The reason why 400IM is the most painful event in swimming

After swimming for many years in my life, which includes a wide range of the most painful events like the 200m Freestyle and 1500m Freestyle, I came to a conclusion that 400m Individual Medley (IM) no doubt the beats those events in the level of pain experienced. There may be disagreements, but to me nothing is as hard as the 400IM. To let you understand the pain of a 400IM, I’ll run through a 400IM race with you from a swimmer’s perspective:

The individual medley starts off with the hardest stroke in swimming – Butterfly. Why does it have to start off with the hardest stroke? Because if Butterfly was to be kept at the last 100m of the race, I doubt anyone would want to race in the 400IM anymore.


You’ll usually dive into the pool feeling fresh and light, and feel as though you’re floating above water surface, and everything seems really easy. However, that usually only last for 50m before you start to feel the burn on the second 50m.


The second 50m is where you’ll start to feel the lactate in your arms and shoulders come out all at once, worse part is that it shows no mercy, everything starts to drag you down all of a sudden but you have no choice but to press on as there is just no stopping in a race.

So this pretty much sums up the Butterfly leg in an Individual Medley race, moving on to the backstroke leg…


Imagine all that lactate you have from the Butterfly leg, it just won’t go away, so therefore, you’ll have to carry all that lactate you have accumulated from the Butterfly leg to the Backstroke leg, which really is a lot of pain. You still have to go hard during the Backstroke leg because if you don’t, people are just going to overtake you or chase you down.


Moving on, the Breaststroke. At this point in time, you’ll feel like a dying whale, whereby your whole body just feels like it’s going to crash and burn and your vision has even blurred a little due to fatigue. To add on to how bad you are already feeling, Breaststroke is a stroke which demands a perfect technique, and if you don’t maintain your best technique, you are just not going to move. The worse part of Breaststroke is that adding stroke rate won’t equate to you going faster, so the only way to move faster is to maintain a perfect technique with your lactate accumulated arms and legs.


Finally, the Freestyle, at this point of time, your lactate levels have already went off the charts but it doesn’t affect you anymore. You’ve reached a stage whereby you don’t care about the pain anymore as your body has already adapted to it and all you want to do is to win your competitor from the other lane.

Don’t get me wrong, you still feel a huge amount of pain, but being the last 100m of the race, it simply does not matter anymore because all you want to do is win.

To give you a clear idea on how the Freestyle leg feels, imagine being the bottom row of this pyramid whereby everyone is just resting their weight on your shoulders:


But trust me, all that weight won’t matter as your will to win the race has already overpowered the pain that you are feeling.

pang sheng jun

Whether you swim well in the race or not, there will always be a huge sense of accomplishment after completing a 400IM. With the amount of pain that you’re already in, you’ll just be glad that the race is over anyway.


With all that said, if 400IM is so painful, why do people still swim it?

pang sheng jun quah zheng wen

That’s because 400IM is a race whereby it trains you physically and mentally. After racing and training in the 400IM, you won’t be afraid to swim any other race because you know deep down that nothing comes close to being as hard and demanding as the 400IM. For me I personally hate days whereby coach tells me that I have to work on my 400IM on that day, but I know that it will be worth it.

So my challenge to those who are still currently swimming, if you find yourself being afraid of an event, enter yourself in the 400IM during another untapered swim meet, and I assure you that after swimming the 400IM, you won’t be afraid of swimming anything else.

This pretty much sums up the reason why 400IM is the most painful event in swimming.


What is the hardest event to you? Do leave a comment at the comment section below if you disagree with me!


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One Reply to “The reason why 400IM is the most painful event in swimming”

  1. Hi Sheng Jun! Just read this post and I’m so proud of you for clinching a silver at the event that pains you the most! (: your hardwork and determination really paid off! Continue striving! But please do stay healthy and safe and don’t over exert yourself! 😀

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