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Swimming Tips to Help You Swim Faster

Coach Rebecca swimming underwater and smiling in a pool with clear blue water.

Swimming can and should be fun!


Swimming is a sport where simply swimming more laps will not make you faster.  You first need to learn proper swimming technique.  This will help you expend less energy and improve your swimming performance.  Whether you are an open water swimmer, triathlete, or SwimRun athlete these key tips and swimming drills will help improve your swimming.


  • Body Position

Head position is key to setting up a good body position in the water.  If your head is too high, your hips will sink.  Your eyes should be looking at the bottom of the pool.  If you drew a line straight up from your ears to the top of your head, this is roughly where you want the water line to hit your head.

Beginner swimmers can have a hard time with body position, because they are concerned with when and how to breathe.  To eliminate this concern and allow you to focus on body position, wear a swim snorkel such as the Finis snorkel .

Push off the wall with your arms by your side and snorkel on.  Move your head position down until you feel your hips rise towards the surface of the water, and your shoulder blades just out of the water.  Now kick for 25 meters in this position.

Even after you’ve mastered good body position, return to this drill at the start of each swim session to set yourself up for good swim technique.


  • Body Rotation

The next step in setting up a good freestyle swim stroke is to work on rotation.  You are faster swimming on your side than on your stomach due to less frontal drag.  Your hips and shoulders should rotate in unison – it is a coupled action between hips and shoulders.

There are a few key swimming drills to work on body rotation.  Beginner swimmers should wear a snorkel and fins for these drills.

1) 12-kick switch drill:

In this swimming drill you will work on staying in an extended position on your side for 12 kicks at a time.  For example, with your right arm extended and left shoulder and hip facing out of the water you stay in this position for 12 kicks.  After the 12 kicks you switch sides and repeat on the other side.

You can watch a video demonstration of the drill here.


2) 3 strokes – 6 kick switch drill:

This drill is a progression from the 12-kick switch.  Instead of kicking for 12 kicks on your side, you only kick for 6 kicks.  In addition, instead of only taking 1 arm stroke between sides, you will now take 3 strokes.  So, you are slowly adding in more swimming with a continued emphasis on hip and shoulder rotation.

You can watch a video demonstration of the drill here.


  • Improve Your Catch

If you’ve ever watched Olympic swimmers, you may have thought they looked effortless even while swimming at warped speeds.  This is, in part, because they have superb feel for the water.  The amount of water you can pull with your hand determines how far forward you propel yourself with each stroke.  Even more important, is the first quadrant of the pull phase – the power phase.  Rush this crucial part of the freestyle stroke, and you will find yourself flailing through the water.  The best way to improve your catch is to work on sculling drills.  Beginner swimmers should wear a swim snorkel for these drills.

  1) Sculling drills:

There are many different types of sculling drills.  They each can emphasize different parts of the freestyle stroke.  The most important one would be the front scull since the power phase of the freestyle stroke is the first quadrant.

You can watch a video demonstration of the front scull drill here.


    2) 2 sculls-1 pull drill:

This drill starts to add in some swimming and is a nice progression from the front scull drill.  You start with 2 front sculls with your face in the water, followed by 1 freestyle stroke.  You then return to 2 front sculls followed by 1 freestyle stroke with the other arm and repeat that pattern.

You watch a video demonstration of this drill here.


  • Increase Your Tempo

So, you’ve got perfect body position, good rotation, and a great catch out front.  Surely now you will swim faster, right?  One additional key ingredient to swimming faster is the rate at which you move your arms.  Beginner swimmers tend to move their arms at too slow of a rate.  The first step is to know what your baseline stroke rate is.  To do this there is a handy training tool called the tempo trainer.  I prefer to tuck the trainer into my swim cap so it stays in place, and I can hear the metronome beep.  You can set the tempo trainer to any stroke rate and find the number that feels most natural to you.

The next step would be to work on increasing the stroke rate if need be.  Ideally, for endurance events of 500 meters or longer you would aim for a stroke rate of 80 – 90 strokes per minute (this would be 40 – 45 left arm strokes + 40 – 45 right arm strokes in the minute).  However, depending on your current ability level you may need to start at a lower stroke rate.  For example, if your baseline stroke rate is 55 strokes per minute, work on increasing the rate by 5 strokes per minute every 3 – 4 weeks.


At The Performance Project, we offer swimming form analysis (  to athletes based all over the world as well as a ‘4-weeks to a better swim’ training plan (  with video demonstrations and explanations of each drill.

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