From The Coaches: How to Swim Faster

For many of us, swimming in a pool or open water seems like a distant memory. Although you have made do with the resources we have had, prolonged time out of the water will cause a loss in sharpness of technique and feel for the water. As restrictions lift and races repopulate the schedules, to avoid injury and to be race ready, the best place to start is to complete Swim Strength within the SUF app.

A strong core is essential to proper swim technique. The strength programs are also a great replacement for a swim workout, if needed. After you complete the swim strength for 4-6 weeks you can get back into the water using the following tips for sharpening your technique.

How to get from A to B as efficiently as possible. The key points when working on ideal fundamentals of freestyle swim technique are-

Body and Head Position-

(think long) – Your body needs to be parallel to the surface and as streamlined as possible. The best way to know if you’re keeping a streamline position is by knowing where your feet are. If you feel more buoyant from the hips down, your feet are too high and your head is too low. In general, you should be able to see approximately 1 meter in front of you and feel your center of gravity just above your belly button. Point your toes while keeping your feet fluid and relaxed.

Body Roll and Breathing-

The swim stroke should be initiated from the hips and follow through to the shoulders. An efficient body roll of approximately 40-45 degrees will enable a longer swim stroke and facilitate the ideal head position when breathing. Breathing should occur as your front arm spears the water, starting with the hand. The back of your head should graze the leading arm, just enough for your mouth to clear the water and inhale. This will allow for an increased hold on the water, which will maximize your pull. Be sure to keep your kicking rate consistent during the body roll. We recommend alternating your breathing to maintain symmetry.

Catch, Push and Pull Phase-

While the back of the hand always faces the direction of travel and the elbow remains the highest point of the stroke, your leading hand spears the water and the Catch phase is initiated by obtaining a grasp on the water while reaching forward. This first phase is not about producing power and more about form, setting you up for the Pull and Push Phases. Imagine pulling yourself over a barrel. Hold as much water as possible while pulling, then pushing the water back to your thigh keeping the hand on the inside on the elbow. Your stroke should accelerate as you progress through the Pull and Push Phases. There is a subtle S formation that occurs during the phases, starting with the Pull Phase just above the shoulder and continuing through the Push Phase until your hand exits the water to begin the recovery phase. Always imagine a line dividing your body lengthwise, with your left arm staying on the left side and your right arm staying on the right side. Crossover will result in additional drag and unwanted sway in the lower body.

Recovery Phase-

As you complete pushing the water down by your side the recovery phase begins leading with the elbow. The elbow should rise from the water as if it was attached to a string from above, with an open shoulder followed by the hand. In order to prevent locking arms with fellow swimmers during a race, the recovery portion of the stroke should be executed with a straighter arm.


Kick from the hips with a slight bend in your knees while pointing your toes at the wall you are swimming away from. When kicking your feet should just clear each other. The longer the distance the less kicking required to conserve energy. The kick can be utilized to aid rotation. There are differing kicking rates based on distance= energy consumption.

2 beat kick- 1 kick per stroke. Usually used in a race longer than 800m

4 beat kick- 2 kicks per stroke. Usually used in 200-800m

6 beat kick- 3 kicks per stroke. Usually used in 200m and below

How to get faster?

Stroke Rate/SPM-

Stroke rate is how many strokes you perform each minute and it directly impacts the rhythm and timing of the stroke. If your stroke rate is too low you will lose momentum and you may have a pause in your stroke. If your stroke rate is too high, you may not be utilizing an efficient catch, pull or push phase and your stroke may be too short.

When swimming in open water you are more effective having a higher stroke rate in order to remain efficient in currents, turbulence and swells. The ideal stroke rate will be different from person to person.

Stroke Count-

Stroke count is the number of individual arm strokes taken per lap. Longer strokes= less strokes, meaning less energy and improved efficiency. Stroke count is very individual.

There are only two ways to get faster-

Increase distance per stroke while maintaining stroke turnover (stroke rate)

Increase stroke turnover (stroke rate) while maintaining distance per stroke

Note: We do not suggest working on both aspects of the stroke at the same time


Dear Simon, Thanks for the addition of the swimming workouts. This is great timing because I am trying to get back to swimming after the covid close-downs and the start of winter. Now the question: is there a pre-formatted training plan for the workouts_? I would like to integrate swimming once a week on top of my strength, yoga, and cycling plans. I cannot do more than once a week due to time constraints and family duties. Thanks!

Hey @eabluhm,
Good news for you- we have Aquabike training plans on our list of next plans to release. That will give you a combined cycling and swimming plan, with the ability to add strength and yoga for the comprehensive program that you’re looking for. Keep an eye out in SYSTM for those coming in the next few months!


Hey, @Coach.Suzie.S Thanks for the reply and the news. You got slightly scared with the word “Aquabike” as I imagined a stationary bike inside a swimming pool. When you mention the introduction of the training plans, will that happen during this winter? If not, I will organize my plans differently.
One follow-up question: is there a way to identify the workouts according to intensity? I can only evaluate either the duration (in a short glance) or evaluating the description of the workout…but this task is quite an odyssey.
Looking forward to the training plans for this coming winter.