How to Swim Faster

Seven essential tips on how to swim freestyle faster…

The surest way to swim faster, especially for beginners, is to sign up for lessons, whether this is at your local public pool, privately or with a swim club. But that won’t suit all. Thankfully, whether you sign up for lessons or not, there’s a helluva lot you can do on your own…

1. Technique Matters

Water has a density of around 1kg per litre. That compares to air, which comes in at around 1.2g per litre, meaning water’s 830 times denser. It’s why swimming is such a technique-heavy activity – any flaw in your skillset is magnified significantly compared to, say, cycling.

That’s why you should include swim drills in every single swim session. They don’t have to take up a huge amount of time but breaking down the stroke into different parts and focusing on them really pays off when you apply them to your whole stroke. Frequency in the ‬‬water also pays off when it comes to technique (and fitness) rather than just one big session; in other words, three 20-minute sessions are more beneficial than a weekly hour swim set.

2. Consistency Counts

Whether you’re a beginner or experienced, consistency rules with any skill or fitness development and swimming’s no different. In fact, studies into Olympic winners suggest long periods of injury-free training is key to winning gold.

You might not be aiming for the top step of the podium but you are aiming to swim faster. The problem is, you’re not an elite and are balancing life, family, work and swimming. The result? Missed sessions.
That’s why you should learn from six-time Ironman Hawaii winner-cum-coach Dave Scott, who asks his athletes to write down their day’s workout time but also an alternative time in case life intervenes. For example, if the swimmer awakes to screaming children killing their 60-minute 6.30 am swim, if another’s planned later in the day – even if for only 40 minutes – the session would have been rescued.

3. Check The Timetable

This sounds an obvious one but you won’t be swimming faster – or even swimming – if you don’t check the timetable! Depending on your preference, you can try out senior swimming, public swimming, men’s- or women’s-only sessions and lane swimming.

If you have the flexibility, try out a few different times and gauge how busy it is. And remember lane etiquette, which is particularly important during chock-a-block sessions. Always stop at the end of the lane to let faster swimmers pass; choose the lane speed that’s suitable for you; and ensure you’re swimming the right way, be it clockwise or anti-clockwise.

4. Breathe Easy, Swim Fast

From birth, it soon becomes clear that if you don’t breathe, there’s a good chance you won’t be around too long. Thankfully, breathing’s an autonomic process, meaning even before you’ve uttered the words ‘swim faster’, you’re breathing as nature intended. It’s arguably not the same for freestyle. Breathing can be many beginners’ undoing but, with persistence, you can breathe naturally, leaving energy to maximise propulsion and swim better.

One of the key problems is that beginners fail to exhale in the water, so try to inhale and exhale when out of the water, leading to near hyperventilation. So breathe out through your nose underwater. When it comes to inhaling, keep your head in the water but tilt it so that your mouth’s just out of the water. This should be the same side as the arm that’s out of the water.

Keep your chin tucked into your neck, breathe in through your mouth, return to centerline and do the same every two strokes. As time progresses, you can learn to bilateral breathe – breathing both sides – every three strokes.

5. Straight And Fast

A common obstacle to swimming freestyle faster is zig-zag crawling; in other words, swimming left, right, left, right… as you take the long way down the pool lane. That’s where the eyes-closed drill comes in.

During your warm-up, swim a length with your eyes closed. Or if there are lane ropes, swim as far as you can before veering into the ropes. An imbalanced stroke’s often the cause of erratic navigation where, for example, your left arm crosses the midline of your body but your right arm doesn’t, resulting in you heading left.

You can rectify this by imagining a clock and aiming your fingers for 11:30 and 12:30 on the clock. If you continue to cross, aim for 11 and 1 on the clock. You might also need to straighten your elbow slightly. But this will help you swim straight.

Kickstart Your Training Today!
Choose from over 900 plans from 4-48 weeks long in beginner, intermediate, advanced, masters and off-season versions!

6. Swim Faster

Drag tools are great for boosting speed and strength. This can be a band or an inner tube tied into a knot at the ankles and linking them together. Then, with band attached and legs out of action, do short intervals – 25s with lots of rest – and feel what feedback that gives you.

The key feelings are higher drag, body position and not getting very far. That’s why with a band attached, you’ll naturally swim with a higher stroke rate. This is good to boost speed and particularly useful for open-water swimmers, who might need a higher stoke rate to negotiate choppy waters.

7. Fuel Efficiently

You’ll make the most of your swimming sessions if you’re fully fuelled (albeit maybe not to the level of Michael Phelps, who reportedly consumed 12,000 calories a day!). That’s why you should time your last meal at least 90 minutes before your swim, as you want to reserve your body’s blood supply for the muscles, not for digesting food. You’ll also experience stomach discomfort if you enter the water too soon.

As many of you will swim before work, a breakfast example is a small bowl of porridge with honey and a teaspoon of coconut oil. After your swim, protein and carbohydrates, ideally from real food, is the best to repair muscles and replenish energy stores, so something like chicken and rice with a side salad (and some form of low-fat sauce for taste!).

Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised endurance expert who founded MyProCoach in 2010 to offer smart training plans that still leave quality time for your family, friends & career - complete with highly-rated coach support (he has sold over 40,000 so far). Learn more here!

As featured on...

download (1)
220 triathlon

Popular Articles from the Training Tips Blog


Sign up for Phil's email newsletter!

Get expert training advice, the latest news and occasional discounts. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Kickstart Your Training Today!
Choose from over 900 plans from 4-48 weeks long in beginner, intermediate, advanced, masters and off-season versions!
Planning Your Off-Season

You can start our Off-Season (Fitness Maintenance) plans anytime you like.

They’re designed to help you maintain a good level of fitness when you’re not specifically targeting an event, such as, during the off-season, or anytime you’re taking a break from racing.

Planning For Your Event

For the best outcome, input the date for your “A” target race and the tool will default to a plan that will fill that gap nicely. If you want, you can then adjust the plan length to start it on a different day.

Note that you can still work in other, smaller races during your plan too!

The longer plans start easier and progress more gradually. This has a bearing on the difficulty level you choose. For example, a 12-week plan starts off at a higher level than a 36-week plan because with 12 weeks left there’s not as much opportunity to build up slowly.
Short Medium Long
4-12 weeks
14-24 weeks
27+ weeks
Required fitness level
Training phases
Fitness tests
Our Standard and Masters plans are designed to get you ready for your target event, while our Off-Season plans allow you to recover from a tough season but still maintain your well-earned fitness.
Approx. age
Under 40
Over 40
Recovery weeks
Every 4 weeks
Every 3 weeks
Strength sessions
1-2 per week
2 per week
1-2 per week
Likely goal
Train for event
Train for event
Maintain fitness
This table provides a brief overview of which level might be right for you, to help you get the most out of your plan. You should also note your current fitness levels and how many times you have done this event before.
Little to none
1-3 years
3+ years
Time to train
Likely goal
To finish
At least top half
All our plans are available either for sale directly on the TrainingPeaks Store (where you can also see screenshots of sample weeks), or you can subscribe as an Unlimited Athlete to be able to swap freely between all of them, among other benefits outlined below.
$24 to $159 per plan
From $24 per mth
Flexible, structured training
TrainingPeaks training app
Coaching videos, articles & FAQs
Email coach support

During plan only

Swap freely between all 900+ plans
Help setting up your training zones
Coach fortnightly engagement check
Discounted TrainingPeaks Premium (optional)
30-day moneyback guarantee
We're Sorry To See You Go!

Please confirm your cancellation below and one of our team will process it as soon as possible (stopping all future payments). Your subscription will still continue until the end of your current billing cycle (your “next payment date”) and there is nothing else you need to do.

Don’t worry, you will always be able to access your completed workouts and your TrainingPeaks login credentials will stay the same. Also, if any payments happen to come out before we cancel your subscription, we’ll simply refund them.