Slower times with aging

In my youth (ages 9-18), I swam for a club team in the summers and was really only a middling swimmer. I never swam year round and focused on other sports. We only swam SCM back then. I had a 1:22.5 best in 100 m breaststroke and a best relay split of about 35.5. In freestyle, I swam only the 50 in the relay on occasion and I clocked in about 28.7.

After a 35 year layoff, I got back into swimming in 2012. I was pleasantly surprised to go under 40 in 50 m breast (39.42 my first time at age 54, and a masters PB of 38.82 in a non-sanctioned meet at age 60!) and I got down to 30.37 in 50 m free at age 55. In yards, I did 35.11 in 50-breast, and 15.47 in 25 yard breast the same day, which is the best time listed for that year (I understand many serious swimmers skip this event, so I take it with a grain of salt, but I still think it is a very good time). I once did 39.8 in LCM at 60, which I was also pretty happy with.

I'm now 65. After still getting under 40 last summer in a non-sanctioned SCM meet (39.55), at age 64, I did 41.28 this year. In 50 m free, I did 32.10 last summer at 64 and 33.28 this year. My training was not a lot different. I'm guessing some of it could be hand-held timing which is done mostly by teenagers and is probably a bit unreliable, but assuming these times are accurate, is slowing down this much expected? It looks like the difference in world record times between the 60-64 and 65-69 age groups in 50 SCM breast is about 2.73 seconds, but this doesn't necessarily mean anything (Rick Colella is a former Olympian and a great swimmer, but Arturo's times are insane). Increasing almost two seconds in a year is pretty disappointing. 

So I guess I have two questions: 1) Is this normal and should I just accept the inevitable 2) Is there anything I can do to slow down or even reverse aging (as a swimmer). I'm already taking a ton of supplements, including P2Life, and I've lost a lot of weight and kept it off. 

  • I started a thread about this before and Jim Thornton did a Swimmer article on this. Until sometime in the 60s one can slow at a slight linear rate, but at a certain point the curve becomes quadratic. If you can come up with a way to change that, let me know. At 62 I set the WR in the 200 BR LCM at 2:50.44. At 65 I set the WR at 2:56.96. At the time I wasn’t as proud of the second one, but lots of people have beaten the first time whereas Colella has beaten the second. At 70 I set the NR of 3:06.10. That time is holding up pretty well too. I wish I could slow down slowing down. 

  • I’m currently 62 years old. I’ve been swimming for fitness, and competitive open-water/triathlon since I was about 20 years old. I was never really a competitive pool swimmer, but I have always done various pool workouts. Even into my late 40s, I could swim the 100m free in around 1:00. (I know that’s not fast for most of you. But again…I was never a competitive team/pool swimmer.) When I’d do a pool workout of something like 16x100m or 32x100m, I’d usually set my 100m sets target times to around 1:15 to 1:20. Back then…I thought I’d be able to do that for the rest of my life. I could swim a timed mile (1600m) in the pool in about 22:00 minutes. I actually got under 20:00 now and then. I always had an odd way to kind of determine how fast I was swimming that wasn’t really related to the clock. Bubbles. The amount of my own bubbles I’d swim into after a flip turn, and push off the wall. Like the seconds creeping in over the decades, the bubbles have mitigated. Boy how I long for those days. And now, in my early 60s, I still swim just as much. But, I’m lucky to get under 1:25 for a 100m, and 30:00 for a mile. But…I look on the bright side. I’m still churning up water. I can still go out and do a three-mile+ open water swim with relative ease. It just takes me a little longer.


  • this is Definitely an area that I am interested in. I have been swimming for about a year now after a 24 year lay off from the sport.

    I’ll probably be looking for some books / articles . I am always utilizing  my coaches advice. I also try to do a good amount of dry land / weight lifting. I’ll do anything to help myself - improve sleep, utilize massage and maximize healthy eating / nutrition. I have a bad habit of refusing to taper back my workouts before meets. 

  • You're asking to overcome the 2nd law of thermodynamics - Entropy, and also to overcome Newton's Law and Gravity. Basically, you can't. I believe a good diet and proper exercise will slow the decline, but your current physical condition, environment, and genetics undoubtedly have significant impacts too. I've read in a highly regarded Tri training manual that changing your diet to lower your pH can slow the process of aging after mid-life. Others have indicated this is unproven. The Mediterranean diet provides longer life, presumably because of slower aging. But I don't think it means you will be able to compete faster for longer.

  • Skiboy,

    Short answers to your questions:

    1) Adding time is normal and inevitable.  A combination of loss of muscle mass, reduction in VO2 max, lung capacity, etc..  And, other lurking health issues.  Some defy the evitable longer than others, but eventually, it catches up to everyone.

    2) You can slow the slow down by maintaining strength as much as possible (lifting weights),  maintaining mobility/flexibility through stretching to reduce the impact of tightening tendons, ligaments, and onset of arthritis, and by including fast swimming in your training.  

    3) Avoiding injury is the best way to slow the slow down.  Be smart about lifting and stretching and training.  And, allow recovery time.  All of these are unique to you - there is no single answer to any of this.  Try to avoid extended time off without some kind of physical activity that elevates your heart rate.  Time away from swimming when we're younger is much easier to come back from than 65+.

    4) Accept the fact that health issues creep up.  Since turning 65 (4 years ago), I have encountered cardiac issues, more persistent anemia, an essential tremor, shoulder pain from arthritis (stretch has helped this), a total knee replacement, and being a care giver have all kept me away from training.  Of course, losing 12 months to the pandemic was the worst.

    5) Continue to work ALOT on technique.  Losses in strength (especially bicep and tricep) and flexibility (shoulders, back, and ankles) negatively affect strokes, turns, streamlining, etc.. 

    6) As you slow down, you may think competing is a waste of time.  It is NOT because being with like-minded people will motivate you.  I need to take my own advice in this regard.  :)

    Hope this helps a little.  Good Luck.


  • Great response!:) I too have come back after a 35 year hiatus from swimming collegiately for a D1 school. I am almost 58 and starting to work with a PT physiotherapist to address back arthritis issues that hinder me. I think it’s important to reduce inflammation with diet and seek out treatments to get range of motion improvements. Logically, I would surmise that will affect speed but idk. Still a work in progress!!!

  • I've got all of the above and then some: type II diabetes (that onset before I got back into swimming), hypertension. I've had asthma all my life, but it's not severe. I've not had cardiac issue per se, but I've got a high calcium score and therefore plaque...I'm on a statin and Repatha. I've got degenerative disc disease, likely brought on by aging, but also by years of engaging my other passion, which is skiing---(I also race in that sport). I definitely feel like I never recovered from the pandemic. Even after the pool opened back up, we were at first restricted to 30 minute swims, since only person at a time could be in a lane.  I try to avoid layoffs, but its especially hard on vacations. 

  • I think we talked about skiing before on these boards. You were the guy who lived in Woodbury for a bit (I'm originally from West Deptford), if memory serves, and I think you knew Rick Brown, Shafer Henry, Dave Thompson (all swim teammates back in the day). Am I right? 

  • Skiboy - you definitely can appreciate the impact of health issues!

  • I'm also 65 and I'd just be happy to be swimming at all, at any speed.  After getting into it for the past 5 years doing open water training and an annual 2- mile event, I've got some seriously messy shoulders to contend with.  I face surgery.   I'd give anything just to be swimming.  So time to focus on what you have not what you don't have!