Pros and Cons of the 200 & 400 Individual Medley

Today, we’re going to talk about an under-discussed topic: The Individual Medley. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else – when I went to search my own blog library, I found lots of technique tips about individual strokes, but very few about what it really takes to put it all together into the unique race format that is the Individual Medley.

There are a few widely accepted beliefs about the 200 and 400 IM that I want to dispel. Although I believe that all swimmers should try all events, especially at an age-group level. MOST Elite Swimmers aren’t built to specialize in more than a few events. As swim coaches, we shouldn’t force that. You wouldn’t expect a 50 Freestyler to try for success at the 400/500 Freestyle, would you? And yet, when it comes to IMers, they oftentimes get lumped into the same basket. The reality is that the 200 and 400 Individual Medley are completely different races. Let’s get into the pros and cons of both and what it takes to be great at each.

Let’s Get Started

But first, if you’re new to swimming (welcome!), what is an Individual Medley? An Individual Medley, oftentimes referred to as just IM, is a race that requires the swimmer to complete a leg of all 4 strokes. The order is Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, then Freestyle. It is an incredibly challenging and taxing assignment. After all, most swimmers only specialize in one or maybe two strokes.

Starting with the Butterfly guarantees that swimmers start off tired. During Backstroke, you’re just trying to breathe as much as possible. Then comes the dreaded Crossover Turn (click here for tips and tricks!). When we get to Breaststroke, we see the swimmers who specialize in this stroke pull ahead while the non-Breaststrokers struggle to keep their lead. Then, Freestyle is a battle of mental wills as the exhausted swimmers race to finish. A great IM requires a swimmer to be well-rounded, tough, and have a strategy that works for them.

The 200 Individual Medley


This event is a full on sprint! It might not seem that way at first, because 200 yards / meters is still a good distance. But when broken down, you’ve only got a 50 of each stroke to make headway. The tempo of this race is much faster than in the 400 IM, and that makes it incredibly exciting! Swimmers also lean into negative splitting each of the last 3 x 50’s to help keep the tempo up, as they heading towards the end of their race. The 200 IM is a great race to utilize the speed of underwater dolphin kick. We are fastest underwater off our walls, so it makes sense that a great 200 IM leans on tons of dolphin kicks off the wall.


Like with any sprint event, the margin for error is much smaller in this race. You have to be going full-throttle from the jump, and have each leg of the race choreographed to perfection. In the past, swimmers who weren’t good at Breaststroke could get away with it in the 200 IM by making up time in other areas. This isn’t the case anymore as swimmers have worked to become more well-rounded. If you have a particular leg that is weaker than your others, you’re going to be at a disadvantage.

How To Be Successful

To be successful in the 200 Individual Medley, you have to be able to sprint in all 4 strokes. During practice, I recommend switching which days are focused on which stroke. As swimmers, it’s natural for us to have a “favorite” stroke and to mostly focus on practicing that one. This is a trap. To be well-rounded in the race, swimmers need to practice in a well-rounded way. And, like we talked about in the pros section, your dolphin kick and breath control need to be on point.

The Individual Medley is a great example of a race that should be a partnership between the coach and the swimmer in order to develop proper training and race strategy!

The 400 Individual Medley


Plain and simple: The best of the best swimmers train for the 400 IM. It is an impressive feat of human strength and will. In fact, it was voted “the hardest event” on a recent poll that I put up on social media. If you swim the 400 IM, you are massively talented at all 4 strokes plus a tough cookie to boot. The tempo is much different than the 200 length.


Obviously, it’s longer. This particular individual medley requires endurance and grit through all 4 strokes. Not to mention, it starts off with a 100 Butterfly, which a lot of swimmers struggle to complete. I find that swimmers have to overcome mentally more than physically in order to get good at the 400 IM. Your heartrate is up for a much longer period of time, and that can be overwhelming for swimmers to handle – especially those who are prone to overheating.

How To Be Successful

Strategy, strategy, strategy. Think through your strength and weaknesses of all 4 strokes and decide where you’re going to push and where you’re going to conserve energy. The first time a swimmer tries the 400 IM, I encourage them to conserve their energy on the front-end and just complete the race. You need to experience what it’s like for you personally before you start applying your strategy. From there, it’s about refining what works for you. Strengthening your mental fortitude and practicing for endurance in practice every day is the way to get great at this event.

The Individual Medley might seem daunting, but it’s a great test for every swimmer to challenge themselves with!

How To Become A More Well-Rounded Swimmer or Swim Coach

When you take a step back and look at yourself, which strokes are you weak at swimming or coaching? Could you use help with one in particular, or maybe even all 4? We have Educational Courses for Swim Coaches on all 4 Strokes as well as 90-Day Training Plans for Swimmers on all 4 Strokes. We’ve even got a bundle deal if you want to go the extra mile and improve on all 4 (just click the link and scroll to the bottom of the page). Here’s the welcome video from our 90-Days to Faster Freestyle to give you a little taste:

90-Day Training Plans for Swimmers!

No matter if you think you’re built for the 200 IM or the 400 IM, the Individual Medley is sure to be a challenge. Get after it, stay consistent, and remember that little bits of progress add up to a HUGE result!

Until next time,

Abbie Fish and the Swim Like A. Fish Team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.