When the sprinters are having their long rest periods and short sets, all you can do is dream to be them. Whilst they climb out at the end of their session, you have another 3000m to do. You have to be mentally strong to keep going. Racing often becomes a battle of will and who is willing to push that little bit further.

There is an age old argument amongst swimmers over who is the best, sprint or distance? Read SwimSwam’s article here. We found this sums up the argument very well.

We find that it is very hard to decide between the two. All swimmers are due credit for doing what they do day in and day out! What do you think is harder? The sprint life? Or the distance life? Comment with your thoughts below…

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