- Is speed different for each swimming stroke?
- Tips on how to become a faster swimmer
- How to refine arm movements to improve swimming speed
- How to refine kicks to improve swimming speed
- What are the best underwater drills for speed training?
- Can swimming gear and accessories improve speed?
Swimming Essentials: How To Become a Faster Swimmer
Notwithstanding the technicalities in body movements, swimmers win competitions by being the fastest of them all. However, achieving this goal is not as simple as forcing your strokes to speed up. Instead, it’s all about perfecting and refining the little things, particularly techniques and positions.
Hear the secrets to swimming faster from us, and find out some scientifically proven studies to improve your swimming methods and techniques! Here’s a guide to help you become a faster swimmer.
Is Speed Different For Each Swimming Stroke?
Before you begin improving your speed as a swimmer, know first if you need a different speed level and speed training for different swimming strokes. Each stroke requires a different technique, position, and body movement.
According to interviews conducted by The World, a US public radio news magazine covering international news, many experts pointed the fish kick, a version that emerged from dolphin kick, as the fastest swimming style.
“When you push off the wall or you dive in, you’re going faster than you can possibly swim…If you can … maintain that speed, you’ll do the length of the pool in as little as 15 or 16 seconds,” said swim coach and research engineer Rick Madge in one of the interviews regarding fish kick.
In contrast, the slowest swimming stroke among the four official strokes recognized by competitions is breaststroke. This is understandable because breaststroke is the most challenging stroke to teach and master due to the timings and coordination involved. The body follows a steep angle during a forward motion in breaststrokes, reducing the swimmer’s speed drastically.
Given the different types of swimming strokes restricted or required in a competition, improving your speed would depend on the kind of competition you want to join and your level and category as a swimmer.
Tips on How to Become a Faster Swimmer
Following the principles of swimming, improving your basic techniques and following a plan can ultimately help you become a faster swimmer. But under these general tips, there is more to be done. Here are some of the best ways to improve your swimming speed.
Improve Your Current Technique
Swim with focus, passion, and intent to officially kickstart your training. Start by improving all the existing techniques you have learned or at least the techniques you mostly use when you casually swim and compete. A swimming technique allows you to move faster through the water with less effort. Your main techniques, again, depend on the swimming stroke.
Perfect Your Arm Movements
Your arm movement determines your arm speed. It does most of the work when you move through the water. Your goal should be to reduce the number of strokes it takes to cover a particular or an entire distance. Alternatively, you can also make your strokes faster.
You can count in half or full cycles since the arm movements for each swimming stroke are different. Counting in half-cycle begins when one of your arms enters the water while counting in full-cycle begins when both of your arms enter the water.
Below are some ways to improve your arm movements for each swimming stroke. You can start the counting once you apply the techniques mentioned below to either increase or improve your strokes per given distance.
During freestyle, the arms contribute approximately 90% to the total swimming velocity. This is remarkably accurate for elite swimmers. As such, perfecting the proper arm technique, which involves arms moving alternately, can improve and increase your strokes in freestyle. When you alternate strokes, aim to pull your body forward and allow your arm to entirely go back to your waist before you begin your next stroke. In this way, your body will rotate in the same direction as the arm above your head.
Arm movements in breaststroke require both arms to be stretched out in front of you, followed by your palms facing outward. In this position, move both of your arms outward. Afterward, bend your arms and let your palm be lined up with your forearms. Following this movement, you move your arms backward and bring them up towards your chest with your palms facing each other. When you complete this cycle, make sure to extend your arms in front of you to begin the next stroke.
Like in freestyle, you also use alternating arm movements in backstroke. The difference is your arms will remain in a straight position when they’re out of the water. When this happens, make sure to keep the arm fully extended. Then, rotate your palm outward when you move the upper arm and the other arm down the water. This will allow your arms to complete a down sweep efficiently. For the upspeed movement, pull your bent arm backward to push your whole body into the water. Then, rotate your palm and arm inward and move your arm up.
Arm movements for butterfly are also kind of similar to freestyle, but your arms move at the same time. Beginners and intermediate swimmers can easily learn this arm movement. However, elite swimmers perfect the finer details. To master the finer details, focus on the precision of your arms when they move together to assist your kicks. Keep your arm movements and kicks equal in power.
To perfect the arm movements required for the swimming stroke you wish to master, incorporate 20% arms-only swimming training into your weekly training sessions. A study published by the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance revealed that arms-only swimming training could “improve arm conditioning during the preparatory phase of the annual training cycle.”
Refine Your Swimming Kicks
After perfecting your arm movements, the next step is to refine your swimming kicks to balance your upper and lower body movements as you move. Below are some ways to improve your kick techniques for each swimming stroke.
The leg movements in breaststroke, called frog kicks, must be synchronized. As you complete the cycle of bending your legs at the knee, hip, and torso, then moving your legs apart, make sure to move your toes and heels back into a straight position.
Freestyle and Backstroke
Both these swimming strokes require flutter kicks. Contrary to popular belief, bigger flutter kicks won’t make you move faster. The right position will. Make sure to keep your knees as straight as possible when you kick, then concentrate on executing small movements with big splashes using your feet.
The leg movement in butterfly, called the dolphin kick, is one of the easiest kicks to learn. However, it’s also one of the most difficult to master. According to Abbie Fish, a professional swimmer and a level 2 coach in the U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS), the best way to refine the dolphin kick is to focus on your kick timing and kick finish. The timing requires two kicks per stroke, while the finish requires the position of having your feet in front of your body or closer to the bottom of the pool once you finish a stroke.
Be Mindful of Your Head Positions
Another tip involving the actual body movements underwater is to focus on your head positions. Beginners often forget that head positioning is vital in swimming, but a related study published in Science Direct analyzing the effect of swimmer’s head position on swimming performance revealed that “the position of the head had a noticeable effect on the hydrodynamic performances, strongly modifying the wake around the swimmer.”
So, remember that your whole body, especially the hips, follows the location of your head. Aim to keep your head in line with your spine as you swim, regardless of the stroke. Try to look at the bottom of the pool to maintain the position. This will prevent upper-body injury and improve your timing and speed.
Apply Proper Breathing Techniques
Breathing techniques help swimmers swim farther, deeper, and faster. You can only execute the perfect arm movements and kicks if you can breathe properly and efficiently.
One effective tip is to exhale every time you go underwater. This may sound common sense to you, but remember that you only have a split second to inhale and exhale after each stroke. Avoid taking shallow breaths. Take a big gulp above water and exhale when you dive.
Another tip is to find the breathing rhythm that works best for you. Aim to inhale and exhale at the same length. Depending on the swimming stroke, you can use bilateral or unilateral breathing. Bilateral requires you to breathe per stroke or every other arm stroke, while unilateral requires you to breathe after two strokes or per the third stroke.
Exercise Outside the Water
Improve your upper and lower body strength by doing some exercise outside the water. Yes, you can also improve your swimming skills and speed even when you’re not in the pool.
Do regular workouts that can improve your core muscles, such as sit-ups, crunches, scissor kicks, and planks. For your shoulder and muscle strength, try using an exercise ball. This could aid your arm movements. Last but not least is to stretch out, an essential warm-up activity for simmers. This will prevent muscle and joint strains.
Perform Underwater Drills
Underwater drills, without a doubt, can help you swim faster and improve your balance. If you finally refined your arm movements, kicks, and breathing techniques, perform drills based on all strokes or your assigned and preferred swimming strokes. Here are five swimming drills to improve your speed:
- Single-Arm Drill – Improve stroke accuracy by swimming one length using a static arm and a moving arm. Keep the static arm extended forward.
- Fingertip Drag Drill – Drag your fingertips across the water every time you recover per stroke, then bring your arm up in the front position.
- Push and Glide Drill – To perfect the best underwater position, push your body up in a streamlined position when you enter the water. Then, squeeze your ears with your upper arms while keeping your chin tucked in. Next, glide through the water and only begin a full stroke when you reach the surface.
- Rotation Kick Drill – When executing the flutter kick, slowly rotate from side to side. Remember to keep your head in line with your body.
- Fist Drill – Swim in freestyle with a tight, closed fist. Make sure that your elbow stays up to feel and fight the pulling pressure.
Invest in the Right Gear
During training, make sure to use the right gear and equipment. They can affect your movements while underwater. Several studies have already shown that swimsuits have a tremendous effect on the swimmer’s performance.
One study published by the American College of Sports Medicine revealed that “loose-fitting competition or drag-reducing suits can increase drag when compared with tight-fitting suits”. Another study, published in the Brazilian Archives of Biology and Technology of SciELO – Brazil, confirmed that “swimsuits presented performance-enhancing characteristics when compared to wearing no swimsuit (only light underwear).”
Given the contribution of proper swimsuits and equipment to swimming performance, go for form-fitting swimsuits. They can help you refine your arm movements and kicks. For accessories, also make sure to wear form-fitting and fully functional goggles and swim caps.
Get Feedback from Experts
Don’t train by yourself, especially if you’re a beginner who wishes to compete. You can join a swim team, hire a personal trainer, or get insights from a professional. If low on budget or connection, you can just bring a friend to record your progress. You’ll have a hard time tracking your progress, strengths, and weaknesses if you train alone. You need a lookout.
Set Goals, and Follow Them Consistently
Measure your progress by setting goals. For example, you can set a distance (50 to 100 yards) to observe your speed training or set a target date to complete all your drills. The ultimate goal is to break your speed record into manageable steps until you’re ready to compete.
Becoming a faster swimmer has lots of physical and mental requirements. You can only reach peak performance if you have the time, determination, and effort to complete all the tips mentioned here. Above all, focus on your body position and technique, two common determinants of speed. Always challenge yourself by intensifying your training with elements that are on par or above race pace.