The individual medley challenges a swimmer’s aquatic prowess, requiring mastery of all 4 competitive strokes: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. That’s no easy feat!

And beyond mastering each stroke, different IM races call for their own specific form of training. The 400 IM requires insane endurance, while the 100 IM is made for swimmers with a need for speed. Today, we’re focusing on the 200 IM. 

In the 200 IM, swimmers complete a 50 of each stroke. It’s a quick and challenging swim that puts athletes’ speed and endurance to the test. 

Whether you’re trying to make the Olympic final in the 200 IM Long Course or you’re preparing to race this event for the first time, check out 10 tips to swim the 200 IM!

10 Ways to Swim a Faster 200 IM

The first 5 tips below can be applied to the 400 IM, if you are also training for that!

1. Negative Split Each Quarter

Your goal in the 200 IM should be to negative split each 50. Negative splitting means that you’ll swim faster on the second half of each 50. Essentially, you’re building each ¼ of the 200 IM.

Related: What is the IM (Individual Medley)

This strategy helps you avoid going out too hard on the first few strokes of each 50. You won’t start off at a slow pace by any means, but thinking about building speed vs. going 100% for the entire 50 will help you stay strong throughout the race.

2. Find Easy Speed

A surefire way to struggle in the 200 IM is to push too hard on the butterfly leg of the race. When you do that, your body is toast for the remaining 150. Instead, think of maintaining “easy speed,” which is the fastest pace that you can hold without getting too tired for the rest of the race. 

Related: How to Swim the 400IM Like Michael Phelps & Katinka Hosszú

Your breathing pattern plays into easy speed big time. With butterfly especially, choose (and stick to) a breathing pattern for your races and training so your body is used to it. If you breathe every 2 strokes in training, do that in a race, too! It’s common for swimmers to swim the first 25  of the 200 IM with 1 breath or no breath, which sets them up for a struggle in the last half of the race.

Beyond the breathing pattern, we recommend saving your legs in the first 100 of the 200 IM. Don’t push your kick too hard on the butterfly, backstroke and underwaters, so you still have some power left for breaststroke and the freestyle — that final race to the finish!

It may seem counterintuitive to not give it your all in a race, but trust us, it’s worth it! As you train, you’ll find that there’s a difference between going fast and going really fast, and oftentimes the effort required for that really fast pace puts too much stress on your legs and can’t be maintained for very long.

3. Train All the Strokes

Related: Why You Need to Swim All 4 Strokes Every Workout

This should be a given! If you want to be good at IM, you need to swim all 4 strokes regularly. To master the other strokes, you need to mix in a ton of stroke, and always focus on good technique from day 1. Technique should always be a priority — when you start to swim longer races, your fundamentals need to be rock solid, since your form will deteriorate as you get tired.

4. Mix Up Your IM Training

IM training doesn’t have to be straight 100s, 200s or 400s IM! Mixing up distances, intensities and even the order of strokes can help challenge your body in new ways, and keeps you from getting bored during your workouts. Try these options for IM training:

  • Transition IM: This is a great way to practice switching between strokes. Transition IM is done in a 3×50 cycle, and works great as a set of 6 or 12x50s. Swim 1 stroke per 25. You’ll start the next 50 with the stroke you finished the last 50 with. This works best in a short course pool.
    • Example: 6×50 Transition IM (2 rounds of the following)
      • #1: 25 Butterfly, 25 Backstroke
      • #2: 25 Backstroke, 25 Breaststroke
      • #3: 25 Breaststroke, 25 Freestyle
  • FRIM: In FRIM, you replace the butterfly leg of a typical IM with freestyle. This helps you train at a higher aerobic threshold and focus more on the other 3 strokes without fatigue from butterfly.
  • Broken IM: In broken IM, you’ll simply break up a 100 IM into smaller chunks.
    • Example: 4×50 Broken IM (2 rounds of the following)
      • #1: 25 Butterfly, 25 Backstroke
      • #2: 25 Breaststroke, 25 Freestyle
  • Reverse IM: This is exactly what it sounds like! Reverse the order of the IM: freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. It can be challenging to finish with butterfly, so make sure your stroke fundamentals are solid before pushing yourself too hard with this one. 
  • Variations with Equipment: You can add fins, paddles or a snorkel to mix up any of the above training modalities and add resistance. Equipment challenges your body in new ways and can help you improve technique and build strength!

5. Separate Butterfly & IM Training

Butterfly is the toughest stroke to master. We recommend spending some time training butterfly on its own to really work on technique and finding that “easy speed.”

Related: How to Swim Butterfly with Perfect Technique

Splitting off your fly training also benefits your other IM training. Without fly in the equation, you can work on your speed in backstroke and breaststroke without added fatigue from butterfly.

6. Focus on Underwaters

Underwaters are important in every event — and in a short course 200 IM, elite swimmers may spend up to 60% of the race underwater. Aside from your start, you’re fastest when you are in streamline off the walls (and for those first few strokes off the wall), so we want to maximize that as much as possible.

Maintaining solid underwaters is what differentiates good swimmers from great swimmers. Work on good underwater dolphin kicking and breaststroke pull outs off of each wall in practice, and you’ll have no problem with them during a race.

7. Work on Fast Transitions 

It’s easy to spend too much time on the wall during your turns, especially open turns during butterfly and breaststroke. Walls aren’t for resting! Work on quick, snappy turns so you can get back to streamline more quickly.

open turn

Related: How to Do a Breaststroke or Butterfly Turn

Maintain your speed going into the wall, and your momentum will carry through to your streamline off the wall.

8. Build Strength & Power 

In races that are 200 and shorter, you must find a balance between strength and power. Power comes from building stroke specific strength in the pool with paddles, fins, resistance cords, parachutes and more. It also comes from dryland training, including weight lifting, to build muscle in ways we simply can’t in the water.

9. Train for the 50 & 100 of Each Stroke

Swimmers who are great at the 200 IM are often good at the 50 and 100 of each stroke, too. As part of your IM training, work on single-stroke speed, and even add these races to your swim meet roster for extra practice! Doing this will force you to look at the technique required for each individual stroke at those distances, which will transfer to your IM as well.

10. Train at High Tempo 

If you really want to master the 200 IM, you should strive to master the 100 IM. Working on 100 IM speed in workouts pushes you to swim above 200 IM pace, which will help improve your endurance and “easy speed” in the 200.

Which IM race is your favorite? For more swimming tips and IM training workouts, check out the MySwimPro app! Try our ELITE COACH subscription free for 30 days to unlock all of our workouts, technique videos and coaching. 

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