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Do you have to be tall to swim fast?

a short swimmer asking if you have to be tall to swim fast

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Many competitive swimmers might wonder- “Do you have to be tall to swim fast?”

In the sport of competitive swimming, the best athletes are usually quite tall guys and girls. I mean look at the facts- Michael Phelps, the best swimmer ever and most decorated Olympic athlete of all time is 1.92m or 6 feet and 4 inches tall.

Other great modern Olympic and professional swimmers include- Adam Peaty (1,9m), Ryan Lochte (1,88m), Caeleb Dressel (1,9m)Katie Ledecky (1,83m) and Sarah Sjöström (1,82m).

As you can see these swimmers are clearly quite tall, where the women are obviously slightly shorter. This can be quite discouraging for short(er) swimmers and it will probably leave them with the question- Do you have to be tall to swim fast?”. 

In short- No, you don’t have to be tall to swim fast. There are many short swimmers who swim some insane times in the pool. Some of the fastest swimmers I have raced weren’t the ones who were the tallest, but the ones who focused on having great technique and training hard.


Being short isn’t the end of the world


Yes, tall swimmers have many advantages like being able to reach out further to touch the wall, they are usually bigger overall- meaning they have more mass to pull water.

They have bigger feet and hands and they can pull and push more water. This also comes at a disadvantage, for them to pull all of their extra mass it is going to require much more energy.

Where shorter swimmers usually have less mass to pull and can use that extra energy to advantages in other fields of the race.

For example- I am quite a tall swimmer myself. In the past season, one of my short buddies has been beating me most of the time. I am ahead of him pretty much the entire race, but at the end, he somehow manages to find extra energy to catch me and take the win.

This could be because he has less mass to move and thus has more energy to use at the end of the race.

Although being short could be disadvantage is the sport of competitive swimming, it can be made up with good technique, hard work, some solid underwater work, a good attitude, and some good conditioning.

We will get into how short swimmers can make up for their disadvantage a bit more later on in this article, but first, let’s look at some short Olympic swimmers.


Some Examples of Short Swimmers at High Levels


The following information, regarding these 2 swimmers were obtained from coachrickswimming.com, you can visit the article HERE

  • Kosuke Hagino, coming in at a height of 5 feet and 8 inches Kosuke is on the short side of professional swimmers.

This might not be very short in terms of public standards, but it certainly is quite short for a professional swimmer.

The average height of Olympic swimmers is 6 feet 4 inches. Kosuke is nearly 6 inches below average, putting him at quite a disadvantage on paper. However, at the 2014 Asian games, he medalled in all 6 events he swam, including 3 golds! He out swam and beat Olympic champions!

  • Katinka Hosszu claimed 10 victories at the Arena Grand Prix series, as well as being named the 2013-2014 Arena Grand Prix winner! Katinka comes in at a height of 5 feet 6 inches, which is probably considered a reasonable height, but in the swimming world, this makes her one of the shortest athletes.
  • At the 2016 Rio Olympics the shortest female swimmer to make a final came in at a height of 5 feet 1 inch and the shortest male swimmer at a height of 5 feet 6 inches. This clearly shows that it is possible for “short” swimmers to swim faster than some of their taller competitors and even claim golds!

Next, we will be looking at 5 tips for shorter swimmers to counteract their disadvantage and have a chance at competing at the highest levels. Remember competing professionally is not just about how tall you are, yes it plays a role, but there are also many other aspects to consider like work ethic, technique, mentality, and talent.


5 Tips for Short(er) Swimmers-


Olympic Swimmers train up to 35 hours per week- work hard.


The saying goes- “Hard work beats talent (or height in this case) when talent doesn’t work. I truly believe that if you have a strong work ethic, your chance to achieve success is quite high.

Most people don’t like working hard, because most of the time it requires them to be put in uncomfortable situations. This is where you have an opportunity to outwork them!

Although at high levels, everyone is going to be working hard, you are going to have to work harder to keep making sure you are putting in more effort and still have a chance at winning!

This might not sound very appealing to you, but if you really want to be the best, you are going to be required to work hard!


The best swimmers are the ones who have the best technique.


There is nothing like having good technique. When you have a good technique you will be at a serious advantage of someone with even slightly less good technique.

Having good technique allows you to pull and push water much more effortlessly. This will save energy that you can use on other aspects of your race like underwater work.

Having good technique will also allow you to swim on top of the water, reducing the amount of resistance and allowing you to propel yourself faster through the water.


Michael Phelps had the best underwater 99% of the time.


Good underwater work might arguably be one of the most crucial parts in winning a race. Have you ever watched a race where someone was behind before the turn, then after the turn, they whip out this massive, fast underwater and suddenly they are ahead of everyone else by a body length?

Yes, that is how powerful underwaters are.

They can change the entire outcome of a race. Practice your underwater on every turn you take at training. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it will pay off in the long run.


It is easier to succeed when you have a good attitude.


Mindset is everything.

No matter what you are trying to achieve, if you have a good and positive mindset about it and truly believe that you can and deserve to achieve it.

Chances are you are much more likely to achieve it then. Your mind is extremely powerful. Many times you might physically feel like you can’t go anymore, but if you tell yourself in your head you can and then start believing it.

You will most likely end up being able to continue for much, much longer than you thought was possible!


Many swimmers skip dry-land


Most swimmers will neglect dry-land training.

This is a huge mistake on their part and somewhere, where you can slip in and gain a massive advantage! There is only so much you can do in the water and getting stronger outside of the water is a key part of achieving faster times.

You will never be able to replace your swim training with dry-land alone, but supplementing it with dry-land can have magical effects!


Conclusion


At the end of the day, it’s up to you as a swimmer to decide whether you are going to allow your disadvantage of being short get you down and destroy your swimming career.

Being short and competing at high levels is more than possible if you have the right attitude about it. Short swimmers can be fast and height isn’t everything. If you focus on aspects where others might be neglecting, you can gain huge advantages over them and beat them!

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About the author

Benjamin

Benjamin

I am Benjamin, a competitive swimmer with many years of experience in the sport of swimming. I am very passionate about competitive swimming and love sharing everything I have learned about the sport. I specialize in swimming butterfly and my favorite event is the 100m butterfly with the 50m and 200m fly closely following.

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