Swimming Speed and Swimming Efficiency

Swim Fast via Increased Swimming Power and / or Decreased Swimming Drag

female swimmer performing turn in competition
Swim faster. Getty Images

Swimmers usually want to swim fast or swim more efficiently at some point. To swim fast means swimming a set distance in less time once in a while. Swimming more efficiently means swimming a workout or a race distance in the same amount of time but at a lower energy cost. To swim fast, either swim a distance faster or swim that distance with the same speed but using less energy... and then there is the "I want it all" swimmer.

They want to swim fast and swim efficiently; that could happen, too, and will in the best case.

The Swim Fast Equation?

What is your number-one goal? What distance or event do you want to conquer? There are many reasons why swimmers want to improve speed, whether it's for a faster 100-meter or better open-water time at their next triathlon. Whatever the goal, you can't argue with science to improve your swimming speed and efficiency.

Maximizing forward speed.

How to do that? By reducing things that limit forward speed and increasing things that promote forward speed.

What limits swimming speed?

  • Technique
  • Drag
  • Walls or Turns

What promotes swimming speed?

  • Technique
  • Power
  • Walls

Hmmm - those two lists aren't that much different. What does each item do to (or for) a swimmer?

Technique Good technique helps a swimmer minimize drag caused by the action of swimming. It also maximizes the amount of force that the swimmer transfers from their body to the water to propel themselves forward.

Bad technique has the opposite effect, increasing drag and decreasing efficiency.

Drag Seems like everyone hears that minimizing drag is easier than maximizing power. It is easier to slip through the water than it is to overpower the water. Doubling speed quadruples drag. So do all you can to minimize drag.

Appropriate body roll, good swimming body alignment, and properly fitting swimsuits all help.

Power It takes some strength to swim, but you do not have to do dryland strength training to be a strong swimmer (you can, but you do not have to). Just having perfect technique doesn't make a swimmer fast. They might be efficient, but probably not fast. Swimmers need to develop strength so they can apply force to the water, using their good technique, moving them forward.

Walls - Turns If you have to turn around because you arrive at a wall, that means you have stopped moving forward (not all bad - could be a chance for you to get some extra air) A wall also could be a chance to get turned around and re-build your speed in the opposite direction. A good push-off while you are in a streamline will get you moving faster than you can go when swimming.

Practice things that will help you increase your forward speed. That includes technique and strength.

Swim On!

Updated by Dr. John Mullen on February 29, 2016