How to Swim Faster – The Six Principles of Fast Swimming

Maybe you’ve been wondering how to swim faster for months or even years, but you haven’t found a satisfactory answer.

Well, you’re not alone. Many people who want to improve their swimming skills encounter this problem for various reasons.

Two men engaged in a front crawl race.
Learn how to swim faster and beat your competition

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 emphasize conditioning while training their athletes. The length and intensity of workouts are 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, not in the water.

Now, some gifted swimmers 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:

  1. The drag the swimmer creates in the water needs to be reduced.
  2. 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.

Decreasing Drag

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 of a matter of skill than of power, it becomes clear that this is an area where substantial improvements are possible.

With this in mind, we can formulate the first principles that will allow us to swim faster.

Principle #1: Improving Your Balance

This female front crawl swimmer has excellent horizontal balance.
A good horizontal balance is important to minimize drag.

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, which wastes energy.

Please note that in the breaststroke and the butterfly stroke, things are a bit 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.

A female front crawl swimmer, with one arm nicely extended in front of her.
Make yourself as tall as possible in the water.

The theory is that, with the same mass, a long and tapered object moving through the water creates less turbulence than a short and blunt object. Marine engineers have used this principle for centuries.

To swim taller in the front crawl stroke, your recovering arm enters early in the water, shortly after it has passed your head.

You also make sure that you fully extend your recovering arm forward underwater before starting the downsweep and catch.

Principle #3: Compact and Efficient Kick

An efficient kick is important for fast swimming, albeit less important than commonly assumed.

For world-class swimmers, the kick in the front crawl contributes up to 10 percent to propulsion, while the arm stroke contributes the rest.

A female front crawl swimmer, using fast and compact kicking movements to swim fast.
Use fast, compact kicking movements

For an efficient flutter kick, you need to perform fast and compact movements.

Your feet should only break the water surface slightly; they should not move below the body line so your kick stays mostly in the shadow of your body.

Otherwise, unnecessary drag will be generated, slowing you down.

Improving Propulsion

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

One 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.

A female front crawl swimmer gliding on the left side of her body.
Swimming on the sides takes some getting used to.

However, swimming on your sides can feel a bit odd in the beginning and, therefore, 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 also to 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.

A young male front crawl swimmer is 
 engaging his core muscles to swim with more power.
You should also engage your core muscles with every pull.

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 backward in the water, you need to wait until your forearm and hand are in line and pointing downward, with the inside of your forearm and palm facing backward.

A young man swimming front crawl and using a high-elbow catch.
A nice example of the high elbow catch

At this moment, the elbow is high in the water and located above the hand, which is why this swimming technique is called the high-elbow catch.

Once your arm is in this position, you can move it backward as a single unit, similar to a large paddle, and create a lot of propulsion.


There you have it: 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.

Have fun!

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34 thoughts on “How to Swim Faster – The Six Principles of Fast Swimming”

  1. Avatar

    I have started swimming since 15th July’14. I am able to swim fast, according to the feedback I get from the trainer, but I am not able to breathe. I can swim 25m really fast but cannot breathe. I request your advice on how to resolve this deficiency.

    1. Christophe

      Hi from your comment I gather that you don’t breathe at all during the 25m. But if you are able to swim fast it means that you have good technique, only that breathing hasn’t been integrated yet.

      I’d really suggest that you follow our series of drills to learn front crawl.

      In those drills, you’ll practice floating on the back, side, chest, as well as breathing in those positions. And the arm movements are added step by step. Learning how to breathe is a nice side benefit that occurs when practicing those drills.

        1. Avatar

          1. Do NOT swim the 50 relaxed. You need to go crazy on the 50. You want your stroke rate to make your arms feel like they will fly off.
          2. if you ever do 25 with lots of rest, then do them with no breath. Or if you can’t do that yet, take a couple breaths, but then the next day take less. Outside of practice, every hour take the biggest breath you can and slowly let it out
          3. as for kick, What you do is swim with an extremely slow stroke rate. It has to be visible slow, like you’re in slow motion. While you’re doing that, your legs are going like crazy. You want a 12 beat kick. So 12 kicks for every pull cycle.
          4. Don’t sprint in a way that is uncomfortable, be relaxed. Really push off the wall on your turn. And on the last 25, really kick.
          5. As a sprinter I usually took one breath on the first 25 and one or two on the way back.
          6. Your flip turn should be tight and explosive
          7. Kick more, maybe with a snorkel in superman position. This will force your hips up a bit more into better body line.
          8. Do leg raises or ab wheel work
          9. Work on your starts. A huge part of sprinting is how quickly you get off the the blocks and how you enter the water.
          10. We need to decrease drag in the water.
          11. We need to improve propulsion in the water.

    2. Avatar

      You have to exhale fully under water to clear your lungs so that you can fully inhale when your head is above water.

      Moreover your can’t both inhale and exhale at the same time when your head is above water, the time is too short and it causes panting.

      Separate both actions to have ample time.

    3. Avatar


      My daughter is 6 years old, she has been swimming for the last 3 years but her speed is insufficient, she is too slow, what should I do? Also for her height she is a bit short.

  2. Avatar


    I´m David from Ecuador in South America, I would like to improve my times in breaststroke: 50 meters 31,80; 100 meters 1:09,88; 200 Meters 2:37,50 all of them on short course pool (25m).

    I think I have to improve technique but in my country, there are no good coaches or special labs and I know I have a lot of mistakes.

    I want your opinion, you can see these videos on my youtube channel:

    1) 50 breaststroke lane 2

    2) 100 breaststroke lane 6:

    3) and also this 25m sprint underwater video:

    Please help me with my goals.

    Also here is some data:

    Height: 1,70 m
    Weight: 62Kg
    Fat %: 16.3%
    Age: 21

    Daily training time: 1hr gym, 1hr swimming (2000 to 3000 meters, just 1000meters breaststroke swimming), ½ hr core training on land.

    1. Christophe

      Hi David,

      As far as I can tell, you are already a very good swimmer, and I don’t see any particular weaknesses in your breaststroke.

      So I can’t give you specific tips at this time. Maybe some other site visitors will be able to help.



    2. Avatar

      Hola David, a mi entender como entrenador y nadador, debes trabajar el deslizamiento bajo el agua justo después de una poderosa patada abierta en ángulo de 45º aprox para no perder hacia los costados al abrirla demasiado ni perder agarre al cerrar las piernas, sumando una onda suave antes de comenzar la brazada.

      Trata de realizar el drill o largo en 8 ciclos suaves entendiendo la onda y demás fases, o al menos ir reduciendo la cantidad de ciclos, una vez que te estabilices en la cantidad por largo, entonces puedes comenzar a tomar los tiempos de cada lap y reducirlos tratando de mantener la cantidad mínima de ciclos.

      Luego de un mes de práctica comenta.

    3. Avatar

      Hi David,

      For your freestyle, the only thing I can say is more body rotation, so you aren’t as flat on your front.

  3. Avatar


    Having watched David’s videos they are a very good standard already (which I think you know).

    A possible method to improve though are two drills I’ve seen used at our club recently, one is sprint sculling until your forearms burn, done often it can improve your breast pull and feel for the water.

    The other is pull buoy breaststroke again for the improved water feel and balance. Mess up your alignment and balance in the water and you will stop mid-stroke (most juniors end up staying still).

    If you already do this I’d recommend changing your breast training and drills every 6 weeks to avoid muscle memory, keep shocking them into action.

    Just some thoughts, have fun.

  4. Avatar

    Hi David,

    I am a breaststroker, how can I improve my breaststroke to make better times 100m -1.15sec, 200m -2.45sec in a 50m pool?

    I am 14 years of age.

  5. Avatar


    I’m Jade, I’m participating in a swimming carnival tomorrow, and I need help with freestyle. I just struggle to keep a breathing pace. I also would like some advice on backstroke to be faster.

    Thanks a lot,


  6. Avatar

    Hey, so my 50m time is 25.61sec and 100m time is 58.23sec freestyle.

    Anyway, can I swim faster than this? I’ve been swimming for about 8 years now. I’m 16 years old.

    Height: 6’1
    Weight: 175

  7. Avatar

    In physics, there is a law that states the further there is between a pivoting point and a force application point, the greater the resulting momentum.

    Among all strokes, butterfly & breaststroke make it easiest to find the pivoting point.

    If your pivoting point is around your shoulders and the pivoting point of your opponent is around the abdomen, obviously his stroke will be more powerful and the distance traveled will also be farther.

    Just watch the recent popular races, and see the swimmer’s face expression.

  8. Avatar


    I have been swimming for about 4 months and my current 50 meter freestyle time is a 25.5.

    I am a senior, and I don’t have much time to improve, my average time dropped has been almost exactly a 1 second decrease every two weeks. Sometimes more sometimes less.

    My biggest problem is my start, flip turn, and underwater.

    I have also been practicing with swimming trunks on and my time has been dropping a little faster, I am the fastest freestyle on the team, and I feel like they are banking on me to take the relays to state.

    I really never learned how to swim besides using websites like this one. My 100 free time is a 1:06.

    I know I have the endurance, its just I really suck at flip turns, so they slow me down every time.

    My 100 meter long course time is a 58 if that helps put it into perspective. I swim about 3 hours a day and workout about 45 minutes.

    I need some help to drop my time fast, luckily I have room to improve. Any advice is appreciated.

  9. Avatar

    What are things I can do to make my 500-yard freestyle faster what kind of strategies are best and is 6:00 minutes a fast time? I’m trying to get under 6 minutes but it’s hard.

    I need strategies.

  10. Avatar

    I’m a minor Thalassemic, suffering from minor anemic traits since young.

    Mom always told me since young I’ll suffer from aerobic exercises performance. Back then I didn’t care as a kid and as I approached young adulthood I started to feel it.

    No matter what intensity and training I did on sports near perfection, I never succeeded my peers unfortunately :D

    I picked up swimming when I was 22, preparing myself to be a part-time lifeguard as part of a work and travel programme to the US organized by an agency in my university (I’m Asian actually – Chinese, yeah a stereotype Chinese can’t survive 5 seconds in the water, lol).

    I never had a coach, whatever my self-coaching came from YouTube and importantly COMMON SENSE. In one year time, I felt that I became a good swimmer, I could move on water like how ice skaters glace through ice.

    As the article mentioned, some people instinctively know how to improve themselves in water and I’m glad I am one. Perhaps because I’m an engineering student thus I could deduce, interpret whatever my actions in the water and relate it to physics – drag as the most important factor in swimming, not brute force.

    That’s how I improved myself without a coach – understanding the simple technical principles of swimming and have the notion to improve. Most would have just called it a day after they could swim from one end to another, not me though.

    People are surprised to see a thin (maybe rather lean), lanky yellow-skinned dude coming out from the pool who could swim so well as opposed to majority uninformed belief that good swimmers come from big muscles and shit. Then I would have another group who claims I could swim due to my long arms and legs :D

    Oh well, I like to share my experience because I’ve seen too many who are coached – being taught to swim like a robot following a typical series of steps, but not being taught to UNDERSTAND why this and that of their actions in water (at least the amateur coaches in my country).

    I feel pathetic for coaches who teach the young for example to kick the water as hard if you wanna reach the end! Things like that.

    At present time though, I am still struggling with my stamina. With the same effort and quality, the other person could do 3-4 times farther than I do. I’ll pant and be gassed out easily, nevertheless, I’ll try not to give up and love what I achieve.

    I try not to undermine/take for granted of my weakness as it has actually nurtured me plenty of improvisations in water.

  11. Avatar


    I have my NLS course coming up soon for my final lifeguarding certification, and I’m a bit worried about the 16 lengths swim in less than 10 minutes and the 2 lengths head-up front crawl in less than 60 seconds.

    I know I can make the 16 lengths in under 10:30 but I need some strategies on endurance swim to cut down on a few seconds.

    Also, what are some strategies for head-up front crawl as it has always created a ton of drag in my swimming?

  12. Avatar


    So, I started swimming in 3rd grade.

    Obviously, I have improved since then but for a while now I’ve been stuck on a plateau, not really improving even though I work very hard in practice to improve. I still feel like I’m going nowhere.

    I’m one of the shortest girls in the senior elite group at 5’3. I’m having trouble in my freestyle. I keep bobbing in the water and I can feel my breathing is off too.

    Help please! How do I get faster with a strong build and short arm length when height is not on my side?

    1. Christophe

      Hi Kaylie,

      You might want to look into Swim Smooth’s Swim Type Guides. Those guides contain customized training advice based on your body’s morphology.

      I personally haven’t reviewed those guides, but the concept sounds interesting and might be what you need.

      Good luck!

  13. Avatar


    Where I lived before, we didn’t have sports in schools so I learned how to swim at an early age but only started swimming competitively at the age of 15.

    We don’t have a pool at school so we only practice 2 days a week for an hour for 3 months, and I will be going to college fall of 2018 and I want to be really fast before that.

    Right now I swim the 50 freestyle in 63 seconds and I want to get at least to 30 or 25 seconds before 2018, any suggestions on how I can do that?

    I plan on practicing a lot during summer but I am not sure what kind of workout I should do.


    1. Christophe

      Hi Mariama,

      I keep hearing good things about the “Swim Speed” series by Sheila Taormina, you might check it out.

      Good luck,


  14. Avatar

    I can swim a 2k in around 50 minutes but i want to increase my speed. I usually breathe onto one side every swim stroke and have a 2 kick. Do i require to decrease my drag and improve my pull to get faster

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