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Does a swimmers height affect how fast you can swim?

QUESTION:

Dear Gary,

I was wondering how much your height could affect your speed in swimming. Starting my first year of high school at 5 foot 2 inches means that I am very short for my age. Recently I have been attending more meets and have found that almost all of the top swimmers are much taller (1 foot or more) than me.

Does height have a big impact on how fast you are and can become?

Thanks,
Sam

ANSWER:

Hi Sam,

If you asked a group of experienced coaches this question I believe you would get a mixed response.

Some would argue that the taller you are and longer limbs you have, the better swimmer you will be. Often taller swimmers have big feet to kick with and they use their longer arms as levers to pull through the water with.

Others would argue that height makes little difference at all and that technique, power to weight ratio and racing skills are more important determinants to overall results. Many shorter swimmers can turn more quickly and have an increased ability to feeling and adjusting their hand pitch to catch more water.

There have been many great swimmers and world record holders who have been much shorter than their rivals.  Two of the most impressive were Jon Sieben who won the 200m butterfly in 1984 at the Olympics against the very tall Michael Gross, and Australian sprinter Eamon Sullivan who held the World Record for the 100m freestyle a few years ago.

Keep working on your power and strength as well as your feel of the water and I am sure these will hold you in good stead when you race those taller than you.

Regards
Gary

The Swimming Expert



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2 Responses to Does a swimmers height affect how fast you can swim?

  1. Michelle February 20, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

    Hi Gary,

    Is there a way to use your short height as an advantage? Whenever I have open competitions/races or just races in general for my age group, most times I am shorter then the other competitors. I am pretty sure it affects me but I was just wondering if there is a way that you can use your height to an advantage.

    Cheers,
    Mish

    • Gary February 25, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

      Hi Mish,
      Yes there is. I say that because there are many shorter swimmers who weigh less than taller swimmers and their power to weight ratio is better.
      In Australia for example Eamon Sullivan was considered very short for a 50m and 100m freestyler on the world stage however he consistently beat the best in the world because of his superior power to weight ratio, better skills and terrific technique.
      Keep working on developing your strength in the water and your technique and I am sure you can surprise many people including yourself.
      Cheers
      Gary



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