Returning to swimming stagnant on speed

A few years back I was big into discussions on this forum.  Forum usage seems to have slowed down a lot but I'll give it a shot anyway.  I'm about 4 months back in the pool.  In 2015 I was holding sub 1:10's per 100 for a 60 minute timed swim.  From 2016-2019 I swam periodically with no focus.  From Dec 2019-April 2020 I had focus back and getting back down to that 1:10 per 100yd pace then COVID shut everything down.  4-5 months ago I started to put the time in again because I can't run anymore.  I am fricken' stuck!!  I am struggling to pace 1:15.  I can pace 1:17's for a 12x500 long set but if I do 10 x 100  on 1:30 I will die trying to stay below 1:15.  I have been struggling with this for about 8 weeks.  I did have covid back in dec 2020 and was pretty sick for a few weeks and then really struggled with cardio for months.  Now I have the awesome experience of a pretty serious anxiety attack during warmup if I start out too fast.  I am curious if anyone else has experienced this, not so much the anxiety but the major plateau.   I am swimming 3-4x a week, 3000-4500 on most day with a paced endurance day of 6500+ .  I am a life long endurance swimmer and love open water racing (not training).  I am a 46 yo male so I know age has it's hurdles but hell.... not this much right?  I am starting a new block of monday-Sat  as m-Swim, t-swim, w-lift, th-swim, fr-swim, s-lift.   

Is anyone else dealing with this? Any help would be appreciated.  

  • Cmonster,  although I am  quite a bit older than you, I am a lifelong endurance swimmer who averaged over 1 million years a year for than 50 years until covid ended that streak.  At your age, I was doing the same pacing and occasional mega sets like 100 x 200 on 3:00 (coming in at 2:25.

    Post covid, my struggle is the same as you describe.  While my anemia might contribute, I think my VO2 max was significantly affected by the lack of intense exercise for 15 months.  I don't feel any chest pressure, so don't think this is a cardiac issue.  I just get out of breath after doing a 100 coming in at 1:30 unless I do open turns.  Need 25-30 seconds to recovery enough to go again.  Disappointed

    My suggestions - give it more time because 8 weeks in not a long time at your age, maybe check your iron and hemoglobin levels.  Besides a loss of VO2 max, your lactic acid tolerance probably took a big hit, so you might have to do some longer rest, higher intensity sets to regain some threshold capacity.

    Yes, it sucks and very frustrating.

    Good luck.


  • Thanks, I was thinking some vo2 work was on the horizon too.  My bike vo2 is fine, actually better than before covid but I stopped cycling about 8 weeks ago because my knee pain was relentless.  Obviously my running days are gone.  I am a candidate for knee replacements but my insurance company would rather I become an opioid addict first...  I don't take pankillers so I have to cut back on the bike.   Maybe if i add it back in some it will help along with the vo2 in the pool.  Bloodwork on everything else is normal.     

    I get that same feeling where i need more rest between sets.  If I try to push it I get to the point where i feel like I'm not getting enough oxygen.  At least I'm not crazy.  

  • First -  if you want info (or just chat), I had my knee replaced 17 months ago (bone on bone).  I did alot of research before and after.  Glad to share.  I used to bicycle alot, but gave it up due to pain.  Post TKA, I can bike without issues (in or out of the saddle).  Regardless of your leg strength though, the procedure does a number on all the muscles of the leg, so focused and extensive rehab is critical.

    Your comment about bike VO2 being ok begs another comment/question - are you exhaling as completely when swimming as you do on the bike?  After Covid (AC) and KTA, my exhaling has been shallow (laziness) compared to BC when I was forcefully exhaling from the diaphragm.  This leads to a build up of CO2 which is the trigger for breathing.  For the past 4-5 weeks, I have concentrated on making forceful and deep exhaling a habit again and think it is helping.


  • I'll focus a little more on my breathing tonight.  When I was competing regularly in open water I would breath almost every stroke but that was part of my rhythm and sighting.  Now I breathe almost every stroke because I just don't feel like i'm getting enough air.  Just a thought, i may take a look at blood ox saturation while I swim.  During covid it dropped a little, like 92-95% which isn't alarming.  

    Although I am a candidate for knee replacement my insurance won't cover it.  If it's not going to get me running again I'll stick with pain management for as long as possible.  I already had cadaver bone with good cartilage implanted but it only lasted 2.5 years and I still couldn't run.  I can ride at a lower intensity forever without pain but once I'm closer to 300w I think the higher stress on the joint has too much of a cumulative effect.  but that's the spot that builds my vo2 so it's a catch 22.    

    Like I said I'll pay more attention in the pool tonight.  This week is kind of looking like it's only going to be a 3 swim (13k) week unless I can magically motivate on a Friday morning of a 3 day weekend.   

  • I'm a little older than you (49), but I only took up swimming about 6 years ago.  I have experienced similar swings, but it is hard to know what all is going on with me, because I was balancing improving with fighting age.  Then COVID hit.  What I have found is that, as COVID sent me into a period hwere I trained for stupid long distances, my pool swimming went to crap.  Oh yeah, and constant interruptions.  Most recently, my knee, as well.

    So first thing I would do is stop beating up yoursefl.  You aren't 39 any more.  Stop benchmarking your 39 year old self.  

    I do a lot of Hackett sets.  I modify them for open water training.  Normally it is like this:

    4X(3 pace A, 1 pace B) 50's on :45

    4X(2 pace A, 1 pace B) 50's on :50

    4X(1 A, 1B) on :55

    4Xpace B on 1:00

    So a total of 40 50's.  The way it is written is that the Pace A is supposed to be the 1650 pace, and B the 500.  I push it a bit harder, and try for 500 and 200, but I'm a little slower.  The goal is more than 5, but less than 10 seconds of rest.  I've been at points where I'd like to try to drop down to :40, but not quite there.  I start out coming in at :35-36, but taper off to :37's.  When I'm not in top shape, I fall off to :38's by the end.  My pace B's would start out :32-33, but fall off gradually coming close to :35 by the end.

    When I'm working distance, I'll do 75's instead, and go at 1:10's, 1:15, 1:20, and 1:30.  Doesn't work out perfectly, but okay.  I'll also do a normal set, then reverse it and walk down backwards at the same intervals (but often have to bump the last 16X50 to :50.  And I have done 100's, starting at 1:40, increasing by 10.

    I think the varied pace helps.  I think by swimming 50's, you can keep that form and stroke count for a little more distance than you can swimming 100's.  

    Your knee may be more impactful than you realize.  I just started gel injections last week.  I've had to stop everything.  Running ws first to go, then biking.  But UDK's hurt, as well.  And it is the point where pushing off of the wall hurts, though often I don't hurt until I'm done, and I can't sleep as after I've been lying down for a couple of hours, I wake up with sharp, shooting pains in my knee and I have to get up and walk around for a while, then ice it down.  Not sure if you've had an MRI or have been officially diagnosed, but I'd encourage it.  I'm hoping in another month or so I'll be able to resume.  But you may not be hitting the walls as hard as normal, which can have a huge impact on your pacing.  May be subconscious, as well.

  • I've gone through the whole process, mri, injections, PT, OCA of the left knee and there's nothing left.  I shortened up the sets last week and will continue this week.  I should see a difference by middle of next week if that's what I needed.  Breathing still becomes an issue.  This weekend I'm hoping to get up to the lake and get a few miles open water in, lake temps are in the upper 60's so we will see what the effect is on HR and BP as I get warmed up.  

  • Yo, so I figured I'd follow up.  I changed my workouts and decreased send off times and repeat sets.  My pool times were coming down and I was feeling better.  Then they switched the pool to long course and I am still getting used to it.  I swan a 6 mile open water last weekend (in a river with current) and once again had issue with breathing in the beginning and fatigue after about 40 minutes.   I'm going to post a bigger question on the forum because I know others are having this issue.