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How to swim faster as a Master’s swimmer


Hi Gary,

I have a 60 year old male swimmer who can’t get the idea of changing gears. Do you have any ideas?




Hi Barb,

I have a couple of ideas which may help you to improve your swimmer in this area.

The first is to focus on making sure the swimmer is holding the water during each arm stroke.  For example in freestyle, many adult swimmers drop their elbows and ‘slide’ their hands and forearm through the water.  It is important that the back of the hand and back of the forearm are both facing forward when pulling through.  This hold on the water is vital to improving speed when you swim.

The second and more important skill that relates to ‘changing gears’ is to work on using different hand speeds as the swimmer pulls through the water.  Experiment with different speeds like slow, medium and fast and see how the swimmer responds.  Once they understand that you can pull through with different hand speeds, focus on beginning the stroke with a good catch and then continue to hold the water while your hand and forearm accelerate (get faster) as they pull through.  This acceleration is the same in every stroke with the goal to catch and hold their water and then accelerate through.

The key to swimming faster is to catch (hold the water) and then accelerate your hand back through the water (or in actual fact, pull your body forward past your hand more quickly), so that your hand is moving faster than your body is moving forward.  This creates increased pressure on the hand and so long as there is no slipping, the body will move forward more quickly.  Hand speed is the critical factor in being able to vary your pace when swimming.

The final hint is to do some variable pace work.  For example in a 25m pool do 25’s on 40 sec (at least 15 sec rest between each 25) as 4 x (10m fast, 15m easy) then 4 x (15m fast, 10m easy) then 4 x (15m easy, 10m fast) and ask the swimmers to experiment with their speed.

Hope this helps Barb and let me know how you go.

If anyone else has suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.



The Swimming Expert

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2 Responses to How to swim faster as a Master’s swimmer

  1. Barb October 26, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    Hi Gary
    Thanks for this.
    The problem this swimmer has is what you’ve described in your second paragraph – ‘changing gears’. He cannot get the idea of different hand speeds or of how to change his speed. There is very little difference in his warm-up, threshold and sprint speeds.
    I will try the variable speed thing but I’m not confident – I think he’ll simply face the same problem of how to change his speed.

    • Gary October 27, 2014 at 9:35 am #

      Hi Barb,
      Ask him to stand with you on the side of the pool, bend forward into a freestyle position with the upper body and practice an arm stroke in mid air. Encourage him to watch his hand and then make his hand go faster as it pushes back near his thigh.
      Next up, ask him to stand in the water in the same position and start his arm stroke with his hand in the water out in front and then accelerate his hand through the water whilst standing there. He can do this and by practicing in mid air and then with some water pressure will be a great start. He also needs to commit to moving his hands through at different speeds. It will feel very different to what he normally does and this is fine.
      Let me know how you go.

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