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by Scott Bay

July 2, 2018

Short, fast swims are a great way to learn about your stroke and become a better swimmer

A wise, old coach once said, “In order to swim faster, you gotta swim faster.” Many of us find that both funny and obvious at the same time, but the idea is much more complex.

How do you swim faster at any distance? Unless you are a sprinter or are doing ultra-short race pace training, the answer is swim faster in practice and more often than you do now.

Here are three ways to ramp up your speed.

Work on Your Short Game

The idea here is to swim faster over short distances with lots of rest. Many swimmers get real tense when asked to go fast and recruit a whole bunch of muscles that don’t help them swim faster, which robs them of energy. To get to relaxed or easy speed, it’s important to learn how to not tense up when you go for speed.

Here are some tips on how to practice it.   

  • Do 25s on however much rest you want. We have trouble focusing when under physical stress, so if your brain is thinking only about getting air, paying attention to anything else is tough. A 25 is pretty digestible, and the extra rest allows you to recover enough to focus on the swim and not the breathing.
  • Pay close attention to your hands. If your hands are tense, then probably a lot of the rest of you is, too. Instead, think about “soft” hands. When you do, you will find yourself relaxed in your extremities and really engaging your core.
  • Think about how “skinny” you can be in the water by reducing your drag as much as possible.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Be honest: How often do you really push yourself into the “red zone?” How often do you even scare yourself a bit? One of the great things about Masters Swimming is we have people to challenge us. Some people are also on their own and don’t get that extra push from the group or training partner. So, how do you get that out of yourself?

  • Doing the same thing is boring. Your body becomes good at something you do over and over. The problem is that doing the same will get you the same, and as we age, doing the same will eventually lead to less. Shake it up a bit. Regardless of distance, try the “fly and die” method. Swim as fast as you think you can for a swim, and if your technique falls apart, slow down. The more you do it, the farther you’ll be able to go before your technique breaks down.
  • Spend some quality time at your threshold. Swim distances and efforts that get you out of your comfort zone. The distance and pace are something like this: If you can say to yourself that you could swim another 25 but really don’t want to, you nailed it. Do a few repeats like this.
  • Ignore the volume a little bit. A 400-yard stroll down a golf course is way different than a 200-yard sprint running from a bear. One will make you way more uncomfortable.

Faking It or Making It

Just moving your body parts faster won’t always make you go faster. There are plenty of people who work very hard in the water and never go anywhere. Try not to confuse your effort with achievement. This is where the clock comes back. Here are some things to try.

  • Count your strokes. It’s OK to give up some efficiency for some speed, but where is that sweet spot? It’s different for everybody and also different for strokes and distances. The only way to dial it in is to try it many times. Here, too, the rest is important, so make sure you’re fresh enough to put in a good effort.
  • Use fins or paddles. When you’re swimming fast, there are a lot of microadjustments in body position that happen. You can fake that a bit with some equipment, but the key thing is to remember how it feels so your body can replicate it later without the toys.
  • Believe that you can swim faster. So much of what we do in the pool is mental. It’s a pattern of movement combined with strength and fitness that makes for fast swimming. At any age, at least one of these can be changed. Play around with at least one of these variables and you might accidentally find yourself swimming faster.

Being One With the Water

This is a little more Zen than anything else, but it is more or less being aware that makes you swim fast. Looking at the thoughts in this article, each one invites you to swim a little differently than you currently do. Each thing creates a new sensation or feeling in your swimming that grabs your attention. The key is to find out what to let go of and what to pay attention to. The more frequently you do this, the easier it becomes to swim faster. Notice I said easier and not easy. Fast swimming is rarely easy.

Are you ready to take the next step in your swimming journey? Try a free workout with a Masters club this July as part of our Try Masters Swimming campaign.

All you need to do is fill out our trial membership form, find a participating club in your area, and pick a workout time to swim with the club. Come experience for yourself the amazing emotional, mental, and physical health benefits tens of thousands of adults just like you across the country are already enjoying.



  • Technique and Training


  • Speed