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by Scott Bay

February 8, 2019

Swimming fast is a matter of planning in at least three areas

If you’re not swimming as fast as you want in competitions, there are three things you might have to change: technique, training philosophy (which should be influenced by how you’re racing), or race strategy.

Here’s a closer look at each of those elements.


A lot of meets, including the 2019 U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championship, are coming up. So, if you want to make changes to your technique, you shouldn’t try a bunch of things right now. The offseason is the best time to make drastic changes, but you can always make small improvements leading up to championship season.

Here are some ways to look at your stroke and decide on changes to make.

  • The Best: Having a knowledgeable coach who can give you tips on how to coax extra speed out of your stroke by making some changes is the best. There really is no substitute for the feedback that you get from a good coach who knows you and can work with your strengths and address your weaknesses.
  • Really Good: Attend a stroke clinic or camp. USMS offers a bunch of these, as do some LMSCs. If you swim on your own or with a group without a coach, this is a great way to get some technique help, but it’s only really good, not the best, because it’s not a continuous feedback loop.
  • Good: Many swimmers have a friend record them and compare that to how elites swim or how some instructional videos present proper technique. By all means, we know elite swimmers have good technique, but they might not fit your profile as an athlete. Bottom line: If you look at what you do and what elite swimmers do and there’s a difference, it might be worth trying to change. This is the least attractive option to change your stroke, but sometimes it’s the only one available.

Training Philosophy

Many of you can remember doing 100,000-yard weeks. Yes, you read that right. There was a one size fits all and if-more-is-better-then-much-more-is-much-more-better mentality for some coaches.

Thankfully, researchers and coaches have both broadened the knowledge base on human performance and paid better attention to coaching education and learning opportunities. Still, if you grew up in the crank-out-the-yards era, you might still be under the impression that more is better. For some of you, that might be true.

Here are a few suggestions of things to try based on your racing feedback or even aggressive workout feedback.

  • Building a Base: It’s true that every swimmer needs to be fit and in shape, but how to get there is a matter of both what events you swim and practicality. If you swim the 200 breaststroke but most of your endurance sets are freestyle, does that make sense? There’s a different chain of muscles firing for the various strokes, so some consideration must be given to that.
  • Attention to Detail: One of the things that makes coaches cringe is when a swimmer asks, “When are we going to work on turns?” The answer is whenever you get to a wall. The same is true of streamlines and breakouts and the rest of the little things that lead to fast swimming. Cramming the week before a meet isn’t the best practice because it’s invariably something else you have to think about along with the multitude of other things you need to concentrate on to swim fast.
  • Swimming Fast to Swim Fast: If the only time you practice swimming fast is at a meet, it will be a new experience that requires mental and physical energy. There are a few good articles on how to do it well, so don’t be afraid to push yourself in practices regardless of what time of the season it is.

Swimming Your Fastest  

Adults tend to be better in tune with the foods that help them perform better and the amount of sleep they need, as well as what their real-life schedules are like outside of swimming. You’re the person who knows you best.

These are all things to consider when doing the mental part of swimming fastest.

  • Be Yourself: Having a bad day? Embrace it. It makes good swimmers that much better. Comparing yourself to others, even your lanemates that you usually beat? Stop that! You might be having a bad day, and they might be on a great run. The key is to make sure those negative thoughts don’t make you have a bad training session. Results over time, not one or two days, is what indicates you’re getting faster.
  • Race Your Race: You know your strengths, so play to them; you know your weaknesses, so try to minimize them. You often hear commentators talk about how it comes down to who wants to win more, but the truth is no one who ever came in second ever says that they just didn’t want to win that much. What’s true is that the win comes from preparation and being confident that you have done everything you can think of to get what you want out of the next race.
  • Next: Each training session, race, and season is an opportunity to get better. The good news for Masters swimmers is that we’re not limited by the high school, college, or Olympic cycles. You have time to work through these things over and over.

Masters is Different

Age-group and elite swimmers endlessly pursue faster times. As a Masters swimmer, you’ll reach a point where you can’t get stronger or fitter and your best clock time is behind you. But you can always get better—embrace the opportunity to keep improving as you age.


  • Technique and Training


  • Backstroke
  • Breaststroke
  • Butterfly
  • Freestyle
  • Training
  • Races
  • Racing