Why Swim the Individual Medley: Thoughts for Team Swimmers

Gretchen is a FOSS alumna and former U.S. record holder in the breaststroke. She shares her thoughts on swimming, parenting and life with our readers.
As much as I loved swimming breaststroke, the individual medley (IM) was one of my favorites. The medley was truly an event where I could focus on my strengths and weakness and become more of a well-rounded swimmer, versus the focus on one stroke.

To have success at the IM was to know where to push yourself specifically or pace yourself to balance the distance and your proficiency in a stroke. I loved training IM because practices had more variety and were less mundane. I became good at the transition from one stroke to another (called turns) and I was constantly challenged to learn and improve.

I believe it is important to become well-rounded. If you just focus all your training around just one or two strokes, you not only will become mentally drained, but also increase your risk of injury because all that repetition puts all the wear and tear on specific muscle groups and joints. Sure, you will still have strokes that you like more and you’re better at, but for mind and body, it’s important to have proficiency at all four strokes.

Individual Medley Overview

Here’s a quick recap of the four strokes in the IM and my personal experience with them.

  • Butterfly: I loved this stroke and but knew I only had a limited stamina for it. I was thankful that it was the first stroke of the IM! Having a great start and underwater kick at the beginning would set me up for the rest of the event. I focused on breathing every other stroke and getting a strong kick in and out of the walls
  • Backstroke: From the beginning, backstroke was always a difficult stroke and definitely the weakest part of the IM for me. I would choose to count in a rhythm to make sure that I had a fast turn over. The transition from back to breaststroke was my favorite turn so this was an area that I practiced a lot. I knew I had to work each wall to keep my pace.
  • Breaststroke: Of course this was my favorite part! My underwater pulls were an area of strength so off each wall I would use this to my advantage. Stretching out my stroke and finishing my kick was an area of focus for me.
  • Freestyle: This is the final leg and whatever energy or strength I had left went into this. I knew that if I was able to keep a consistent and strong kick the minute I came off the wall, I would be able to hang on to where I was in the race. I focused on finishing my stroke each time because I knew that my stroke tended to become short when I was tired.

Tips for new medley swimmers

So hopefully I’ve convinced you to try the medley! Here are a couple of words of advice as you get started:

  • Focus. Don’t try to be an expert at everything at once. Pick one or two things that are areas of focus for each stroke that you need to work on at a time.
  • Work on turns. Becoming really great at turns and transitions from stroke to stroke is key to becoming a good IM’er.
  • Experiment with pace. You don’t want to burn all your energy on a weak stroke, but you also don’t want to fall so far behind you can’t make it up with your stronger strokes. Your coach will help you find balance.
  • Have fun! Enjoy the variety and the chance to learn from teammates who have different strengths.

Good luck!

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