How To Improve Swimming Speed – 11 Simple Tips
That’s the time it took César Cielo to swim to a new world record in the 50m free in 2009.
But don’t think that happened overnight, it took years of constant improvement for him to improve his swimming speed.
And while such a rapid pace may be out of reach for most people, there’s no reason why every swimmer can’t improve their swimming speed in some capacity.
In this article, we’ll share eleven simple tips that’ll help you increase your swimming speed and become more like Mr. Cielo, no matter where you’re at now.
Let’s not waste any time.
The Quickest Way To Improve Swimming Speed: Technique
When most people want to get better at swimming, they usually have one approach which is to gradually pump-up the number of lengths they’re doing each week.
And while this tactic is great for boosting endurance, it doesn’t usually improve your swimming speed.
If you want to move through the water faster, the number one thing you need to focus on is honing your technique.
Here are six ways to do just that:
1. Work on Your Balance
Having improper balance in the water is the number one thing that’ll put the breaks on your swimming speed.
Well, fast-swimming all comes down to minimising drag. And if your body isn’t balanced evenly, you get exposed to unnecessary drag.
In the diagram above, the swimmer on the top is correctly balanced in the water. Their body position is parallel to the water’s surface.
The swimmer on the bottom is unbalanced. Their hips and legs are sinking. This means they’ll incur a tremendous amount of speed-killing drag.
So how to remedy this common problem? Pretend that you’re swimming downhill.
While that might sound a little strange, when you pretend you’re swimming downhill, you’ll naturally lean forward and redistribute your weight correctly.
By putting increased pressure on your upper chest (often it helps to pretend you’re pressing a football into the water with your chest too), your hips and legs will rise higher in the water.
You’ll experience less frontal drag, and you’ll slip through the water with more speed.
2. Build an Impressive Kick
The fastest swimmers in the pool always have a well-developed kick. For example, according to legend, Olympic freestyle champion Alexander Popov could kick a 50m long course in just 27 seconds.
Having a solid kick is essential for four reasons:
- Better body position: Back to point one – a strong kick prevents your lower body from sinking, reducing drag.
- Adds propulsive force: The water your kick displaces drives you forward in the water at greater speed
- Powerful hip drive: A powerful kick makes rotating your hips easier. This allows you to slice through the water like a sailboat on its side (more on this later)
- A finishing boost: In those last few meters before the wall, your arms can seize up with lactic acid. A formidable kick can power you through to the finish without losing speed.
Despite the importance of kicking, many swimmers (and coaches too) don’t practice it regularly.
If you’re wondering how to improve your swimming speed, incorporate these four drills into your swimming sessions:
One final slightly counter-intuitive tip for building a great kick is to focus on kicking down instead of kicking backward.
That’s because when you try to kick backward, you’ll end up bending your knees. This catches water on the back of your leg and slows you down.
When you focus on kicking downwards instead, you’ll ensure you kick from the hip. That means less drag and more propulsion. Talk about a double-win!
3. Master Your Pull
After a poor body position, there’s nothing that’ll scuttle your speed like an under-powered pull.
Time and time again, we see swimmers who fail to use their pull to the full extent. And the main reason? A low-elbow catch.
A low-elbow catch occurs when your elbow drops below your wrist’s level during the pulling phase of your freestyle stroke.
This common fault puts your arms in a poor biomechanical position, preventing you from recruiting the powerful muscles on your back. Result: plod city.
For fast swimming, you need to focus on keeping your elbow high. Here’s how to do it:
- Start by extending your leading arm the whole way
- With arm outstretched, initiate your pull by rotating your shoulder ‘inwards’ so your baby finger rises above your thumb (imagine you’re pouring a cup from a teapot)
- Keeping your forearm, wrist, and hand stiff, begin to point your fingers towards the bottom of the pool
- As you pull, repeat shoulder above elbow, elbow above wrist, wrist above hand, hand above fingers
- Drawing your arm back, catch the water with your newfound paddle and keep your elbow high until your forearm is at 90deg.
This is what you need to be aiming for:
And here’s a fantastic tutorial from Global Triathlon Network on the topic:
Mastering this high-elbow position will massively power-up your stroke. It’s a seemingly simple adjustment that lots of swimmers never implement. Don’t be one of them!
4. Get As Long As Possible
If you’ve ever watched an Olympic rowing race, you’ll understand that longer, narrower things move faster through the water. And to swim fast, you need to get long like a rowing boat.
In practical terms, this means you need to master the timing of your pull.
You want to spend as much time as possible with your leading arm extended. This allows you to ‘surf’ on that leading arm and move faster through the water.
One of the best ways to achieve an extended body position is by using catch-up timing. Here’s a video by coach Wayne Goldsmith explaining what you need to do (first half of the video):
Thankfully catch-up is an easy drill you can incorporate into your training. You can do it by simply not moving your leading arm, until your recovering arm catches up to it.
Here’s a video by GoSwim breaking the drill down in detail:
When done regularly, catch-up will help you stay tall in the water, build a smooth stroke tempo and allow you to swim with greater efficiency and speed.
5. Rotate From Side to Side
On a windy day down at the sea you may have seen sailing boats zipping through the water on their side. Boats like catamarans are specifically designed to move quickest when they’re hinged high upon their side.
Why is that? Well, again it all comes back to drag. See, air has way less resistance than water. Therefore, the more of your body you can get out of the water while swimming, the faster you’ll go.
Proper rotation plays a huge role in this. As you rotate while swimming you effectively present a smaller portion of your body to the water’s resistance.
Rotation also helps you swim better because it makes breathing easier, reduces your risk of shoulder injury, builds a longer stroke and allows you to better engage your back muscles.
So when you think about swimming ‘front’ crawl, it’s important to know that it’s actually a stroke that’s best swim on your side. You just happen to change that side with every stroke.
A fantastic drill to help you get your head around this is side-kick. Here’s a video rom TriManual walking you through how to perform the drill correctly (using flippers makes it easy to master in the beginning):
6. Work on Your Breathing
The final technical stroke element that’ll hamper your speed is poorly timed breathing. And when we say hamper, we mean it can turn you from a shark-like into jellyfish-esque.
That’s because poor breathing technique has a knock-on effect on every other aspect of your stroke. Unfortunately it’s also one of the hardest elements to get right.
Developing the previous five technical elements of your stroke will make learning your breathing drastically easier. Because if you already have a solid body position, strong kick and nice body roll, adding breathing feels much more natural.
Here’s a helpful video from Global Triathlon Network that runs through the basics of breathing:
While the video is great, as we mentioned, mastering breathing requires having a solid grasp of many other techniques first.
Given its complexity, If you’re struggling with your breathing, often the best approach is to get the help of an experienced coach. A coach will be able to pinpoint which areas of your technique are lacking and help you learn at a much faster rate.
Suggested Reading: Improve Your Front Crawl Breathing
Other Ways To Improve Swimming Speed
Once you’ve got your technique dialed in, there’s several other ways you can improve your swimming speed. Let’s dive into them now:
1. Work Your Underwaters
In competitive swimming, athletes are only permitted to swim 15m underwater. The reason? Because it’s so fast. Back in the day swimmers were starting to complete whole races underwater! That means if you’re swimming in a pool, you can boost your speed by learning how to effectively dolphin kick in a streamlined position underwater.
2. Measure Your Progress
As the old saying goes, what gets measured improves. If you want to get serious about improving your swimming speed, you should definitely be tracking your progress.
Time yourself at regular intervals throughout the year and see how many seconds you can knock off. It’ll give you the confidence boost that your training is working, as well as making it easy to set some goals so you can continue to train hard.
3. Invest in Good Swimming Gear
Cloth hats, baggy shorts and leaky goggles are all serious speed-drains in the pool. You can get an instant velocity boost by investing in proper equipment.
The right gear won’t only reduce the amount of drag you experience, but it’ll also make your training more enjoyable and productive.
Slim fitting togs, quality goggles and a silicone hat are a must. But equipment like fins, snorkels and hand paddles can also help you master challenging techniques with ease.
Suggested Reading: Best Swimming Goggles Tested and Reviewed
4. Start Dry-Land Work
Adding dry-land work like yoga, or resistance training into your routine can help you build the power and flexibility required for ultra-fast swimming.
Check out the Home Workouts for Swimmers section of our blog for tips and workouts to get started.
5. Practice Deliberately
If you’ve been swimming for many years, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing the same old sessions time and time again.
But to improve your swimming speed, you need to be purposeful and systematic about what you’re doing in the pool.
Instead of mindlessly putting in the lengths, you must focus your attention on the specific goal of getting faster. This means consciously practicing the drills and techniques outlined above, measuring your progress and making adjustments as you go.
Deliberate practice puts shape and structure on your training. As a result, you’ll see your swimming speed improve much faster.
Go Forth and Swim Faster!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide on how to improve swimming speed. Becoming a faster swimmer is no easy feat. But just like everything that’s worth doing, the results are totally worth the effort.
You’ll likely face many hiccups on the road to speedy swimming. The tips and tricks outlined in this article are like a toolkit to help you overcome them.
We hope to see you speeding up and down the pool soon!