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6 Ways to Swim Faster

2016/7/21 10:44:48

One of the biggest misconceptions about swimming speed is that in order to swim faster you have to move your arms faster.

"He who pulls the most water wins, not the one who moves their arms through the water like a windmill," says Melanie Valerio, who won gold as part of the freestyle 4 x 100 relay team at the 1996 Summer Olympics. In fact, windmill arms won't get you to the other end of the pool faster; they'll get you there more exhausted.

There are hundreds of ways to improve your stroke and learn how to swim faster. But you should start by streamlining your body, getting a good hold on the water, and practicing these often-overlooked techniques.

More: Adding Speed and Efficiency to Technique

Keep Your Kick Shallow

"You don't need to kick hard or fast," Valerio says. You just need to kick effectively.

That means allowing your feet to point like a ballerina and letting them break the surface of the water, says competitive swimmer Drew Porter, founder and owner of Quixotic Racing. Kicking too far under water just creates drag.

Test the theory yourself: Porter often has athletes kick with their feet at a 90-degree angle to their shins. Sometimes, they even move backward in the pool. When they point their feet and break the water, they know where the surface of the water is and can keep the kick where it should be.

More: How to Swim Faster

Straighten Your Knees

If your kick still isn't getting you anywhere, you may be "kicking from your knees." In other words, you may be bending them too much so they flail instead of helping you power forward.

One way to know if you're guilty: Turn over on your back and kick your way down the pool. "If you see your knees break the surface of the water, you're not kicking right," Valerio says.

The remedy: "Put on a pair of fins," Valerio recommends. "They extend your whole leg like a mermaid and prevent you from kicking from your knees." Do a few sets with fins, then do a few sets in which you try to mimic the movement without them.

More: Swim Fast to Get Fast

Vary Your Pace

"Doing a set, like 10 x 100, and holding the same pace for the whole set just makes you good at holding the same pace," Porter says. "When you're in a race, your heart rate is going to spike, so you might as well train for it." In a race, you typically go a little fast at the beginning, settle in, and then get faster at the end.

One of Porter's favorite ways to train the body to process these spikes in heart rate is with deck ups. Simply swim to the edge of the pool, push yourself up on to the deck, stand up, then jump back in and do the next set.

More: Step Up Your Swim Workouts With a Pace Clock

Check Your Head Position

"For about every inch of lift you have on your head, you're going to get almost a foot of sinking in your feet," Porter says. That pulls your hips down and creates drag, which slows you down.

One of the most effective ways to change your swim speed is to change your head position. Don't believe it? Test it yourself. Start with your eyes looking straight down at the pool and your arms straight out in front of you. See what happens when you lift your head inch by inch.

More: Kicking Drills for Better Body Position

Don't Just Pull the Water, Push It

Lots of people give up halfway through the stroke. "As soon as you reach your belly button, that's when you're going to push the water behind you," Valerio says.

If your stroke tends to fade out halfway through, Valerio recommends brushing your thumbs against your thighs.

More: Become More Efficient by Finishing Your Stroke

Test Yourself

"If you want to figure out if something works, swim 6 x 100 normally. Then make an adjustment and do another 6 x 100," Porter says. "Get the time and heart rate on each 100. If you swim faster and your heart rate stays the same, it works. If your time gets faster and your heart rate goes up, that's still OK. But if your time gets slower, and your heart rate goes up, that change doesn't work for you."

More: 2 Top Swim Workouts for Triathletes

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