Maybe you’ve been wondering how to swim faster for months or even years, but you never found a satisfactory answer?
Well, you’re not the only one. Many people who want to improve their swimming skills encounter this problem for various reasons.
That’s why I have put together this article, which highlights some of the problem areas and offers solutions.
Train Smarter, not Harder
Many coaches place the emphasis on conditioning while training their athletes. The length and intensity of workouts is gradually increased, and as the athlete’s body adapts and gets stronger, lap times drop.
However, while the general level of the athlete’s fitness improves, if there are deficiencies in the athlete’s technique, progress is often limited.
The reason for this is that swimming efficiently requires a lot of technique, as the human body has evolved to move on land on not in the water.
Now, there are gifted swimmers who will always make progress even with little technical guidance, but the reality is that the vast majority of swimmers will benefit as much from improving their stroke mechanics as from physical conditioning.
With this in mind, two approaches must be pursued to improve the swimmer’s technique and to enable him to swim faster:
- The drag the swimmer creates in the water needs to be reduced.
- The propulsion the swimmer generates in the water needs to be increased.
The six principles discussed below can all be classified under these two approaches.
It is often underestimated how important it is to keep drag to a minimum when swimming.
The reason for this is that water is much denser than air. As a consequence, the drag in the water increases by the square of the speed at which we move in the water.
If we take into account that the amount of power we can exert in the water is limited, and that on the other hand reducing drag is more a matter of skill than of power, it becomes clear that this is an area with a lot of room for improvement.
With this in mind, we can formulate the first principles that will allow us to swim faster.
Principle #1: Improving Your Balance
One of the first and best ways to decrease drag is to improve balance. This means that you try to stay as horizontal as possible while moving through the water.
When you do this, you disrupt the smallest amount of water molecules on your way, resulting in reduced drag.
For example, there are front crawl swimmers who first lift their head forward before turning it to the side to breathe.
When they do this, they lose their balance, and their hips and legs sink. As a result, their body is less streamlined and creates more drag as it moves through the water.
They also have to kick harder to keep their legs up. This wastes a lot of energy.
Please note that the breaststroke and the butterfly stroke are slightly different, as these strokes rotate around an imaginary axis that runs through your hips, and therefore you do not remain horizontal over the entire stroke cycle.
Principle #2: Swimming Taller
The next way to decrease drag is to make yourself as tall as possible in the water.
The theory behind this is that with the same mass, a long and tapered object moving through the water creates less turbulence than a short and blunt object.
In fact, this principle has been used by marine engineers for centuries.
To swim taller in the front crawl stroke, you enter your recovering arm early in the water, shortly after it has passed your head.
You also make sure that you fully extend your recovering arm forward under water before starting the downsweep and catch.
Principle #3: Compact and Efficient Kick
An efficient kick is important for fast swimming, albeit less than commonly assumed.
For world class swimmers, the kick in the front crawl contributes up to 10% to propulsion, while the arm stroke contributes the rest.
For an efficient flutter kick, you need to perform fast and compact movements.
Your feet should only break the water surface slightly and should not move below the body line, so that your kick mostly stays in the shadow of your body.
Otherwise, unnecessary drag will be generated, slowing you down.
Once you have reduced drag to a minimum, you can work on improving your propulsion. Again, this is mainly achieved by improving the mechanics of your stroke, not by building larger muscles.
Principle #4: Swim More on the Sides
On way to improve your propulsion is to roll sufficiently from side to side with each arm pull.
If you roll from side to side while pulling with your arms, your body is in a better position to engage the chest and back muscles in addition to the shoulder muscles.
However, swimming on your sides takes some getting used to and requires some practice.
Principle #5: Using Your Core Muscles
Once you have acquired the habit of rolling from side to side with each arm stroke, the next step is to also engage your core muscles.
The synergy between your core, back, shoulder and chest muscles allows you to put a lot of energy in your arm stroke without tiring your shoulders too quickly.
It is a little like a baseball pitcher when he throws the ball:
First his body turns back, then his hips make a forward turn, which is directed through his upper body into his shoulder, arm, hand and finally into the ball, with acceleration occurring at each stage.
Once you have integrated this technique, you will be able to swim longer and faster and tire less quickly because your core, back and chest muscles have more endurance than those in your shoulders.
Principle #6: Anchoring Your Arms
The last principle we will explain in this article on how to swim faster is the anchoring of the arms in the water.
Before pulling your arm backwards in the water, you need to delay the pull until your forearm and hand are in line and pointing down, with the inside of your forearm and palm facing backwards.
At this moment, the elbow is high in the water and above the hand, which by the way is why this swimming technique is called the high elbow catch.
Once your arm is in this position, you can move it backwards as a single unit, similar to a large paddle, and create a lot of propulsion.
There you go, six principles on how to swim faster. If you follow them, you should see your swimming times improve.
You can begin to integrate these principles into your swimming technique by following our series of exercises for the front crawl stroke.