Article image

by Terry Heggy

September 18, 2017

Further analysis of the secrets to faster swimming

Coach Scott Bay’s article on relaxing for faster swimming is essential reading for anyone who wants to improve in the pool. Haven’t seen it yet? Go read it, and then come back here. It’s OK. I’ll wait.

Got it? Excellent.

Notice that he acknowledges that there is such a thing as natural talent, but that physical and mental effort applied in the right areas can compensate for a lack of innate gifts. Let’s continue to examine that concept.

What is Natural Talent?

Natural talent comprises the genetic gifts that predispose a person toward athletic excellence. These gifts can be broken down into three broad categories:

  1. Mechanical properties: Height, size of hands and feet, joint geometry, muscle makeup (including fast-twitch/slow-twitch proportions), etc.
  2. Sensory attributes: Vision, balance, skin receptor sensitivity, kinesthetic awareness, etc.
  3. Mental abilities: Intelligence (including the ability to analyze and adapt), competitiveness, focus, enjoyment, etc.

The good news is that while the genetically gifted folks are born with an advantage, the rest of us can improve our talents in nearly every category. While we can’t grow larger hands or make ourselves taller, we can improve the way we use what we have.


You might have heard your coach urge you to “swim taller.” Keep your spine and head in a straight line and relax your shoulders for optimal reach. Include shoulder flexibility exercises in your dryland program. Maximize the pulling surface of your hand and forearm by thinking of them as a single unit engaging as much water as possible.

Muscles get stronger through training. But as Coach Bay points out, simply working harder is not the answer. In addition to spending time improving technique, we need to ensure that our training and recovery are designed to build race-specific skills as well as core strength and balance for overall health. This is where a USMS-certified coach can give you an edge.


Think of your entire body surface as an input sensor to provide data you can use to adjust your motion. Practice sculling and other drills that develop a feel for the water. Always be aware of the water pressure on the sides of your legs, your chest, and your head. Any change in pressure indicates a change in your drag profile, which helps you learn to appropriately adjust posture and propulsive movements.

Obtain supporting evidence that your senses are providing accurate data regarding the position of your head, arms, and legs. It may feel that your hand is entering the water straight in front of your shoulder and that your head is staying low on the breath, but your coach (or a video camera) can verify whether your body awareness is on target.


As Coach Bay says, “Swimming is a cognitive activity,” so keep your brain involved. Look at swim practice as a time to ignore the outside stresses of life and focus on the purpose behind each workout set. Ask the coach to explain anything you don’t understand. Pay attention to the pace clock, be aware of the traffic in your lane, and make adjustments when there’s an opportunity for improvement.

And finally, think about your team. It may not be considered an attribute of talent, but top Masters swimmers all seem to have an excellent support network that includes coaches, friends, family, and even competitors. The camaraderie in our sport makes it enjoyable to work hard, stay focused, and rise to ever-higher levels of achievement. Commit to a positive attitude, have fun, cherish your teammates, give support where you can, and encourage everyone to savor the benefits of our wonderful sport.


  • Technique and Training