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Four Swim Skills for Swimmers to Master to Help Them Swim Fast

Learn how to do these and you will can swim fast

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Woman swimming at surface of pool, underwater view
David Madison / Stone / Getty Images
Updated May 27, 2014
Many things limit how fast a swimmer can swim, from swimming technique to fitness to hand and foot size to a swimmer's natural bone and joint structure. Some swimmers seem to swim fast effortlessly, some look like they will never be able to swim fast. Some swimmers will have limits on technique because they don't bend certain ways - their range of motion is physically limited by joint structure. That does not mean that those swimmers can't swim fast, but they may never be as fast as swimmers that have a differing joint structure.

There are several swimming technique skills you can work on to swim fast. These skill can also help you a more efficient swimmer - you might go the same speed but use less energy. To swim fast you need to increase swim speed, decrease swimming drag or increase swimming force. Swim slipperier (yes, that is a real word) or swim stronger - or both.

Swim coaches like to talk about how swimming gets harder as a swimmer goes faster because of an increase in a swimmer's drag. The swimmer must decrease the impact of that drag or apply a great deal more muscle power while swimming. Swimmers find it difficult to get results from applying more muscle power to the water if they are not doing it the right way. The first steps to fast swimming are positioning, grabbing, pressing, and rotating, things that everyone can learn. Here are a few things to check before trying to put more muscle power into your swims.

  • Positioning
    • You need to have your body in the best possible swimming position to both minimize drag and increase the potential muscle power available. Get your body straight and long, parallel to the water surface, as you swim.
    • Check what you see. You should be looking down at the bottom, sideways or almost up to the side as you breath, but never forward. If you look forward, your legs will tend to drop towards the bottom, and you will lose your parallel alignment with the water.
    • The top of your head always points towards your destination.
    • Imagine that you are swimming in a long tube. Keep yourself within that tube as you move forward. It may require a gentle kick, it may require looking a little more backwards than down, but practice your positioning.
  • Grabbing
    • You must grab or catch the water so you have a way to transfer your muscle power from your body to the water - a good swimming catch.
    • You need to put your hand and arm in a position that allows this to happen. Trying to grab the water with just your hand and you will be losing a lot of your grip.
    • Try to use your hand and forearm.
    • Imagine that you are reaching forward and down over a wall as you swim, with the edge of the wall at your elbow. Point your fingertips towards the bottom of the pool, point your elbow up towards the sky or out towards the side, and think of everything from the elbow joint down your forearm and through your fingertips as one large paddle.
  • Pressing
    • You must press on the water with the largest muscles available. For most swimmers that means the muscles in your chest and back, not in your arms or shoulders.
    • You should feel a pocket develop in your armpit as you apply force to the water.
    • As you press on the water, your back and chest muscles pull your arm from ahead of you to under and behind your chest (but do all you can to maintain the fingertip down, elbow up "grab" position).
    • Imagine yourself grabbing the water first, then pressing on the water. Feel your body surge forward over your arm as you press.
  • Rotating
    • To fully use your position, your grab, and your press, you must add body rotation.
    • Your body should rotate about an axis defined by a line from the top of your head through your neck, back, and legs.
    • When the arm is grabbing, the body body is rotated so that the grabbing arm side is under water and the opposite side is above the water - or at least closer to the water's surface than the grabbing side.
    • A swimmer rotates as one unit, from shoulders through hips, with the hips and shoulders in line with each other (this means you need to use your core muscles to hold it all together).
    • After you have grabbed the water you are going to press on the water. As you press, you also rotate your body, moving the body slightly ahead of the press. moving the body so that the side that was lower is moving up towards the surface and the side that was up is moving lower (and that moving lower side's arm is moving into the water ahead of you, sliding forward and extending, but not moving into the grab or catch yet).
    • Imagine a string going from your hip to your palm. Move the hip to start the press by pulling on that string when the hip begins to rotate from a deeper to a shallower position.

Work on these swim skills and you may be on the way to a fast swim in no time.

Swim On!

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