9 Tips For Short Swimmers To Compete At The Highest Level

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I know what it feels like to stand in that call or marshaling room and to have to accept the fact that your competitors are a head or two taller than you right before walking out on pool deck for the biggest final of your life.

I know the feeling of discouragement when you see that tall enemy of yours in warm-up. I also know the feeling of fear and the feeling of unfairness. But most importantly of all- I know the feeling of failure and the decision of getting back up again that comes with it.

I’m not the tallest swimmer, and never will be. I’m right there in the middle.

Not a freak, just a normal guy wanting to become the fastest and best swimmer that he can be. Just a guy trying to push his own limits every day- in training and competition. And I have come to accept the fact that if I want to compete at the highest level, I won’t be able to rely on my genetics to get me there.

You might be reading this article in a state of discouragement, after you were beaten by someone taller than you, you might be reading it after watching a pro swim meet and seeing all of those tall guys racking in gold medals left, right, and center. Or you may just be trying to prepare for the future of your swimming career so that you can become the best that you can be.

Whatever your reason is, I am here to tell you that competing at the highest level as a short swimmer and swimming super fast isn’t all that impossible. It just takes a little bit of luck, and a ton of hard work, determination, and focus. Things that are all worth it in my opinion.

Examples of short swimmers competing at the highest level- Gues what? It’s not that rare.

In the world of swimming we have numerous examples of short swimmers excelling on both national and international levels, in many cases, out swimming and even crushing a lot of tall guys.

That said, you would be happy to know that according to some research published over at Coach Rick Swimming just over 10% of the male finalist at the London Olympics were 5’10” or shorter and that nearly 20% of the female finalist were 5’6″ or shorter.

Not necessarily short by public standards, but definitely on the short side of when it comes to swimming, and definitely a very average height among the majority of the population. That said, let’s take a look at some examples-

Kosuke Hagino, coming in at a height of 5 feet and 8 inches (172cm) is definitely on the short side of swimming with the average height of Olympic swimmers being 6 feet and 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 outswam and beat Olympic champions and proved himself able to keep up with the big guys.

Other examples include Janet Evans, a 5-time Olympic medalist coming in at a height of only 5 feet and 5 inches, and Katika Hosszu, a 4-time Olympic medalist and 15 time World Champion medalist, coming in at a height of 5 feet 6 inches.

9 Tips for short swimmers to swim faster.

Here are 9 tips for short swimmers to compete at the highest level-

  • First believe that you can be great.
  • Perfect your swimming technique.
  • Work hard and stay disciplined.
  • Dominate your underwaters.
  • Develop superior starts, turns, and finishes.
  • Incorporate dryland and weight training.
  • Make sure your recovery is top-notch.
  • Focus on events geared toward shorter swimmers.
  • Have fun.

1. Mind over matter- first, you have to believe that it is possible.

You can have perfect genetics, the ideal build for swimming fast, and a lot of talent, but if you don’t believe in yourself you will never succeed.

inspirational swimming quote

Your mind is the most powerful thing you have and if you believe you can do something you probably can do it. One of my favorite quotes goes by-

Whether you think you can do it or you think that you can’t you are probably right

-Henry Ford

Many times you might actually be cable of doing something you never thought possible, but just because you don’t believe it’s possible, you give up, slack off, and never come close.

Yes sure, maybe you are just a normal guy that has nothing going for you, but I promise you if you truly believe that you can do something, whatever it may be, you will go very, very far.

2. Perfect your craft- master your swimming technique.

As swimmers, we all know that technique is super important- yet a lot of us still allow ourselves to make compromisations when we get tired, when we don’t want to focus, when we don’t feel like it. And yes, if you are a tall genetic freak, you can probably get away with it because your height can make up for it. But if you are already at a disadvantage and want to become one of the best, then you have to focus on having perfect swimming technique.

Great swimming technique is a craft, it’s a mastery and it takes a long time and a lot of effort to perfect. Yet, the advantage you’ll have over everyone else will be massive.

Good swimming technique helps to reduce resistance in the water. It will help you to swim with maximum propulsion, efficiency, and speed. You’ll be able to swim much faster than the rest of the field when you master your swimming technique. Sure, maybe a genetically gifted guy decides to perfect his craft as well- don’t worry, that doesn’t mean he can beat you, so go give him or her a run for their money.

So don’t just read this as yet again another person telling you to master your technique. Go out, do research, watch videos, read swimming technique articles, record yourself and see how you can improve, ask your coach for advice, make a list of things that you can improve on, make sure to have a goal for every workout. Go the extra mile to master your craft.

Tech suits can also help you swim faster by providing performance benefits. Don’t believe me? Read my article on whether or not tech suits make a difference. You do believe me? Consider checking out my article on the best tech suits for swimmers.

3. It’s about the everyday grind- hard work.

No one ever achieved anything great by sitting on the couch and wasting time on social media and TV shows. If you are going to take your swimming to the next level you are going to have to work extremely hard.

Even more so for you since you are short. If you want to beat your competitors you are going to have to work harder than them to make up for your physical disadvantage.

Don’t look at it as a burden, look at it as an opportunity to grow and become better. If your goal is to reach a high level in the sport, chances are that you are going to need to work extremely hard anyway. So why not just commit and get used to it from the get-go?

Maybe you fear getting burned out, but if you truly love the sport a lot you will probably be fine. When times get tough push through, when you feel like quitting think about what your goals- the long term and short term ones and imagine the feeling of finally accomplishing them. My goals get me motivated and excited to work hard on any day- so make sure to set them right and make them clear.

That said, hard work isn’t about being motivated and excited all the time. It’s about discipline. It’s about showing up to practice on time every day despite how you feel. It’s about being part of a team and pushing yourself and your teammates to new levels every day. It’s about putting in the extra when no one else will- making the send-off, doing those underwater dolphin kicks, eating healthy, stretching- whatever it takes.

4. Dominate your underwaters.

Great underwaters is something all great swimmers have in common. And it is something more and more swimmers are starting to work on with the underwater even being called the “fifth” unofficial stroke of swimming nowadays.

If we look at the greatest swimmer of all time- Michael Phelps, you’ll see that he isn’t always the first to go into the wall, but then he does a crazy good underwater, breaks out ahead of all of the competition and wins the race.

a Good underwater is truly an essential part of a good race and will help you to swim much faster. Many swimmers neglect their underwater work and this leaves a huge gap for you to slip in and gain an advantage over them.

Even at elite levels, we see swimmers who don’t take maximum advantage of their underwaters, so make sure to start working on your underwater now, it will pay off in the long run. Set small goals like doing 3 underwater dolphin kicks off every wall in practice and stay consistent with them- you’ll see the results eventually.

Right now, Caeleb Dressel probably has the best underwater in the world. Just look at what he is able to do with it on an international level-

5. Nailing the details- Superior starts, turns, and finishes.

You have most likely lost a race against someone by 0,05 seconds or something like that in the past. Now imagine if you were able to just get off the blocks a bit faster, touch the wall just a little earlier, made the turn a little bit faster- you get the idea.

You would have won…

The amount of times I have lost a race because I got out-touched at the very end is ridiculous. On my side this is something I should have worked on more, luckily for you and me, there are still many practices and races ahead to work on this.

At the elite levels of swimming, many times the race is won by the touch. Everyone is so close to each other, but it only matters about who gets to the wall first, because they’re the ones that will claim the gold medal. So make sure to work on every detail, you will thank yourself in the future.

My point is- when you are at a disadvantage to someone, you need to make sure that you do everything perfectly because maybe they slip up, maybe they lack somewhere (they most likely do), and this gives you the gap to break through and take the win.

Tech suits can also help you swim faster by providing performance benefits. Don’t believe me? Read my article on whether or not tech suits make a difference. You do believe me? Consider checking out my article on the best tech suits for swimmers.

6. Going the extra mile- dryland and weight training.

If you want to be one of the best, you are going to have to put in extra. Nowadays, dryland and weight training is something becoming more and more common among elite-level swimmers, and there is a lot of information available about it out there. So why not take advantage of that and make it part of your training?

Dry-land and wieght training helps to build power and speed in the water. It adds muscle to your frame to help exert even more power and gain an edge over your competition. It improves biomechanics, which in return helps with technique and stability in the water and it even helps to prevent injuries, allowing you to spend more time in the water, practicing and perfecting your craft.

So with that said, if you want to get started with some good information consider checking out these articles-

7. Recovery- ensure flexibility and good nutrition.

Training at peak levels every day is an important part of becoming one of the best swimmers out there. That said, you won’t be able to do this if your recovery isn’t great- remember, we are all just humans after all, our bodies need rest and fuel to recover after a hard workout and to actually benefit from it.

Make sure that you stretch, both before and after practice. A meta-analysis published by the American College of Sports Medicine found that dynamic stretching before a workout had the effect of improving physical performance including agility, power, strength, and endurance.

Note: Always do dynamic stretching before a workout, and static stretching afterwards. Doing static stretching before a workout can be detrimental to performance and may lead to injuries.

While another study by the Journal of Athletic Training found evidence that foam rolling effectively decreased muscle soreness and enhanced the rate of recovery after a hard workout.

Nutrition is also super important. Without proper fuel your body won’t be able to perform and function properly, both in the pool and outside of it. So here are a few nutrition articles that you may want to give a read-

8. Change your focus.

I’m not saying you should give up on your main event. I’m saying maybe you should prepare for the worst-case scenario and at least give yourself a chance if everything else goes south. Swimming events like breaststroke, IM, and distance freestyle are all events where height isn’t as important as some of the other events.

Consider training these events a bit more often, ask your coach for the opportunity to race them at your next few meets so that you can learn the event a bit more. Who knows, maybe you like it.

Plus training events other than those in your main stroke is actually beneficial for becoming a better swimmer regardless.

9. The most important part- have fun.

At the end of the day, we can work and train all we want- but there is still no guarantee that we’ll “make it”. And nobody owes us one either.

If you want to go far in the sport of swimming, then you are going to have to enjoy it. You don’t necessarily always have to love it in the moment, because yes it does get hard. It isn’t easy to jump in a cold pool at 5 am, it isn’t easy to do a 100x100s on a send-off. But that’s the thing- nobody said it was.

You just have to love the thrill of racing, the joy of being part of a team, the fun of racing your teammates, of pushing your limits in practice, and the feeling of accomplishment after your complete a hard workout. Because at the end of the day that’s what will determine whether you compete at the highest level or not.

If you don’t enjoy something, you’ll probably give up long before you ever get there. And if you do manage to get to a high level without loving the sport, just know that it won’t last.

That said, it isn’t all about getting to the highest level either. It’s about the lessons the sports learns you, the friends you make, and the experiences you will remember for the rest of your life. That’s the true beauty of swimming, it isn’t about the medals, it’s about the experience, the process.


At the end of the day being a short swimmer doesn’t matter. Sure, you may not have the biggest physical advantage, but it is up to you to decide whether or not you are going to let the uncontrollable determine if you at least give your goals a good run.

Learn to love the sport for what it is- the memories, the training, the friends, the pain… And the accomplishments and milestones won’t matter as much anymore. You’ll be free to enjoy the sport and to have fun- something not everyone can say- even at elite levels.

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About The Author

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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.