What Is A Good Time For My Age?

What is a good time for my age? is one of the most common questions we are asked at Swim Smooth and, to be honest, it's a question we find uncomfortable to answer. That's because it's a bit of a loaded question.

L-R: Suzi, Barry, Brian, John, Emmie
One of the most important duties of a coach (of any type) is to help remove barriers from someone's progress and absolutely never introduce new barriers that were not there to begin with. Normally a swimmer asking this question is looking for an easily achievable target, perhaps one slightly quicker than their current speed, that they can achieve and be happy with. On the face of it this may seem virtuous but such an answer creates a very self limiting mental state that can stay with the swimmer forever: I can't be any better because of my age.

Whether you are 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80 by looking at the age-group world records you will see some scarily quick times. As one quick example, the men's 75-79 100m record is a 1:06 - amazing! The records show us that there really isn't much of a slow-down as the years go by, at least not nearly as much as you might be hoping for. Your stroke technique, consistency of training and mental approach are much bigger factors at play here than your age. Just like the average 25 year old swimmer looking at Michael Phelp's personal bests, there is huge headroom for nearly any swimmer to improve, regardless of age.

We are lucky enough in Perth to have some very good age group swimmers training within the Swim Smooth squads. We conducted an impromptu interview with three of them - Brian, John and Barry (63, 63 and 75 years young respectively) after this Monday's 9:30am squad session. Take a listen, you might find some of their experiences and perspectives quite inspiring as they are still looking for PBs. These guys train very hard and very consistently but you can certainly tell from the interview that they have a lot of fun along the way which is the real secret to great age-group swimming. Take a listen here: www.swimsmooth.com/senior-swimmers-interview.html

So how do we answer the question what is a good time for my age? We strongly suggest you forget your age and just think just of yourself and your current swimming. Where are you at now and what's a good target for for the next six months? Once you achieve that goal then set yourself a new target. You might be very surprised just how far you can progress - perhaps showing some of those twenty year olds a clean pair of heals along the way!

Swim Smooth!


Mike Kay said...

Good point in the post. As I am approaching my 50th birthday I see that compared to great open water swimmers I am just getting to my prime age-wise.

This also begs the question, how does one get faster? I have been working on my technique, including watching your DVD's which are great. I assumed that improving my technique would naturally lead to faster swimming, and that focusing on the time would not be as effective. Nevertheless I have improved my technique a lot over the past year, swimming better than I ever have, while training consistently 3X per week, but my speed has improved only slightly. Are there other things specifically to focus on to improve times?

DD Bedell said...

As a new swimmer at age 69, I find this blog on keeping "time" in perspective to be very helpful. Loved the audio of the old guys. Very motivating!

Jim said...

Enjoyed listening to the chat amongst the lads. You come to realize that a lot of the age gremlin is in your mind. -The biggest challenge is staying the course...even if it's for a shortened workout. Thanx guys & girls. A Happy Christmas to All!

Jim Malina(59)
Los Angeles

Anonymous said...

That's a valid point, however I would love to see swimming publish 'age graded tables' as running does. For example, here:

This is calculated by taking the age based world records.

These are VERY useful, they tell you many things -
- at 60-70% you are 'good for your local area', at 70-80% your 'good for you state/distict', at 80%+ your nationally level.
- it lets you compare a performance via age, so when I run say a 5K in 20 minutes and i'm 44, how does that compare to when I was 30? ...hence, age grouping awards
- it actually can tell you your 'best distance' based on genetics, as often your better at distances you don't train at due to slow or fast twitch dominance (less relevant to swimming, but still useful)

For example I took up freestyle 2 years ago at 43, having never learnt it. I selected 400m for potential sprint tri, and couldn't break 8.30 ...I read your site, and worked on technique, and got down to 8munute, now down to 7.30 ...I think I can get to 7.00 'eventually' ..is that good?don't know .. it beats most people in my age group at tri's ..but they are POOR swimmers I notice!(need to read your site!) ... but my wife can swim 6.30 ...so, and I know couple guys my age who swim 5.XX! ..so ..age % would give me 'perspective'!! and realistic targets.

BTW - Thanks for the site, its best on the web on swimming technique!

Ganeshan said...

This is a great blog. I learnt to swim as a kid but not the correct techniques. When my doctor wrote me a prescription, in Aug 2008, to treat cholesterol and pre diabetes I decided to go swimming and have been gradually improving my swimming. My cholesterol and pre diabetes are gone and I take no pills. I am 'younger' than the three guys in the video but slower than them in the pool. I am 62. Nevertheless, I enjoy swimming just like they do and I wish more people take up swimming (or other exercises) and keep fit.
Ganeshan, Auckland, New Zealand

Rudolf said...

If these weren't words of wisdom i don't know what else could be, almost made me jump in joy....
Lets keep on zooming up and down these lanes until we beat those pesky fast "high performance juniors".
Don't you just hate it when someone swims faster than you, half your age and half your size :-)

Adam Young said...

Thanks for all the messages guys! Keep up the good work!

MikeQue, what have you been focusing on in your technique work and your training?

Hi Anonymous, yes that would be great wouldn't it - I think the issue is that there's not enough swimmers of all abilities racing the different swimming distances whereas plenty of people run 5, 10, 42kms etc.

Adam Young
Swim Smooth

RedWellies said...

These are great to hear. Living proof that you can keep motivation and stay hungry, so impressive.

Having taken up freestyle at 39, I hope I will be faster at 50 than 40! Out of the 3 tri disciplines I think swimming's the most interesting. "Funny" how one week I'm trundling along happily having discovered the point at which I can reach maximum propulsion, and a couple of weeks later I am back to 22 strokes in 25 metres and having visions of being drowned in a swim start because I struggle with ladders...plenty to keep me occupied for the next 40 years!

Anonymous said...

just listened to your interview.

I too came to swimming late, 40yr, when I did my first squad. Now swim 4-5 times a week.

I often pondered what times are good times. Not having competed as a kid I would never be able to get anywhere near those amazing Masters times.
I came up with this...If over 30yrs you must be able to beat your age for 50m...After a 2 km swim. If over 40 when the sprinting goes and endurance seems more important. "Birthday swims each year" That is if you are 45yrs you need to do 45 x 50m on 45sec. 48yr 48X50 on 48sec etc..

Pawl said...

A somewhat on-point question -- I'm a middle-aged intermediate.

I wonder if you could comment on how to tell what sort of balance to strike between working on technique and drills to build strength and endurance. Is there a way to tell what ratio is most beneficial at a given point?

(I'm guessing that I need a coach to watch me swim in order to get the best answer for me, but I thought I'd see if you had any general comments.)

Thanks; this site has benefited me enormously!

Adam Young said...

Hi Pawl,

In 90+% of cases it's worth splitting your training time 50/50 between technique and fitness work. You need to be fit to maintain good technique and you also need good technique to swim quick so this for most swimmers this is the most effective balance.

Hope that helps!

Adam Young

Pawl said...

Thanks, Adam. And best wishes for the New Year!

make your own word search said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

i fully agree that with the comment that you should focus on your own swimming and targets. i am going to be 50 in few days from now and have been swimming since age 11. but regularly i started since age of 30( 5 times a week). these days i am able to do 2 kms in 50 minutes( non stop) in a 50 meter training pool and i am sure it is decent because i find most of my age guys can not do more than 1 km and younger guys are fast but take breaks. what do you say?

Adam Young said...

Hi unknown, happy birthday for a few days time! When you say "these days" do you think you've slowed down as the years have gone by? If so I doubt that has much to do with your age - I think much more likely a gradual deterioration in your technique and developing some bad habits as the years have gone by. I say that from the perspective of a 48 year old who works with a lot of adults in their 40/50/60/70s.

Yes you're doing just fine (and if you're happy then please do carry on just as you are) but I'm sure with the level of effort you are putting in (swimming consistency 5 times per week) there's plenty of improvements you can make to your speed. I'd be extremely surprised if by working on the right things you shouldn't be closing in on 40 minutes (or faster) for a continuous 2km swim.

Are you following any sort of structure or plan with your swimming right now?

Yes there are certainly plenty of young-guns in public sessions who love to sprint - i'm not sure if this is anything to do with their age from a physiological perspective - more they just want to look and feel fast and don't know any other way!

Anonymous said...

Hi Adam Thank you for your kind wishes..( did not knew how to publish my name). i Do not know whether it is deterioration or old age or bad habits. till last year i was doing only 1 km a day which was in flat 17-18 minutes( free style). from 1st Feb( my pool is closed in dec. and jan.) this year i have doubled the distance and it is mix of 1 km free style and 1 km breast stroke. free style is taking 20 minutes and breast stroke is taking around 30 minutes.

i also do a walk of 3 kms before i starting the swim. there is no structured plan

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