How to Take Your Swimming to the Next Level

by Mihai Pinzariu on December 07, 2020

Are you ready to unleash your inner Michael Phelps? If you’ve been swimming for awhile and feel like it’s time you levelled up, this is your guide to improving your swimming practice. You don’t have to hit the pool everyday to be a better swimmer, and it doesn’t involve shaving your whole body either. We’ve got a whole heap of tips in this article to help everyone from beginner swimmers to pros, including:

  • The best gear to improve your swimming,
  • How to correct your swimming technique,
  • Simple tips for non-fussy swimmers who want to improve, and
  • How to improve your swimming without stepping foot into water.

Whether you want to be the next Olympic swimmer or just want to be able to do ten laps without breaking a sweat, read on to transform your swimming practice.

Best gear to improve swimming

One of the best ways to improve your swimming practice is by using swimming gear. These pieces of equipment let you push past your body’s limitations to build even more strength and endurance while swimming. They do this by adding extra resistance while you swim, which increases the use of your muscles and makes you work harder and faster to get to your destination.

Some swimming gear also activates particular muscles in your body, depending on the piece of equipment. These let you focus on building strength in weaker areas that you might not have been paying attention to as much.

With time, swimming gear will make you a much faster and stronger swimmer while also improving your technique, posture, and alignment. Here’s the best swimming gear to take your practice to the next level.

 Pull buoys

These pieces of equipment are designed to help you build arm strength so you can propel yourself through the water harder and faster. They’re contoured pieces of foam which you place between your thighs while swimming, letting your legs stay afloat and keeping them in proper alignment. With your legs afloat, you can focus on using just your arms to work your body through the water. If your weakness is in your arms and upper body, pull buoys will help you strengthen those areas.  

Fins

Fins are a great piece of swim gear to use if you want to improve your kick. It might feel like fins make you swim easier and faster, but they also help improve your practice by activating particular muscles in the legs.

Because you have to kick harder when wearing fins, they help develop the upward motion of your legs by activating your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. These muscles are all important in having a strong kick while swimming, and developing them will make you a stronger swimmer even without fins on. You can also use drag socks instead of fins to get the same result.  

Snorkel mask

Wait, what? Snorkel masks are for more than just island holidays and looking at pretty fish? Yes! They’re a great piece of swimming gear that can help you refine your swimming technique and improve your posture and alignment. We’re talking about full face snorkel masks here in particular, which let you breathe naturally while swimming so that you can focus all your attention on your strokes and form.

Not having to turn your head to breathe every couple of strokes makes a huge difference when swimming and directs your attention towards your movements and alignment. It’ll be easier for you to make adjustments to your form and notice areas that require improvement or strengthening.

Hand paddle

These funny pieces of swimming gear are like little thongs for your hands. Like fins, hand paddles create resistance, only this time they’re working on the arms instead of the legs. The foam hand paddles are strapped onto your hands, weighing you down while swimming and forcing you to use more arm strength to propel you through the water.

If you’re still trying to develop arm strength, we wouldn’t suggest using hand paddles as they can tire your arms out quickly. Pull buoys are a better way to improve arm strength, while hand paddles will take you to the next level. If you really want to give your arms a workout, use pull buoys and hand paddles at the same time!

Goggles

If you don’t have a pair of goggles yet, are you even a serious swimmer? Go get a pair, stat! Goggles are the foundation to improving your swimming practice, letting you see where you’re going, protecting your eyes from irritating chlorine or saltwater, and letting you swim more comfortably. Read more about how goggles make you a better swimmer here.

Tips for correcting your swimming technique

You could buy all the fancy swimming gear in the world, but if you aren’t using the right swimming technique then you’ll never get to where you want to be. It’s OK to not have the perfect technique when you’re just starting out, because most of your focus is going towards how to get the basic strokes right rather than perfecting your form. But if you want to get to the next level and really improve your swimming practice, then you need to develop your technique.

Focusing on how your body is moving through the water will make sure you’re swimming in the most efficient way while also activating the right muscles in the body. This won’t just help you build that amazing swimmer’s physique, but also give you the maximum benefits that swimming provides! Here are our best tips for improving your swimming technique.

Cover more distance per stroke

Great swimmers don’t use more strokes, they use less strokes that take them a further distance. Instead of trying to cram in as many strokes as fast as possible, focus on letting each stroke take you a longer distance. This means that you’ll be taking less strokes overall, using your muscles less, and conserving more energy while you swim. Essentially, you’ll be able to swim for longer as you won’t fatigue as quickly.

Here’s how to improve the distance you travel with each stroke. Start by paying attention to your strokes as you’re swimming, and breaking it down into each of its smaller parts. Spend some time focusing on each part of the stroke and see if you can make that movement more efficient.

Don’t try to use your legs to propel your body further, let the strength come from your back, shoulders, and arms. Your legs should just be there to keep you in balance. As you practice, count how many strokes you swim within a particular time and see if you can slowly decrease that number with practice.

Be tall

Olympic swimming trainer, Terry Laughlin, says that the most important factor in swimming is how well you can slip your body through the water. It’s all about that moment that your body penetrates through the water and emerges on the other side. To perfect this, he suggests swimming as tall as you can so your body is as streamlined as possible.

Stretch your arms as far forward as possible, keep the muscles in your lower back and abdominals tense, and try to extend your entire figure to be as long as possible. Basically, don’t just be flailing around in the pool with your arms and legs going in all directions. Keep yourself streamlined and on a central axis that’s aimed directly towards the end of the pool.

Get your timing right

Timing is everything - you want to be a faster swimmer after all, don’t you? Every movement you make while you’re swimming has to be accounted for, and done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Part of improving your swimming technique is ensuring that every split second of your swim is going according to plan. Your entire body must be working towards helping you swim faster and more efficiently with every stroke.

The timing of your movements is a critical factor when swimming. You want one hand to enter the water just as the other one is pulling. If you’re alternating between opposite arms then you’re wasting energy, you want them working together to double the propulsion.

Then while your arms are recovering, you should be taking a quick breath and returning your head to the water just as your hand is about to make contact with it again. Don’t stick your head out for too long, just take a quick inhale and exhale slowly while your head is underwater.

Make your breathing count

One of the biggest setbacks for swimmers is not getting the breathing right. Many beginner swimmers like to breathe with every stroke, and that’s perfectly fine, but if you want to get to the next level then you should work on conserving those breaths. Advanced swimmers make each breath more valuable so that they can take less breaths overall, focusing on getting in more strokes. Here are some tips for better breathing when swimming:

Always exhale your entire breath out before taking in a new one. This empties your lungs out so you can fill them up with 100% oxygen, giving you a bigger breath that lasts longer. Lots of new swimmers fail to do this and then need to come up for air again quickly, sometimes gasping. If you’re prone to doing this, try taking a full exhale.

  • While you work on improving your breathing, start small by trying to breathe with every second stroke instead of every stroke. Then you can move on to every third stroke. Take it easy and don’t try to go from zero to a hundred.
  • Try to barely lift your head out of the water when taking a breath. This will take some practice and getting used to, but you just want to lift it up enough so there’s room for your mouth to get in some air.
  • When you inhale, don’t take a huge and sudden gulp of air. Try to make it natural, keeping your lungs and body relaxed, and don’t inhale too deeply either.
  • Exhale with your face submerged in the water, but keep them slow rather than fast. Exhaling quickly will release lots of bubbles that will disturb your buoyancy.
  • Try to practice breathing from both sides, also known as alternate breathing. Over time, being able to breathe from both sides will help reduce strain on the part of your body that you breathe with all the time.

Look down when you swim

This swimming tip comes from Mr Phelps himself! Try to keep your head down while swimming, keeping your face towards the bottom of the pool (this is where goggles will come in handy). A lot of swimmers hold their head up high while swimming, especially with freestyle, but doing so makes the rest of your body drop towards the bottom of the pool and increases drag.

This makes you have to swim harder and with more force, making you less efficient overall. Keeping your head looking down reduces drag while also easing strain on the neck by keeping your torso high.

Improving technique for different strokes

When it comes to the individual strokes, there’s a whole world of information about improving and refining your technique. Different swimming coaches will have different tips and advice, and everyone will have their own way of doing things that works for them. That said, here’s some general advice that can help you improve your swim strokes.

  • Freestyle: When swimming freestyle, focus on keeping your body as flat as possible so that it’s streamlined in the water. You want your kick to be entirely underwater to reduce drag. To do this, try sloping your hips slightly underwater to create less resistance. Keep your head, neck, and spine in alignment and face down while swimming. Only move your head when you’re turning to take a breath.
  • Breaststroke: For this stroke, the main propulsion will be coming from your legs, but your core muscles also have to be heavily engaged to keep you moving quicker. It’s important to focus on not letting your hips sink too far down in the water as this will cause tightness and tension over time. The same goes with your neck and shoulders, keep them relaxed to avoid strain and injury. After each breath, glide and look towards the bottom of the pool.
  • Backstroke: Like with the other two strokes, focus on keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed to avoid straining your muscles. This will help you swim for longer and stop your muscles from tiring out as fast. You also want to keep your head motionless and close to the water. Holding it up will create more drag and slow you down, expending more energy and stopping you from swimming for as long. The best form in backstroke is to keep your ears in line with the water.

 

Simple ways to improve your swimming practice

You don’t need to splurge on swimming gear and assess your technique to improve your swim practice. If you just want to have fun in the water and not focus on building muscle strength and correcting alignment, there are some other things you can do to better your practice. For those who want to start small, here are some simple ways to improve your swimming.

Warm up before you jump in

You might be excited for your swim, but try not to just jump straight in the pool next time. Instead, spend a few moments warming up your muscles beforehand. This will start activating all of the muscle groups in your body, preparing them so that they’re better engaged when you start swimming.

Not only will you be able to swim easier, but your muscles won’t tire out as quickly. You can do a few stretches or aerobic exercises to activate your system and get blood pumping through your body.

Stay relaxed

One of the best ways to improve your swimming is by actually trying to stay relaxed while you swim. It might sound counterintuitive to relax when you’re trying to charge forward to the other side of the pool, but doing so will actually let you swim better and more efficiently.

If you’re too tense while swimming, your muscles won’t engage properly and you’ll be wasting energy, tiring you out faster. Instead, try to stay relaxed and think of swimming as a gentle exercise that shouldn’t be too much of a strain. The less you try, the faster you’ll go. Somehow…

Swim more often, for less time

If you can get to the pool or beach a few times a week, it’s better to do that for 20-30 minutes at a time than to hop into a pool just once a week for a couple of hours. You can actually get a lot more out of a shorter swim than if you spend hours wandering aimlessly up and down a pool.

Shorter swimming sessions force you to focus on just one aspect of your swimming practice, whether it’s breathing or kicking or alignment. You dedicate your time to that one element and can alternate the focus throughout the week.

Warm down

Everybody talks about warming up, but not enough people talk about warming down. This is just as important as warming up and can help your muscles to recover quicker in between swimming sessions. Take the time after your swim to do a few stretches, work with a foam roller, or even just take a few really slow and gentle laps up and down the pool.

Lunges are another great way to release tension in the legs, or you can do some gentle neck and shoulder exercises to release tension from swimming. These soft movements will help flush lactic acid out of your muscles so that they’re ready to get back to business faster.

How to improve your swimming without being in the water

There are many reasons why you might not be able to get in the water, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still work on your swimming practice! Whether it’s too cold over winter, you’ve gone travelling, or you’re living too far away from a pool, there’s plenty you can do to stop yourself from losing your swimming muscles.

Also known as dryland training, these exercises will let you focus on activating the muscles used when swimming so you can continue to build strength and endurance. Whatever your reason for being away from the pool, here’s how you can improve your swimming without stepping a foot in water.

Using weights

You don’t have to do any heavy lifting here, but using weights will activate the muscles you use to propel yourself through the water and help you build strength in those areas.

Working with weights can also help improve your posture, correcting alignment and improving your overall swimming techniques. There are lots of different exercises you can do with weights, and each will activate different muscle groups used for different swimming strokes.

To improve your swimming, focus on the upper body like your triceps, biceps, and upper back. You can do chest presses, pullups, barbell shoulder presses, bicep curls, chinups, dips, and farmer’s walks.

These will work your triceps, biceps, and upper back. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to see the benefits, just a few repetitions will be enough to activate those muscles and build strength. You can continue to add more weights as you need to.

Build core strength

The foundation of efficient swimming is having a strong core, which is essential to keeping your body afloat while you swim. The less you sink down, the faster you’ll be able to swim, and your core is what keeps your body high up in the water. The core isn’t just your abdominal muscles but also includes your hips, glutes, and lower back.

Having a strong core reduces resistance while swimming, corrects your posture and alignment, keeps you lifted, reduces fatigue, minimises drag, and increases your speed. 

Some exercises to build your core strength include plank, side plank, and pig dog. You can also do yoga or pilates, both of which help to build core strength through their movements. The best postures will be the ones that have your body in a horizontal position like it is in the water, engaging the same core muscles you use when swimming. 

Increase flexibility

This is a part that many people don’t think about, because they’re too busy trying to build strength, strength, strength! Building flexibility is an integral part of any form of exercise, and swimming is the same. Keeping your muscles flexible improves mobility so that you can better move your body while swimming. It reduces muscular fatigue and helps prevent injuries. You can work on your flexibility with stretching, doing yoga, or even just using a foam roller or massage ball. 

This is an especially good practice if you’re feeling too tired or sore to engage in some of the other exercises we’ve listed. Instead, focus on increasing flexibility in your joints and releasing tension from your muscles. Swimmers should focus on the hip flexors and rotator cuffs, both of which can easily feel tense when swimming. Your shoulders are always engaged when swimming, so you want to keep them flexible to give yourself the full range of motion that you need. 

Now go and improve your swimming!

Alright, you have all the tips you need above. Get out there and start practicing! If you’ve used any of our tips in this article, let us know how things worked out for you. We’d love to hear how your swimming practice is going! 


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6 comments
by kuni on November 26, 2021

learning to swim!

by Caroline on November 26, 2021

Thanks: I’ve just rediscovered swimming again after lockdown and there are some excellent tips here.

by Blake on November 26, 2021

Amazing

by Dan Marchisio on November 26, 2021

Can’t wait til mine arrives … Interested to see how it goes! Looks like a lot of fun!

by Tara Mcintosh on November 02, 2021

Useful info, thanks/

by Dorothy on November 02, 2021

The Ninja Shark goggles would take my grandsons swimming to another level. Top quality, easy to use and reliable. His sister loves swimming in Exmouth and the goggles would benefit them both.

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