Two Month Break Minimum Rule

Photo by Kevin Liles – USA Today Sports

By Dr. G John Mullen

SANTA CLARA, California, August 4. AS I enter my 20 or so year involved with swimming, I’m gaining an appreciation for the commitment of the swimmers, coaches, officials, and all those involved. Like most sports, many involved go unrecognized for their countless hours of work, thought, and dedication. Unfortunately, 24/7/365 commitment is neither workable, nor healthy for anyone, especially the swimmer.

During consultations, I’m often approached about when to start resistance training or what to-do with an injured 8-year-old. These areas are well within my expertise and I’m happy to assist these tough questions. Now, I wish to ask a question, why are clubs having swimmers train 12 months a year?

When I think of the problems of performing swimming without a break, two main issues arise:

1) Physical Stress: Swimmers, like all sports, has it’s inherent stresses. Research suggests 14-year-olds have shoulder muscular imbalances. Is having them perform the same motions all year best for these imbalances which increase injury risk? Also, if the body is only taught the same motor skill, will the body learn more skills later in life? Will year-round youth swimmers be capable of adjusting their strokes as they mature? Do older swimmers have accumulated stress from years of training. If we want elite older swimmers, less physical stress during their youth is mandatory.

2) Psychological Stress: Performing one activity puts a mental drain on any athlete. If someone is putting their body through the demands of professional athletics, they need a mental break. Think about NFL and NBA players, they have a set off-season where a break occurs. In swimming, some of the greats (ie Michael Phelps), have the mental capacity to swim for a few years without a break. However, an overload eventually occurs, requiring a break. If you are Michael Phelps, you may be able to return to elite swimming after n elongated break. This works for Phelps, but more frequent, short breaks can provide mental breaks for elongating a career. Many swimmers currently don’t compete as long as other athletes (most finishing at 18 or 22 years), a future problem as more money enters the sport. Honestly, I think swimming federations should spend more money keeping swimmers involved in the sport until their mid- to late-twenties. Unfortunately, most governing bodies put more resources into teenage swimming [which is also great]. This emphasis limits the time for most swimmers to compete during their peak strength range (typically mid-twenties). I cringe when I think of all the great swimmers who may have hit a best time if they continued swimming to the age of ~27 years. Seriously, think of all the pro athletes who make great strides in their mid to late twenties, this is not an opportunity for many swimmers. If we want swimmers to compete until their late twenties and hopefully early thirties, a shift of mind is mandated from the top down.

Now, the reasons for never taking a break must also be considered, as any differences in opinion/life require consideration:

1) Earlier Peaking: If a swimmer swims without a break from the age of 8 – 16, they will swim faster at a younger age. Now, this may sound absurd, but some may want to reach their peak around 16/17, as it increases their likelihood of a collegiate swimming scholarship. Another reason for earlier peaking is the ability to keep a child in an elite group with better coaching and perks. Imagine a young 13-year-old who swims 4x/week and is on the cusp of entering the “National/Senior” group when she turns 15-years. Perhaps, increasing her swimming frequency can allow her to enter the elite group and have better coaching and and a superior training environment.

2) Coaching Security: Often, age-group programs report success by youth swimming success. If you are a coach of an 11 – 12 group, you may be paid to get this group of kids as fast as possible. The best way to acutely enhance your swimming is to have them swim everyday, without a break. This may sound like I’m blaming the coach, but it is a much bigger issue, specifically with the club and a lack of stress on the process, rather than the results. If an age-group coach was like a stock adviser working with erratic clients wanting quick returns, then that’s what you’ll give them. Unfortunately, in swimming, you can’t trade your stock. So, if you invest in a stock with a quick return, the long-term investment may be horrible and you’ll have to go through some bumps along the way.

3) Increased Club Revenue: Many clubs don’t want to admit it, but the sole reason they offer swimming 12 months of the year is to get dues for 12 months, opposed to 10 or 11 months. This may sound sadistic, but is the truth. As a business owner, admittedly, I can’t blame them! When your job or career is based on the bottom line, then you’ve got to find ways to make money. Also, many parents want year-round swimming, as “Michael Phelps swam year-round” or “I can’t pay for a babysitter” is a frequent response. If you can make more money and your parents want it, why would a coach or club turn it down?

A simple solution is a larger stress for early diversification. This is the concept of having kids perform multiple sports through puberty, then isolating on one sport at the end of puberty. This “old school” approach will decrease injuries, improve athleticism/motor control, increase enjoyment, and increase long-term success. However, if the club or parents do not want to suggest moving away from swimming there are other options.

(Non) Swimming Season

For two months of the year (consecutive or non-consecutive), bring in a “dry-land” coach to instruct the children in other activities. This can involve body weight strength training, in/out-of-water activities, other sports, etc. These activities can keep kids active, healthy, athletic, and fresh for the upcoming season. A different coach can provide a fresh environment for the swimmer, possibly increasing their interest in sport and physical activity.

This idea may sound radical, but can satisfy all parties, ensuring long-term athletic development and health. If your club is having their swimmers train 12 months of the year, consider a change, especially if you want long-term swimming success!


  1. avatar

    Very interesting. Here in tiny Faroe Islands, the swim programs have traditionally closed down for two months or more in the summer, because of especially the boys moving on to football (soccer). We have been trying to change this for years, to make the swimmers swim at least 11 months a year, while football in return has started offering winter practice for the kids. But maybe we were right all along ! 🙂

    • avatar

      Thanks for the comments, interesting to hear about other countries!

  2. avatar
    Tom Acudamin

    The problem is that clubs cannot afford to have swimmers not paying year-round dues. To have swimmers not training for 60 days would mean a 20% reduction in income. The solution is having the club offer alternative programs during that period.

    • avatar

      One idea is to pro-rate the season for the time off or to offer different services. However, I understand, it is a business!

      • avatar

        There is the sport principle of reversibility. The problem about the biomechanical and metabolic stress in swimming workouts through the season is about the yardage or meters. The USRPT it´s much interesting because it preserves the integrity of the swimmer, no need of that long taper and got no stressfull workouts.

    • avatar
      Ron Turner

      Tom, a different method (and one used by many teams in the Southeast US) is to charge your families 12 months of program fees over 9 months of the year. A prominent team in Atlanta has done this for years, with much success!

  3. avatar

    Silly. Will never happen.

    10,000 hours of practice for peak success.

    • avatar

      Thanks for the reply. The 10,000 hour rule is overly simplified for success which Dr. Anders Ericsson has even suggested.

  4. avatar
    Swim Coach

    Dr. Mullen you are entitled to your opinion. You state  “the sole reason they offer swimming 12 months of the year is to get dues” and want to make a “rule.” My 33 years working with age 6-18 year old swimmers in seasonal, “year-round,” and scholastic settings indicates that age group swimming rewards the early matures and those with favorable swimming birthdays. There are literally hundreds of ways to train and I’ve personally tried most if not all. The correlation of dry land to swim performance is relatively low compared to specifically swimming. In as little as 2 weeks off athletes can show as untrained. Off season doesn’t have to be in the water and should include 1 to 1.5 hours aerobic every other day with no more than 72 hours straight of no aerobic work. Solutions include single age classification, seasonal phases and training plans that cycle, and constant infusion of FUN!
    Your ideas are definitely not unwelcome but de-training a 13 year old girl for 2 months might spell the end of her swim success as 10 girls on her own team pass her by. Boys have an easier time with breaks as the hormones guarantee increases in strength of greater magnitude. LESS IS NOT MORE LESS IS LESS. Talent ID before 15 for girls and before 17 for boys is not very meaningful. Peak ages are indeed later like mid to late 20s. Opportunities post college are so few that we don’t really know what early 30s athletes could accomplish. It is about developing the love, building a foundation of great technique, and devising training that is logical and progressive. Being on top at age 10 has about a 10% chance of being on top at age 18. A full 50% of the top 100 of all time 17-18’s have never appeared in the rankings at younger ages. Cross training is mostly about body awareness and injury prevention and needs to make up 15 or 20% of the training. The ones that grow the slowest and the longest have a big advantage over the 6 foot tall 12 year old who could be in for a long plateau. Build the stroke, build the engine, or just sit back and let superior genetics determine who is fast and who is slow. Swimming is not life it’s just swimming.

    • avatar

      Your accusing coaches/ clubs of keeping kids in the water 12 months a year for financial gain would be similar to me accusing you of writing this article for financial gain in an attempt to convince families to bring their kids to you in a longer off season to do more dryland, although my accusation has a lot more validity than yours.

      • avatar

        Thanks for the comment. The off-season can be unsupervised activities, hiking, jogging, rock climbing, etc. It doesn’t require paid dry-land sessions.

    • avatar

      @swim coach, thanks for your reply and comment. I appreciate your opinion as well! “Swimming is not life, it is swimming.” LTAD is very complicated, however in young swimmers, anthropometrical factors could explain ~46% of 100 m front crawl variability (Lätt 2010). Velocity in sprint swimming performance can be compromised by total body length, lean body mass and upper extremity length in competitive young swimmers (Geladas 2005; Strzala 2009).

      However, data about these relationships among anthropometry and performance in young swimmers are scarce despite being essential in swimming performance.

      Also, an interesting new study just showed youth swimmers improve in performance, simply from growth during a break from swimming (Moreira 2014:

      For the 13-year-old girl who detrains and other pass her up, confidence will decline and perhaps LTAD. However, if the whole team is on the same plan, this will not occur.

      Less is less, less is not more. In retrospect, an “age-range” may have been appropriate for this article, as older swimmers do require long periods of swimming training. The idea of performing dry-land or another activity is meant to increase enjoyment and fun. This can be in the form of many activities, not just dry-land (laser tag, rock climbing, hiking), all things which a team can use as team building activities.

      Thanks again for the comment and thoughts!

  5. avatar
    Paul Windrath

    Dear GJ –

    I concur 100% with your assessment. As coaches, the reason for our existence is the kids. For the younger ones, swimming should be part of a “well-balanced physical diet” that includes other sports. The best athletes will make the best swimmers. The opposite is not true. As coaches we should be encouraging multiple sport participation through age 14-15. If they find a sport they like better, that is ok.

    As Swim Coach mentioned – The retention rate of swimmers is horrible – at all levels. Some of it is simply because the kids are trying sports and finding out that swimming is not for them. Others, including the elite at age 10, are trained too often and too hard and simply want a break that the coach won’t let happen. Only 2% of the Top 100 10 year olds are swimming when they are 18. How sad!

    Year round swim training will lead, at some point, to plateauing. The younger this happens the harder it is to work through. Coaches and parents condition the kid to believe the only thing worth while in swimming is a faster time. There is more to swimming than times, but you don’t hear or see that very much. When was the last time a coach set up a practice for a ” get out swim” after an hour.

    And, there is physiological evidence that a break results in physical adaptation that is better than continuing to swim.

    And, although not mentioned, coaches need a break too – to reenergize, to re-educate, and gain perspective. Without this break, the coaches get just as stale and out-of touch with life as the swimmers do.

    Of course, there are lots of sides to this. Lets not be coaches who have 12 year olds swimming 80,000 yards a week and going 5:00 in the 500 because those same swimmers when they are 18 might only be going 5:15. Seen that happen far too often. Yes, some will become tomorrow’s superstars. Most will be flotsum in the gutters though. 🙁

    Just this 35 year coach’s two cents worth….

    • avatar


      Great points and comments, thanks for sharing. The burnout rate in swimming is far too high, especially in a sport where one could swim for ~80 years and be a life-long ambassador for the sport (via masters meets, officiating, etc.).

      Coaches, parents, facilities, swimmers, everyone needs a break for many of the reasons you mentioned.

      Thanks again.

  6. avatar

    This is an important message and converstaion. The break length and any subsequent cross training IS contextual and age dependent. Any coach worth his/her salt should not be intimidated by a 6-8 week break and should be able to structure a seasonal plan that effectively regains the deminished work capacity. There are far too many physiological and psychological reasons to take a break in comparison to the reasons to not.

    • avatar


      Thanks for the comment and I agree breaks with in-water training can be an effective training strategy if planned accordingly. Your points are well taken.

      Boiler up!

    • avatar

      I wonder what the burnout rate for soccer is? Little league baseball? Football? Is it burnout, or do they simply decide they don’t like it?…aren’t very good at it?…get cut? Those organizations probably do not even keep track of that info.

      • avatar
        G. John Mullen

        Great point, I’m not sure what these burnout rates are, but I’ll keep a look out!

  7. avatar
    Swim Therapist

    Thank you for posting this. I just read an article that Dr. Andrews (for this that may not know, he is the premiere ortho in North America and invented surgeries that are commonly performed on professional and elite athletes commonly now) that discussed baseball pitching and taking time off he also talked about how in general we are asking our kids to specialize in sports at such a young age that surgeries and injuries that he used to see in mature athletes he is seeing in elementary and middle school athletes. For the sake of your child this is not ok. We as athletic trainers and other medical personnel that see your child as an 18-22 year old have already started degenerative changes in their joints – like you and your parents now have. This is not ok. And even though the athletes don’t see it now, I try and help them understand the LONG TERM issues that arise. Not being able to throw a ball with your kid at 40 is sad. Not being able to bend down and pick up your child at 35 is sad. And that’s what I see and hear. Parents and coaches… I get it. We are competitive and want our children to succeed. But mandatory breaks are integral to the HEALTH of your child. It’s not a matter of if they want to or not. It’s their health. Our bodies are amazing beings but even they have a breaking point. And when the skeletal system hasn’t completely matured to take the stressss you end up wth injuries. And usually I’m the one cleaning them up (if I can) in college and many times swimming careers end at the age of 20 even though they had amazing promise as a 19 year old. Thank you for posting this. I know it’s not popular. But let your kids be kids and be just an active teenager. They will enjoy it more and feel refreshed coming back.

    • avatar

      Swim Therapist-

      Great points and perspectives. As a fellow Physical Therapist, I also see this sad story of young children, middle aged adults, and seniors having orthopedic issues for repetitive stress. Now, exercise is great and so is sport (especially swimming :), but a life-long viewpoint is necessary for these kids, especially since only 0.0001% even earn a college scholarship, let alone Olympic success. Teaching healthy lessons for life-long is a necessary step. My former colleague Dr. Shawn Sorenson wrote a great piece on this for the Washington Post, discussing the lack of education and commitment for life-long health for former college athletes (

    • avatar

      The club where I have my masters membership has weekly stroke maintenance practices for the kids who either do summer league or are taking a break and don’t want their technique to fall apart.

      I think breaks are good — taking the long view, the biggest disservice you can do to your athletes is to burn them out and make them hate swimming — or worse, risk potential permanent injury. Of all the age group teammates I am in touch with, I am the only one still swimming 20-odd years later (which I find sad), and I think it’s partly because I started late and quit before I burned out.

      I actually kind of wish I could be an age-grouper today. I didn’t start year-round until I was 15. This was not attractive to recruiters in the late 80s/early 90s. College coaches actually seem to prefer late bloomers now — they have lots of room for speed gains, they aren’t burned out/plateaued and their shoulders/knees still contain cartilage. (Look at people like Breeja Larsen, Cheyenne Coffman and Ed Moses.)

      • avatar

        evilwatersprite great points! A weekly maintenance sounds good. The mechanisms for LTAD are quite individual based on the club, but that sounds like a great option. It is sad no other teammates still swim!

  8. avatar

    Before we throw out the, “two months off our the kids potential is stunted”, I feel like we should be putting our focus on how the kids are training; frequency, duration, etc. I don’t think it is fair to blame all of our burnout issues on swimming too many months of the year when there are much bigger issues to resolve as some have mentioned above.

    Is it so hard to make sure that your training focus for the first month of each season be solely about technique with a dry-land activity (for reasons of agility, proprioception, general athleticism) being the secondary component? I have a hard time believing that the 9-12yr old kid swimming 11 months out of the year, with a majority of the year being 3-4 days per week and 1 meet per month (no meets in April or September) is really swimming too much. Especially if April and September as focused as above and without meets. If this swimmer is training at 10, M-T-TH-F, that is 3 days off 3 weeks out of the month. If you shift it to M-TH during parts of the season, that’s 3 consecutive dats off. When you account for holidays, there are several other opportunities for swimmers to decompress and recover. That combined with 2-3 weeks off at the end of the season does not seem like over exposure to me… The big problem is combining that with 2-3 other activities and sports. I am not advocating dropping other sports, I just have a hard time with swimming being the one to get squeezed out as it often does…

    The reason why I have a hard time with swimming getting the squeeze is as Dr. John and everyone else knows, repeated exposure to this foreign medium is critical to success and acquisition of skill. We can’t say kids are exposed to too much too soon in terms of training when we also know that early and repeated exposure to swimming leads to skill acquisition. Land based sports have it easier. Gravity is gravity, catching is catching, running is running. However, freestyle is not breaststroke which is certainly not backstroke and none of these three is running a deep post, but that deep post is a heck of a lot more similar to fielding a long fly ball than it is butterfly.

    Long story short, I don’t think it is fair to blame year-round swimming (to me includes a break after SC and LC season, 2-3 weeks after each depending on age) for our problems. I think the solution is in programming, the focus you give to training that is ultimately more important at early ages than “required” time off.

    • avatar
      Brent Rutemiller

      Excellent point! It really is all about balance.

    • avatar


      Great points as always. I appreciate your insight and attention towards the principle of individuality. Each swimmer, program, and coach will find a different route to success. The two month rule is a general theme, but each club must see what works with their facilities, parents, etc. Also, the amount of time will change throughout the career as a swimmers. As you mention, a swimmer training 3x/week can likely handle year-round training. However, this training volume isn’t always happening in age-group swimmers.

      A balance is key as @Brent points out and the balance is different for everyone! For optimal skill acquisition, one could argue swimming 1 hour everyday for an entire life at race pace speed is best. However, some individuals may not handle this psychological stress. It is truly individual, that is the main point!

      • avatar

        I know I basically just regurgitated most of your points and maybe its the fact the eye grabbing title is getting to me. Absolutes get me all riled up.. As you stated individuality is key and the biggest take away from all of this is ensuring balance in swimmer’s lives before they amp up to full on, ima-make-a-national-team/major-D1-college-team/get-serious, mode.

  9. avatar

    As a long time age group coach, I would assert that over zealous parents have more to do with “burnout” than a year round schedule. 12 and unders (and their families) have always been encouraged to do other sports, take family vacations, etc as a way to off set the 12 month schedule of our program. I will further assert that proactive communication with parents when their children are younger is a better means of facilitating long term success. I believe the two month break rule is entirely too drastic and wonder how many kids you have coached in this capacity on this schedule?

    • avatar

      Swim4coach great points, as parents are certainly an issue and require education from the team and coaching staff. Nonetheless, parents don’t always listen and will find other clubs who accommodate their wishes, assuming they are in a heavily populated city.

      I currently don’t coach so this is purely a theory, take it as you will.

      • avatar

        A theory for someone who may be looking to promote his dryland company?

      • avatar

        The two month break could use dry-land which my company provides many services. However, my company is only a small fraction of items possible. Like I mention, the teams could provide other activities outside of swimming: hiking, rock climbing, other sports, etc.

    • avatar
      slacker swim mom

      I think both parents and coaches share responsibility. Coaches should set expectations, and on our team, if your child is only going twice a week, the coaches will not move him/her up a level. As a parent who takes the long view, I am not swayed. (I’m a former swimmer who remembers many 10-year-olds who were washed up by 13, and I did not peak until my late teens.) But there are many parents who want their kids to advance, and if the coaches tell them they need to come more often, they bring their kids more often.

      Swim4coach, you just said overzealous parents were to blame (and there are PLENTY of them in my area, so I sympathize), but then you said there’s no way to institute a 2-month break. For a 12-and-under kid, 3 weeks to a month after each season is really not hard to imagine. Our team does it.

      • avatar
        G. John Mullen

        Thanks for the comment.

  10. avatar

    As I sit here after the finals at the Phillips 66 National Championships, I am wondering how many of these athletes took 2 months off per year. My educated guess is few…very few…if any. I was here for Juniors last week as well. I am pretty certain that I would not have had athletes qualified for these meets had they only trained 10 months a year. The average age of the athlete in swimming has increased dramatically over the past decade and a half refuting one of the points made in the article (Early Peaking). If you train hard and long you risk “burnout”? There are many causes for “burnout”. An athlete who quits because he or she does not believe their hard work is sufficiently rewarded cites “burnout”, when, actually, they are simply counting the cost.

    That all being said, there may be a place for the 10 month a year team. That would be somewhere between Country Club Summer Swimming and Olympic Swimming.

    • avatar

      Thanks for the comment MidwestCoach. I would agree most of the swimmers at Nationals and Juniors are training more than 10 months out of the year. Unfortunately, this idea won’t be tested in elite swimmers and in all honesty shouldn’t be in this extreme elite group, as continual motor learning is necessary for main meets. Therefore, an individualized approach is key for these kids, which I would argue needs more break than the 2 – 3 weeks most of them receive for the entire year.

      If the 2-year rule is for swimmers between Country Club and Olympic swimming, then this idea is appropriate for ~99% of swimmers!

      • avatar

        But the 1% begins in the 99%…that is my argument…this philosophy would limit, or put a cap, on the potential for many. 14 yr old Grant Hackett took a week off between seasons. I would argue that swimmers, especially, need to be in the water more, for we are land animals trying to become efficient water beings. Recovery and periodization is an important aspect of the year, which should provide opportunities to train, yet not “overtrain”.

  11. avatar

    I wish I swam all year round when I was in my teens. I showed up for my first college practice (division I) after taking two months off and it was brutal. I would have done a lot better on the college team if I had kept swimming. Everyone else there was in way better shape than I was. Then after the first year of collegiate of swimming there was again two months off. I didn’t go back to swimming again until ten years later.

    I’ve been swimming masters year round for 35 years now and I’m extremely happy. Have had almost no problems with it. Of course we don’t swim 10,000 yard workouts.

    • avatar
      G. John Mullen

      Thanks for your story, perhaps if you swam year-round for your life you would have never returned to swimming in your later life, just a thought.

  12. avatar

    Slacker swim mom,

    Let’s be clear…I never said a two month break was impossible to institute. I said I feel it’s way too drastic. There are many ways to provide 12 and under swimmers with breaks without stopping programming. I have many that participate in track, volleyball, basketball, and other activities that do not require mandatory 2 month break in swimming. One to three week breaks is probably enough 2 or 3 times per year. Creative coaching is a more likely solution to the problem of “burn out” along with proper parent education.

    • avatar
      G. John Mullen

      Great points. Individualization for the athlete, team and situation is key. The “rule” can be split up, the break needed is likely between 6 – 10 weeks off per year on average. If we are talking ultra-elite, perhaps during their peak they can take less off, but may need more break later to prevent mental and physical burnout.

    • avatar
      G. John Mullen

      A great piece by Dr. G. Overall, I agree with most of the piece, despite the opposing title to this piece. Overall, swimming requires many years and hours in the water for elite performance. Each child should have the opportunity for elite performance, unfortunately this situation is rushed. As Dr. G notes, ” females need about 9 to 10 years of year round training, while males need 10 to 11 years.”. This results in many parents, coaches, swimmers, pushing their kid at the age of 4 to swim year round, peaking at 14 or 15. Why rush? Sure there are unfortunate reasons, like swimming status, but this isn’t needed. Instead of looking at the amount of time for elite swimming success as in years, think about it in hours, there are a lot of ways to get hours in swimming (20 years of swimming, 20 hours a week, for 10 months a year equals 17,6000 hours for example). Unfortunately, newer research is suggesting the time equation or 10,000 hour rule is over simplified. Instead, quality of training, physical capacities, and many other factors are involved as well as training hours.

      Even Dr. G. says “year-round” training is training 48-50 weeks a year, I just argue this can be extended and potentially stretched out for longer athletic development. Perhaps swimmers should doubles 3 days in a row, then a day off for an entire season! Perhaps this would provide the recovery needed for long term success and enjoyment.

  13. avatar

    I might be a little late to this discussion, but I think what needs more emphasis the overtraining of swimmers. The early morning practices sure discourage swimmers and parents alike. Only the very hardcore can keep that up. Similarly, the high volume, 4000+ yards, at each practice sure isn’t easy for your average swimmers year after year. Maybe swim practices can be limited to 1500 yards of quality work where the focus is techniques then there wouldn’t be so much burn out?

    • avatar
      G. John Mullen

      Good thoughts Allen, thanks for the comments!