Do you want to learn how to become a better swimmer? Then keep reading!
As a former Division-1 swimmer and swim coach, I have plenty of simple tips guaranteed to help improve your swimming performance.
In the last 10 years, I have been a swim instructor for adolescents, teens, and even adults attempting to become Navy Seals.
Whether you’re a runner looking for cross-training, an adult looking for a low-impact, full-body workout, or training for your first triathlon these tips will get you on your way to swimming better.
Read on for the 10 tips I teach swimmers of all ages and abilities how to become better and faster athletes.
Table of Contents
1. Wear proper gear
The first step to becoming an excellent swimmer is showing up ready to learn and practicing in proper swim gear.
The 3 pieces of gear I recommend to help you become a better swimmer:
- Goggles: these will keep the chlorine out of your eyes and help you to pay attention to your stroke technique underwater.
- Swim cap: if you have hair, wear a swim cap. It will lessen drag and keep the hair out of your face so you can focus on proper technique and swimming in a straight line.
- Swimsuit: Can you swim in clothes? Yes, but it’s much more difficult. Lessen the sinking feeling in the water by wearing a functional swimsuit to the pool.
For more guidance grab our free packing list on what to wear for swimming lessons here!
2. Body position is key
When swimming you want to focus on a neutral head position, swimming tall, and keeping your legs off the bottom of the pool.
If you are brand new to swimming make sure to start practicing by floating both face down and face up assisted or with supervision.
Once you can float with ease, focus on adding in your “front crawl” or freestyle arm movements. We recommend adults use a pull buoy to help keep hips up and off the bottom of the pool when first learning the correct body position.
When swimming imagine you are in 6 inches of water and aim to keep your hips on the surface of the water. While swimming freestyle, think about slightly pressing your chest to bring your hips up. It should feel like you are swimming slightly downhill.
3. Focus on feel
Swimming is all about feel! If you want to become a competitive swimmer you have to be able to hold and grab water. Often new swimmers feel like they are spinning their wheels and hardly moving forward.
To become an excellent swimmer focus on efficiency and feel. Here are 5 ways to improve your ability to hold and initiate forward propulsion in the water.
- Play in the water! No seriously, no matter your age focus on playing and feeling the movement of the water. Whether it’s blowing bubble rings or simply bobbing in the water. Mix fun and feel into your warm-up.
- Swim more often. Aim to swim in the pool or open water at least 2x per week. This will help you learn and gain a feel of how to manipulate the water.
- Use hand paddles. There are many different hand paddles but each increases the surface area of your hand against the water which can help you get a catch and grip of the water. When starting, use smaller hand paddles to avoid overworking the shoulders.
- Scull more often. Sculling is similar to doggy paddle except you keep your elbows high and fingertips pointed down. There are many different types of sculling to try. Point your palms in the opposite direction of where you want to go.
- Practice drills, swimming drills such as swimming with a fist, catch-up freestyle, underwater recovery drill, and more can help improve your feel of the water,
Having a better feel for the water will improve your swimming technique and efficiency.
4. Master the sneaky breath
Breathing to the side of your body will help you maintain forward momentum and good body position. Many think the breath comes from moving the head but it is actually from rotation to the side!
Practice rotating to the side and breathing with one goggle in the water and one goggle out of the water. When starting we recommend trying to breathe every three strokes.
This is also referred to as bilateral breathing and will help keep your body in the right position.
The young swimmer tends to have an easier time learning to breathe. For adults learning to swim, it may take more time to feel comfortable having water in your face. Star by practicing your sneak breath hanging at the end of the pool of the wall.
If you are stuck on mastering the breath take breaks and swim with a snorkel. It goes against your forehead. Snorkels can be an effective way to keep body position and focus on other technique factors without worrying about the breath.
5. Work on distance per stroke
A little thing that goes a long way is paying attention to your stroke count. A good swimmer focuses on efficiency and taking fewer strokes to get across the pool. A great way to do this is to start counting how many strokes it takes you in 1 lap.
Swimming long and tall helps conserve energy when racing, especially long distances like the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the La Jolla Cove swim, or a 1.2-mile swim in a Half Ironman.
Time in a weight room spent strength training can also help you build strength to help improve how much water you can hold and pull. If you can hold and pull more water you will get more distance per stroke.
Overall, frequent swim practice is the key ingredient for improving distance per stroke (DPS) and becoming a great swimmer.
6. Create good habits
Continued good habits build muscle memory!
Here are small but effective habits to bring to your swims:
- Keep your eyes down and a neutral neck; this will help the rest of your body fall into the right position
- Focus on a sneaky breath on your rotation and breathing every 3 strokes
- Try not to breathe on your first stroke of the wall, this slows your momentum
- Maintain a high elbow catch; think of swimming freestyle like you are pulling over a barrel
- Bring an eagerness to learn and a resilient attitude with you each time you swim
Faster swimmers avoid mindless swimming and instead pay close attention to good technique. The best way to improve technique is by picking at least one thing to focus on each practice. Setting SMART goals for swimmers can also help!
Keep in mind that it is hard to break bad habits; aim for good swim technique on day one.
7. Discipline and persistence are key
Mindset and commitment to becoming a better swimmer are crucial. To become a fast swimmer or swim a best time you must show up, work hard, and focus on good form each time you swim.
Swimming is a test of resilience because often it takes time and repeated efforts over time to become a better swimmer. But the good news is that it is always possible to improve.
As a result, swimming helps a lot of people:
- Build a strong work ethic
- Appreciate the value of being a hard worker
- Become more mentally tough and physically fit
8. Bring a positive attitude
World record-holders like Michael Phelps didn’t immediately become great. It took a long time and an optimistic and resilient attitude. The best swimmers don’t let a bad day, practice, or race impact their attitude and desire to improve.
Early morning practices, cold water training sessions, and challenging swim workouts can make swimming feel like a difficult sport. Focus on consistent efforts and small improvements every day.
Hone in on your “why”, have fun with the sport, and keep an eye on the bigger picture. No matter how fast of a swimmer you are, focus on remaining a student of the sport.
9. Get coaching and be coachable
It’s not easy to improve your swimming without a coach. A coach can be your eyes to give you feedback on your form and technique.
Seek a qualified coach in your area, a certified swimming instructor, or if you’re a triathlete a triathlon coach who is well-versed in swim coaching!
If you aren’t ready to commit to 1:1 swim lessons keep an eye out for swim clinics in your area. These are typically more affordable, occasionally even free, and a good way to improve your swimming confidence and form.
10. Join a team
The number one tip we have for adults and kids who want to get better at swimming and faster before their next race is to join a swim club.
US Masters Swimming is a great source to help adults find a nearby swim club.
USA Swimming is a great place for those under 18 to find a swim club and swim lessons.
Variety in your training keeps it interesting and helps you to improve endurance, stroke rate, and technique. A swim coach is typically on deck to give technique feedback and lead the workout.
Beyond that, you may come away from your first time at a club swimming practice with a couple of friends. Nothing can top camaraderie and good training partners!
How to become a better swimmer? Keep swimming!
The first step is starting! We have all had to learn to swim at some point. Don’t worry about how you look, focus on learning safely.
Beyond that, keep in mind learning to swim is so much more than a sport it is a survival skill! We hope these 10 tips help you on your journey to becoming a better swimmer!
Check out our blog for more sports nutrition tips such as what to eat before you swim, foods to avoid before swimming, and an in-depth guide on optimizing performance with a swimmer’s diet plan. Plus we share our top advice for athletes.
Katie Schimmelpfenning RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, USA Swim Coach, and former Division 1 swimmer. She helps competitive swimmers fuel and train to optimize performance, recover faster, and prevent injury! She is passionate about spreading evidence-based nutrtion tips to help swimmers across the globe.