How to swim faster?  Effective propulsive movements in swimming are performed SLOW to FAST. Unlike other sports such as running or rowing, your arms won’t be moving at a constant speed throughout the stroke.

In every stroke you reach long, feel the water, catch and then accelerate through the pull to the recovery. The hand and the arm move slower during the ‘reach and catch’ phase of the stroke, and is faster during the pull through.

A powerful stroke starts with an effective feel on the entry and then a strong catch. The catch is the phase of the stroke just before beginning the pull through. It is named the ‘catch’ phase because the aim is to ‘catch’ the most water with your hand and forearm as possible to achieve maximum hold of the water. Once you have got that strong catch, it’s the acceleration through the stroke which makes all the difference.

A mistake which beginner swimmers can often make is pulling through the water before reaching forward and ‘catching’ the water. Missing this step causes bubbles on the hand as the swimmer pulls through. This makes the stroke ineffective as the swimmer is pulling through air and not able to accelerate by holding the water with their hand and forearm. An important thing to note is the swimmer should not tense up during the pull through, but should instead keep the muscles relaxed and loose to gain maximum hold of the water.

The objective of the ‘catch’ phase of the stroke (between the hand entering and the pull through) is to reach forward which reduces drag, and to allow any air bubbles to leave the hand and forearm. For maximum effectiveness the the swimmer should begin the pull through once the bubbles have left the arm and forearm. Pulling through the water without bubbles on the hand can save a swimmer many seconds compared to a person who begins the pull through with bubbles on their hand. A swimmer will be more efficient in the water by pulling through after the bubbles have left their hand. This not only saves energy but it allows the swimmer to move a greater distance through the water with less strokes.

If you can master the slow to fast movement with the arms and combine this with a ‘no bubbles’ approach to pulling through, you can drastically improve your swimming. It’s important to practice these two disciplines until you get them right. It sure beats training harder and may allow you to improve your times with much less less effort.

11 Responses

  1. Very effective technique. I started incorporating this and found I use less strokes to go farther and faster then i use to go. I also do not get as tired as quickly as before when I was powering through with quick arm strokes. Great tip!!

  2. Is there anything Ian Thorpe doesn’t do well in the water?

    Those size 12’s at the back tend to help a bit, too.

    A good hint…I’ve felt a good acceleration when I “snap” my catch back as I roll.


  3. @Trever – Great to hear it’s helped! Sometimes swimmers need to work on getting more distance each stroke which this helps with.

    @Peter – I can’t pick anything Thorpe didn’t do well, he was (in my opinion) the greatest 400m freestyler ever. His stroke isn’t ideal for a sprinter, as they need to sit higher in the water but for his event it was perfect.

    Do you mean you ‘flick’ your fingers at the back of your stroke as you begin the recovery? I’ve found that to be a pretty useful technique in exiting the water cleanly.

  4. A very good technique ever seen how to swim faster ,wish to learn more.thank u !!!!!!!!!!!!!! please send any swim technique .

  5. breathing technique in freeslyle competitive swimming is the key to be successded in any competition as well as every days varied training load. hence a Very effective technique to be developed very carefully as stated . I had started incorporating this on my swimmers and found swimmers use less strokes to go farther and faster then earlier they use to go. and they also do not get as tired as quickly as before when every one of them powering through with quick arm strokes. so its a Great tip!!
    An excellent hint…swimmer felt a good acceleration when “snap” catch back as body roll. and flick’ fingers at the back of the stroke as swimmer begin the recovery. I direct all my freestyler to follow this pretty useful technique in exiting the water cleanly.

    Tapan Kumar Panigrahi

  6. Ian Thorpe’s right arm has high elbow catch but his left arm seems to pull straight down with little bend in the elbow. Is this just the angle that i’m viewing…..or is that what he is doing?

  7. Hey Peter ,you say Thorpy”s stroke is not ideal for a sprinter. You must have a short memory.Maybe you should ask Gary Hall Jnr where Thorpy’s stroke went wrong after Thorp passed Hall ,supposedly the fastest man in the world at the time,to win gold for the boys at Sydney 2000 ,a race the USA had NEVER lost.

  8. You’re correct Paul, one arm pulls through straighter than the other. This is because he rotates more to one side than the other which a lot of distance swimmers do.

  9. I noticed it too, that Thorp’s left arm doesn’t hold as high an elbow as his right arm. Question: Is it a common practice or is it acceptable to have a bit of a lower elbow on your lead arm as you breath? I always find it harder to keep a high elbow of my forward arm at catch when I breath.

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Brenton and Mitch were great to work with at the clinic, Good to get video analysis to work on straight away, practice some new drills and go home knowing what you need to work on.

Alex McFadyen