How To Become A Better Swimmer

  • Last Updated: July 1st, 2019

If you watch the top swimmers in any race, they all seem to make it all seem so easy! They also share a lot of techniques that, with a little practice, can help you become a better swimmer.


They say that swimming is 80% technique and 20% fitness which is why the top swimmers always spend so much time working on their stroke.

Drill sets are best done after the main speed or distance set, when muscles are tired, as this will force you to really concentrate on your stroke, maintaining good technique.

To get you started, here are two fantastic drills to practice next time you’re in the water.


A swimming classic! This drill will help improve your body position in the water, your catch and high elbow (something all good distance swimmers master).

This is a front crawl drill which might take a little getting use to.

Push off from the wall and rather than starting a proper stroke, leave one arm out in front of you while the other makes a normal stroke. As the hand taking a stroke re-enters the water, pause for a second so both hands are out in front of you before making the next stroke with your other arm.

Sound confusing? It’s actually a lot simpler when someone shows you what to do…

While you don’t need to do this with a kickboard, it can be really useful when first getting started.

Once you start to master this drill, you might want to consider using a swim snorkel!

Finger Trail

Another classic freestyle drill designed to improve your swimming performance and thankfully, this one is easier to master than catch-up.

To do this drill, you use a normal freestyle stroke, only when your hand exits the water, you should focus on skimming the very tips of your fingers through the water before making a normal hand entry.

This drill will help you to establish a stroke with a high elbow which is crucial for open water swimming.

Focus on your breathing

If there’s one thing that differentiates good swimmers from great swimmers then it’s how they breath.

Learning how to properly breath is probably one of the biggest challenges for both new and intermediate swimmers alike. A bad technique can have implications on everything from how effective your kick is, right through to your ability to navigate in open water (make sure you check out our open water swimming tips for more useful pointers).

Common breathing mistakes than new swimmers often make include:

  • Over rotating your head
  • Not breathing bilaterally
  • Lifting your head before turning it

Lengthen your stroke

Another common characteristic of a great swimmers stroke is that they trend to have a very low, very controlled stroke rate.

If you’re a swimmer with a short and choppy stroke, the good news is that this is a really easy one to practice and can really help you become a better swimmer.

This is something that you’ll need to work on in the pool rather than in open water as you’ll need to be able to count your strokes over a set distance.

First, swim a length as you normally would, counting how many strokes it takes you to cover the distance. Then on the return leg, slow your stroke down, allow yourself a second to really stretch and glide during the catch phase of the stroke. Again, count your strokes and hopefully, you should have taken fewer strokes this time.

As you master this technique, you’ll find that you cover the distance in just the same amount of time with the added benefit of saving energy (which is extremely handy in an endurance event)!

Develop A Distance Swimmers Leg Kick

As triathletes, we need to develop a distance swimmers leg kick not a sprinters!

While cycling and running are very leg specific exercises, even the best swimmers only amount of propulsion actually comes from the legs. In fact, according to SwimSmooth:

Elite freestyle swimmers with world class kicks only get a small fraction of their propulsion from their legs (about 10-15%).

With this in mind, the focus of your kick should be to help rotate your body for breathing rather than for propulsion. This will have the added benefit saving your legs for on the bike.


So there you have it, if you’ve been searching for how to become a better swimmer you’ve got your answers. Put these tips during above into practice your next swim training session and you’ll soon be putting in better performances in the water.

Scott Holliday

Scott Holliday has been coaching athletes of all levels for over 10 years and is certified by the acclaimed International Triathlon Coaching Association (ITCA). He works with athletes of all abilities to help then unlock their potential.