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How to swim faster: Olympian, Caeleb Dressel’s 5 steps to success.

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Looking to become a faster swimmer? Not sure where to start and what to focus on? Don’t worry! In today’s article, I will be covering everything you need to know to become a faster swimmer. We’ll also be discussing 100m butterfly and 50m freestyle world record holder, Caeleb Dressel’s, 5 ultimate tips for improving your swimming.

When trying to become a faster swimmer, most will focus on the obvious things such as technique, underwater, increasing their training load and so on. And sure, these things are important, and they’ll certainly help you to become a faster swimmer (we’ll discuss these techniques for swimming faster later). But they aren’t going to separate you from the rest of the field.

Because as I just mentioned- they are obvious! Meaning anyone who is willing to work hard and make sacrifices for their swimming will be able to implement these strategies, ultimately reaping the rewards of what they sow.

So to become a faster swimmer, with speeds that will make your opponents want to quit, you’re going to have to take a bit of a different approach to your swimming. This is where Caeleb’s advice comes in.

Caeleb completely stands out from most swimmers, he holds 8 world-records, 2 of which are individual. Not to mention his complete domination in a large range of events in the last ISL swimming season. If you’re ever going to want to stand out from most swimmers, just like Caeleb, then you’re going to have to do things differently, listen (read) closely to what Caeleb has to say- 

How to swim faster: Caeleb Dressel’s sure-fire advice.

Before we get into things, I just want to give a shout out to the Ben and Caeleb Show. This is Caeleb’s and his best friend and former competitive swimmer Ben’s podcast where they discuss a wide variety of topics. 

It’s all very random and entertaining to listen to, and you really get some nice insights into the life of a professional swimmer as well as Ben’s student life. This is great for people and aspiring competitive swimmer since you can see Caeleb is just like all of us, he can just swim super fast as well.

Sometimes they’ll discuss strange rocks, other times they’ll talk about wetting their beds as kids, school fights, old friends, books, quotes, and many other fun topics, with the occasional piece of swimming advice and a burp or two by Caeleb thrown in throughout the podcast episodes.

With that said, let’s get back to the topic. Keep in mind that Caeleb gave this advice with the 50 freestyle in mind, since that is what many of his podcast watchers were asking for, but as Ben notes, this advice is great for improving any swimming event, and even other aspects of your life outside of swimming.

Here are Caeleb Dressel’s 5 tips for swimming faster-

  • Have a purpose for every swim practice and stay focus on it.
  • Make your swimming teammates better.
  • Make yourself uncomfortable every single swim practice and do things that have never been done before.
  • Communicate with your swim coach.
  • Always try to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

1. Have a purpose for every swim practice and stay focused on it.

The first piece of advice Caeleb gives swimmers is to have a purpose for every single swimming workout. He recommends having one single goal for every practice, no matter what day of the week or month it is, if you are going to train- have a goal, have a purpose.

Some of his examples include- focusing on having good flip turns, good streamlines, maybe a solid last 15m of whatever sprint you’re doing. There are literally countless other things that you can focus on, that I can think about right off the top of my head.

Things like strong underwaters off every wall and dive, making sure you’re leg tempo is right when kicking butterfly, maintaining a good body position for whatever stroke you doing, focusing on little technique aspects specific to you like the rolling motion on freestyle and backstroke for example. It can be literally be anything- small or big, hard or easy, just have something to focus on.

Caeleb adds, even if you’re going slow and having a bad practice, it doesn’t mean your purpose (goal) is thrown out of the window. You can still swim slow and have a fast flip turn or a strong underwater, or a good and compact kick or whatever! 

2. Make your teammates better.

The second piece of advice Caeleb gives swimmers is to make your teammates better. What he means by this is you should expect them to give you their best effort and in return, you give them your best effort.

I can remember countless times where I have swum faster during a set, because the guy next to me wasn’t willing to slow down for me or anyone else, including themselves, and in doing so he/she pushes the whole team to give their best effort.

And as everyone starts giving their best effort, everyone will start swimming faster and faster, because everyone is pushing each other to the point where you either throw up or completely fall out of the bus, because you’ve given it your everything. And that’s fine, as long as you actually know you gave it your all to become better yourself, and for everyone else!

To me making your teammates better also means showing up to practice every day. I’m going to be there every day, whether I want to or not, whether I’m busy and stressed out or not, whether I’m feeling happy or not, you can always expect me to be there, and I expect the same from you as my teammate.

3. A) Make yourself uncomfortable every single swimming practice.

The next piece of advice Caeleb gives us, is to get uncomfortable every single swim workout. He uses the example of how easy it is to get into a routine of doing the same thing over and over again every swim practice.

Some of his examples include staying at the back of the lane every workout, doing the same number of dolphin kicks off every wall, and trying to hit the same times every workout. Caeleb’s coach, Gregg Troy, frequently reminds them of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, that’s the only way you’re going to get better and make an impact on your swimming.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

-Gregg Troy

You have to come into every workout with the mindset that you are going to be uncomfortable and you’re there to get better. It’s as simple as that.

From personal experience, I can say that the swimming workouts where I have pushed myself way past my comfort levels are the ones that I remember and the ones that I really felt good about accomplishing. Maybe not directly after, because I might have felt like throwing up, but you get the point.

3. B) Do things in practice that have never been done before.

Next, Caeleb stresses that if you want to do something that has never been done before whether that is something you personally haven’t been able to achieve or a certain record that no one has been able to break. You’re going to have to do something you or that person hasn’t done if you want to achieve that.

Ben then goes on to give a silly and funny example, which Cealeb gladly embraces. He explains how you’re about to go and swim a 50 freestyle and then right before diving in you say something like “this is the worst show ever”. Now that’s only a joke, but keep in mind, that mental phrases like shoot, explode, blast, and sweep can get you into a zone to swim fast.

If you want to take yourself to a new place every year with your swimming and go best times, you can’t be doing the same stuff year over year. Caeleb uses the example of logbooks, which is an essential thing to keep if you want to make sure that you are making progress in the pool.

4. Communicate with your coach.

The fourth tip Caeleb gives is to communicate with your coach. He goes on to explain how it’s important for you to share your goals with them. This will help them to understand what you want to achieve with your swimming and how to prepare you to do that.

He also urges swimmers to share what you want to achieve each practice with your coach since they’ll be able to give you a nudge in the right direction when you start getting off track. Caeleb also advises sharing when you’re feeling off that week or had a horrible day, as well as sharing if you had a great week or month.

Any insight that you are able to provide your coach will help you to be a better swimmer, and them to be a better coach. Find what works for you. Caeleb also explains that this is a long process, and it can take years to build up a good relationship with your coach.

Just the other day, I had a minor ankle/foot injury and usually, I don’t share stuff like this with my coach, because I feel like I’m complaining if I do that, but it turned out to be positive and I realized I should be doing stuff like that more often.

My coach was able to give me advice on what we should be doing for the next few days and weeks to make sure everything heals properly. Now he also knew why my times were slower than usual, and he wasn’t going to get upset at me for that.

5. Always try to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

To top things off, Caeleb advises swimmers to always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. That may be the end of practice or the end of a really hard set. If you are an hour into your swimming workout and you’re already hurting and you’re exhausted, you have to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This could be for that specific practice, it could be the end of the week, the end of the month, nationals, etc.

Something that I like to do, which can be viewed as seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Is I’ll slowly count down each 50 or each 100, maybe even each lap as we are going through a tough set. This just helps me to keep pushing harder and harder, because I am aware that things are getting closer to ending and I want to make sure that I make the most of that set so that I can become as good as I can be.

There is no magic pill. That’s the whole secret. There is nothing I can tell you in a text that’s going to improve your 50 free time. If you want to get better at swimming, you gotta swim, and you have to swim a lot, repetition is key, there are no shortcuts.

-Caeleb Dressel
The Ben and Caeleb Show, I highly recommend checking it out!

How to swim faster: 6 effective and proven tips and methods.

Now that we’ve covered Caeleb Dressel’s 5 steps to becoming a faster swimmer, we can look at some more basic tips that anyone can implement right now, and reap the rewards if they stay consistent with it. 

These tips are also great for those of you who swim recreationally, or just for the fun of it and not as competitive swimmers like Caeleb and many others. They are guaranteed to make you a faster swimmer if you stay consistent with implementing them into your training. (Rule number 1- have a purpose for every practice).

How to swim faster: 6 effective tips-

  • Efficient swimming technique is gold
  • Stretch your swim boundaries by becoming more flexible.
  • Build up your strong areas and focus on your weaknesses.
  • Proper recovery is key if you want to swim faster.
  • The gym is your second home.
  • Master your starts and underwaters for faster swimming.
  • Bonus tip: join a swim team.

1. Efficient swimming technique is gold (+9 tips for improving your swim technique).

There’s no doubt about it that swimming technique is the most important factor when it comes to being a fast and effective swimmer. Both, unfortunately, and fortunately, there are hundreds of little details to work on to have good swimming technique.

Even most professional swimmers have areas where their technique may lack and where they can improve it. Sure, these are usually very small details, but nonetheless, they are still there and if you fix enough of them, you’re going to make big differences in your swimming.

Below I’ve put together a list of 9 areas that you can focus on for improving your swimming technique, and in doing so swim faster and more effectively.

1. Reduce drag and work on your body position while swimming.

A lot of the time, swimmers will only focus on trying to swim as fast as possible, and not on swimming with the least amount of resistance. (I’m guilty to this too). This drag or resistance placed by the water on our bodies contributes a lot to how fast we are able to swim.

Reducing drag takes true skill and practice, there are many ways to reduce drag, some have a big effect and others not so much, but they all allow you to swim that extra bit faster. The most effective way of reducing drag is working on your body position.

My coach always tells us that body position is the most important factor of swimming fast. What he means by this is- yeah sure, maybe you have some talent and you’re able to get to a point where you can swim quite fast anyway. 

But once you start reaching certain speeds, you’ll experience thermal velocity and you literally won’t be able to swim faster if you don’t have a good body position allowing you to reduce resistance in the water as much as possible.

Tech suits are also a great way of reducing your resistance in the water, while also providing many other awesome performance enhancing benefits. Consider checking out my article on the 15 best tech suits for swimmers by clicking here if you want to master your swimming. (Looking to save some money? Click here, to check out the best budget tech suits.)

2. Swim tall, not short and contracted.

The next part of good swimming technique is to swim tall. What I mean by this is you shouldn’t try to get short and contracted while swimming, many swimmers do this because they feel like they are able to exert more power, but in reality, they are slowing themselves down a lot, regardless of how much power they are able to produce.

Aim to swim taller or longer, since it’ll allow you to swim faster. In freestyle, this could mean extending your arm as far as possible once it passes in front of you and enters the water. Try to feel a stretch running down your lat.

If you are able to swim extend your arm 1cm further with each stroke over the course of a 100m race and you take 80 strokes, you’ll swim 80cm further just by stretching out a little bit further every time. That’s 0.8m extra that you don’t have to swim, and it can make a huge difference in your race.

3. An efficient and strong kick will be the driving force behind faster swimming.

The kick only generates about ⅓ of your actual swimming speed, but in reality, it does much more than that. A good kick sets the tempo for your entire race and helps to get your arm tempo up.

The legs are also very strong and they’ll help to power you to the wall once your upper body starts to fatigue near the end of your race. When kicking, you shouldn’t break the water surface with your feet, but you should also not be kicking too low below your body-position. 

If you kick like this, you will develop a very strong, powerful and compact kick, and it will drive you to first place or that sport on that glamorous swim tour.

4. Work on improving your propulsion while swimming. 

There is so much I can talk about here, mastering swimming propulsion is quite complicated and it’ll take you quite a while. The most important things to focus on would be to ensure that your legs and arms are working together in such a way that both are creating speed without interfering with each other and creating added drag- this all goes back to a good position.

The second important aspect is to try and ensure that you are using every moving part of your body to generate speed, for example- you can focus on pulling more with your fore-arms and not just with the hands, or you could use your upper legs more for pushing water in your kick.

Simple things like these can improve your swimming propulsion a lot, and will help you to swim faster.

5. Staying balanced while swimming is key.

Staying balanced and stable in the water is another great way to reduce your drag while swimming. You should aim to swim as horizontal as possible, while obviously maintaining the correct body-position for that specific stroke.

This will ensure that a minimal amount of water gets in your path, ultimately reducing drag and allowing you to swim faster. To increase your balance you should look at little parts of your strokes that may throw off your balance a bit such as when you breathe or how much you lift your head while breathing for example.

You can also try doing some dry-land training on a stability ball for increased balance in the water. A few fun stability ball exercises I like include stability ball push-ups, jackknives, and planks.

6. Don’t be afraid to “roll” with the stroke.

When swimming, you should try to roll slighlty from side to side as you complete each stroke. This is more specific to backstroke and freestyle though, since there isn’t much rotation in breaststroke and butterfly swimming.

Anyway, this rolling motion will help you to activate the large back muscles more while also forcing you to increase activation of the shoulder muscles. 

Once you master this you’ll have more control over your strength and speed in the water, and you may even find that you’re able to swim more energy efficient since you’ll have more and more momentum on each stroke.

7. Activate your core muscles while swimming.

This is a simple tip, and yes, it may feel a bit strange to place emphasis on activating and engaging the core while swimming, but you’ll quickly get used to it and over time you’ll be able to do it without even thinking about it.

As we all know- the core is super important in swimming since it’s used in all of the strokes regardless if you’re focusing on activating it or not. But when you do place emphasis on core activation you’ll be able to swim faster and more balanced through the water.

8. Maintain a neutral and stable head position for optimal swim speed.

The way you position your head can have a much larger effect on how fast you’re able to swim than you may realize. I recommend maintaining a neutral head position while swimming. This will reduce drag in the water, ultimately making you faster and more efficient.

Additionally, if your head isn’t centered you may be swimming slightly more to one side. This can actually increase the amount of distance you are swimming and can slow you down. For example, if you swim skew over a 100m, you may actually swim a 101m or a 102m in total, obviously making you slower.

Your head position may also be the reason why you feel like you are swimming down and not forward. This is due to lowered hips and legs. You should aim to look down, just in front of you, not up or forward. This should keep your body in a horizontal position as you swim, ultimately helping you to swim faster.

9. Make sure to exhale slowly as you are swimming.

This is mostly a rookie mistake and is commonly done by beginner swimmers. Nevertheless, it’s something fun and easy to fix and it can definitely make you faster as well as helping to increase the amount of oxygen you are able to consume with each breath.

When you swim you should exhale when your head is underwater, you can do this at a pace that’s comfortable for the speed that you are swimming at. When you do this it will allow you to swim faster since you don’t have to first blow out the air and then breathe when you lift your head.

Ultimately, you’ll be able to reduce a lot of drag and save some time over the course of your race.

2. “Stretch” your swim boundaries by becoming more flexible.

Mobility is super important for every and any swimmer. Whether you swim recreationally or super competitively you have to place emphasis on flexibility and mobility. Swimming, generally, isn’t a high impact sport, and it’s considered one of the healthiest sports, but when you start to dish out those laps you absolutely have to make sure you are doing adequate mobility work.

You see, swimming is super repetitive in terms of doing the same motion over and over and over again. For example the shoulder rotation on freestyle or the ankle flexing on your butterfly kick. 

These repetitive motions can cause some gnarly and really annoying injuries if you don’t stretch for at least 20-30 minutes daily or every other day at the bare minimum. You can also do foam rolling if you prefer that since it’s also great for breaking up tight muscle tissue and getting the blood flowing.

Other than injuries, it’s just a good practice for swimmers to be flexible. Like mentioned earlier, in swimming you need to be tall and long in both your stroke and body position, and you simply can’t do that if you lack flexibility in your joints and muscles.

Dynamic stretching is also a great way of stretching for improved performance before a race or a swimming workout. A meta-analysis conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (1) found evidence that dynamic stretching prior to training showed an improvement in physical performance. 

It’s important to keep in mind that dynamic stretching isn’t optimal for increasing flexibility, but rather just warming up muscles and temporarily increasing mobility. If you want to develop good and lasting flexibility I recommend doing static stretching.

A study (2) published by the American Physical Therapy Association, and conducted by researchers, William Bandy, Jean Irion, and Michelle Briggler, found that static stretching, between 30 and 60 seconds for 5 days per week over the course of a 6-week trial was effective for increasing hamstring flexibility.

We can thus make the conclusion that static stretching is also effective for increasing flexibility in other muscle groups.

3. Build up your strong areas further, and focus on your weaknesses.

If you want to become a faster swimmer, you have to place focus on both your strengths and your weaknesses. 

This can refer to many different things, it may mean you have a good butterfly and a bad backstroke, or it could mean you have a strong freestyle pull and a weak freestyle kick, a strong dive, and a weak underwater, and so on.

Many swimmers seem to be under the impression that you need to be either working on your strengths or working on your weaknesses. This is simply the wrong way to approach things. Each workout you should focus on one simple aspect where you lack in your swimming while ensuring that you give it your all when performing the things which you are already good at.

In contrast, you could take 1 or 2 swimming workouts each week and focus more on your weaknesses, than your strengths. I don’t recommend doing this too much though. 

Anyway, the point is you’ll be able to improve your strengths even further while enhancing the parts of your swimming where you lack, and in doing so you will become a much faster swimmer in the long run.

4. Proper recovery is key if you want to swim faster.

Ensuring that your body is getting adequate recovery between each workout is vital for becoming a faster swimmer in the long run. I’m not saying you have to feel fully rested, not sore, and ready to go physically each workout. That would simply be foolish and ignorant to expect.

But you should aid your body in recovering as well and effectively as it can every single day. This will help you to go hard in every swimming workout, which as Caeleb said earlier- get comfortable with being uncomfortable, meaning train really hard each workout.

If you are able to recover at a good rate every day, and you’re able to train hard every swimming and gym workout, then you’ll see massive improvements in your swimming speed over the course of a few months, or maybe slightly longer if you have been swimming for a long time.

Some simple and effective recovery methods include-

  • Proper hydration and nutrition
  • Stretching and foam rolling
  • Ice baths
  • Naps
  • Physical/sports massages.

In terms of the science behind some of these recovery methods, a study conducted by the Journal of Athletic Training (3) found that foam rolling efficiently decreased muscle soreness and enhanced the rate of recovery, following rigorous training. Static stretching has also been shown to increase flexibility in the long run.

That said, the dreaded ice-bath has also been proven as an effective recovery method for athletes in a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports (4). Athletes were put through a rigorous training cycle and thoroughly and regularly tested throughout.

The study concluded that cold water immersion significantly reduced muscle soreness while reducing decrements to physical performance and a faster return to baseline sprint performance.

Sports massages have also shown evidence of greatly reducing muscle fatigue in a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (5).

5. The gym is your second home.

Hitting up the gym a few times a week as part of your training routine is never a bad idea, as long as you have some basic understanding of how to do the exercises properly and how to structure your training so that it complements and doesn’t interfere with your swimming.

Obviously you could always just hire a sports conditioning specialist to help you with this, and if you can afford it, I highly recommend it. It will help you to avoid any unnecessary fuss and will get you going with some solid gym training for faster swimming right off the bat.

Back in my earlier days of swimming, when I was just really starting to get into competitive swimming. I also started experimenting with dry-land and weight training. This significantly improved my swimming as a young swimmer and helped me to drop a lot of time, ultimately qualifying for nationals.

I followed a combined program, utilizing both weight-, aerobic, and bodyweight training and I lost a lot of weight and greatly strengthened my body. Helping me to become far more athletic and a much better swimmer.

I don’t recommend following a program, just because you think it’s similar to mine though. Find a training style that works for you or hire someone to help you out with that stuff and you’ll greatly improve your swimming, no doubt about it.

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the gym I have a few articles that you might want to check out-

6. Master your starts and underwaters for faster swimming.

My final tip is something that might seem really simple, but in reality, this is huge and this can completely transform your swimming and set you apart from all of your opponents- starts and underwaters.

The other day we were having a discussion at training, and my coach brought up starts and underwaters. Sure, we all knew this was important but no one had really quite grasped it. Right now, underwaters are being referred to as the “5th” stroke.

Why? Because they are huge. Right now every single of the top swimmers are absolutely dominating their opponents on underwaters and that’s why they are able to crush them, even though they may be able to swim slightly faster or something like that.

Coincidentally, Caeleb Dressel is said to have the best first 15 meters out of any swimmer, just watch one of his races, you’ll notice how he doesn’t get the most distance with his start, but his underwater puts him about a body length ahead of the rest of the field once he breaks out.

Just check out this video where he broke the 100m fly world record at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju.

Bonus tip: join a swim team or club.

My final “bonus” tip is going to be that you join a swimming team if you haven’t already. Chances are that there at least a few great swimming clubs in your area. Being part of a swim team is one of the best ways to become a faster swimmer and it’s a great way to make training more enjoyable while making new friends and building life-long relationships.

The coach will be able to help you with fixing small technique errors that you may have never even realized you had, and they’ll remove the stress of developing a proper training program, ultimately making your life much easier while significantly increasing your chances of success.

If we look back at Caeleb Dressel’s 5 steps to success, we’ll see that step number 2 is labeled- “make your teammates better”. When you’re part of a swim team you can do this, and in return your teammates will make you better, allowing you to swim faster in the long run.

Conclusion

Becoming a faster swimmer isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. Once again I’m going to refer to Caeleb Dressel here, and I quote- “there is no magic pill, there are no shortcuts in the sport”. 

If you want to master your craft and swim faster you’re going to have to train, day in and day out. Sure, if you don’t care about being a world-champion or at least a big name locally, then you don’t have to train 3+ hours a day. Go and enjoy the normal things of everyday life, just implement the basic tips and strategies given in this article.

On the other hand, if you are a competitive swimmer and you’re hungry for success, whether this may be on a local, national, or international level, it doesn’t matter. You are going to have to work really hard. You’re going to have to put in the hours and the laps, and you better make sure that your mental state is also on top.

Mental training can refer to visualizing your races, writing down a goal for each workout, keeping logbooks and frequently reflecting on them to ensure you are making progress. It can refer to some basic meditation to calm your mind before practice or a race.

Nevertheless, it’s super important and will help you to reach your ultimate potential if you combine it with the tips provided by both me and Caeleb in this article. 

Visit my blog for more swimming content.

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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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