Swimming Faster With Streamlines

Your Fast Lane to Better Times

black swimming cap, black goggles, blue background
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Streamlines can make a world of difference to a swimmer, particularly in a short-course setting, since streamlines and the idea of reducing drag can be applied to starts, swimming, and turns. Swimming with streamlines is a way to make a minimum energy investment for a maximum speed return. It's not exactly a free lunch for a swimmer, but it's as close as it gets in the pool. Initiating the first kick or pull is a matter of determining when the swimmer's speed is about to drop from faster than they can swim to their race swimming speed.

Experiment with different timing to make streamlines as efficient as possible.

From a start, the speed gained from the push off the block and the force of gravity is faster than the swimmer can actually swim. If they can maintain that speed for any extra duration and everything else is equal, their overall time for the race could be quicker. All they have to do is perform an improved streamline.

Streamlining Reduces Drag

During the swimming portions of a race, any chance to reduce the external forces fighting against the swimmer's forward progress, such as drag, can result in a faster race time. If a more streamlined body position through a slight adjustment of head position results in decreased drag, then the swimmer just got faster without putting real extra effort into moving forward any faster. Another way to reduce drag is to pay attention to hand entry and hand/arm position (both arms!) during the stroke cycle.

And don't forget the legs. A wide kick might have more force for some swimmers, but it also increases drag. The wide kick's force most likely must overcome the drag it creates, resulting in little or no added speed. In other words, a narrow kick could be more efficient. 

What about turns? There are many chances to streamline here, open or flip.

How is the direction being changed? Is a loose limb sticking out someplace that is being "dragged" through the water instead of slipped through it? Is water being pushed against or slid through during the direction change? How about the swimmer's push off the pool wall? The swimmer's upper body must be in a streamline shape before initiating the push to maximize speed off the wall. As the push-off continues, the swimmer must keep the rest of their body in a streamline so they can hold that speed, which should be faster than swimming, for as long as possible.

Off-the-Wall Streamlining

The easiest place to make a quick change in streamlines is off a wall. These are the things I look for in a streamline after the swimmer has left the wall:

  • One hand aligned on top of the other, with fingers pointing the direction of travel.The little finger and thumb of the top hand wrapped around the lower hand to allow leverage and to prevent separation.
  • The fingertips stretching and reaching as far forward as possible.
  • The arms extended, pointing in the direction of travel.
  • The body surface, from the back of the swimmer's hands, along the arms, then down the shoulders and back, as one relatively smooth surface with no "head bump" sticking up on that side.
  • The head bump on the chest side.
  • The swimmer's arms actively squeezing in behind the head, as if trying to make the elbows touch.
  • The swimmer's core tight and straight, every muscle pulling toward the center, trying to make the body longer and thinner.
  • The swimmer's legs adducted, or squeezed in and together with the toes pointed.
  • The swimmer as a strong, long torpedo-, rocket-, or pencil-shape off the wall (and on a start).

In your practice include a few push-offs that are purposely not streamlined to remind yourself how much easier it is when you do perform a great swimming streamline.