Looking to kick the tires and light the fires? Here are eight swimming workouts for speed to help you swim faster and more efficiently.
When it comes to swimming fast, every second and every hundredth of a second matters.
Races, best times, cuts, and gold medals are decided by fractions of a second, and the swimmer who can unleash every ounce of speed they possess are the ones who walk away with the good stuff.
But developing speed isn’t as simple as going “hard” in the water.
Watch the fastest swimmers on the planet and you don’t see panicked, frenzied effort. You see controlled and violent efficiency.
In this collection of some of my favorite swim workouts for speed, we will check all the boxes for developing blinding speed in the water, including:
- Improve stroke efficiency
- Hit top speed a TON
- Teach you what fast swimming actually feels like
- Use resistance and assistive propulsion to “learn” speed
- Increase your ability to hold top speeds
- Boost swim power and strength
And ultimately, help you swim with more speed than ever.
By the end, you will have a set of proven (and let’s be honest, quite fun!) swimming workouts for speed.
Let’s dive right in and unleash some speed workouts for swimmers!
Speed Swim Workout 1: Top Line Speed
Let’s start off with something simple and speedy.
Swimming fast in the water requires that you hit those top-end speeds frequently so that the body learns (a concept that will come up a lot in this article) how to maximize speed in the water.
Many swimmers (and some swim coaches, I’ll admit) believe that you can skirt around top-end speed with loads of sub-maximal speed training in the pool.
To increase swim speed, you need to swim with speed, do it with lots of rest, and do it regularly.
The following set, which you can do several times per week, is all about maximum speed, maximum rest, and pushing the limits of how fast you can go in the water.
Herbie Behm, associate head coach at Arizona State University’s NCAA men’s program, recommends this set to improve max speed. (I highly recommend following him on Twitter–he shares a ton of highly actionable intel for swimmers and coaches looking to develop lightning-fast speed in the pool.)
Here is the set:
- 4-8×25 fast @ 1:00
I know. That’s it!
Just 150m (or yards).
But make no mistake: Go full speed, with full focus, and chase the upper limits of your speed. You will get faster as you pile up the top-end speed repetitions.
Swim Speed Workout 2: Post-Activation Potentiation
A type of speed training developed initially by Olympic-level track athletes, post-activation potentiation for swimmers is a training concept that combines short-burst efforts under maximal load with maximal effort swimming.
The result = light-your-hair-on-fire kind of speed in the water.
Post-activation potentiation is effective with experienced competitive swimmers, and research backs this up (Hancock et al., 2015; Kilduff et al., 2011). While science is one thing, in my personal experience, this type of training feels awesome.
Once you have done the loaded efforts, drop the resistance, and blast out rested, all-out swimming, your body feels like a torpedo being shot out the side of a submarine.
Here is what this type of swim workout for speed looks like:
- 2x15m all-out swim with resistance @1:00
- Extra 1:00 rest
- 50 all out swim
- 100 loose
The swim resistance tool you use for this is up to you and your specific space and equipment access.
Teams and swimmers lucky enough to have the space and budget can use a power tower for the effort 15m’s.
Swim Speed Workout 3: Building Speed Endurance
The term “speed endurance” may seem like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not; swimmers looking to complete a 50m freestyle, 100m backstroke, or 100m breaststroke with more speed than the competition (and the swimmer’s respective best time) requires the ability to sustain speed.
To finish the race fast.
And how do we develop that?
Fast swimming at variable intervals teaches the body how to swim fast while swimming (pun 100% intended) in lactate.
This set, which is an interval ladder, starts off with some fast 25s on short rest, shooting the blood full of lactate, and then increasing the rest as swimmers go up the ladder, increasing speed.
But it’s the way down where the magic is made.
The interval decreases on the way down, and swimmers must work through the pain and force their bodies to use lactate for energy.
If you are fed up to your chlorinated ears with “dying” at the end of your races, this speed swim workout will help you get there.
- 2×25 fast @:30
- 2×25 fast @:45
- 2×25 fast @:60
- 2×25 fast @:45
- 2×25 fast @:30
- 100 easy @3:00
Start fast, get the heart rate up, and as you go up, so should the speed. Maintain the speed as the rest periods decrease on the way back down.
Speed Swim Workout 4: Closing Like a Champion
While we are on the topic of closing swim races like a Hilroy binder, let’s talk about leg fitness. Sprinters require leg fitness and power to get them to the finish line.
The not-nearly-talked-about-enough secret about racing is that the slowest meters or yards of every race are the final ones.
From the time you dive off the blocks, or push off of a flip turn, you are only slowing down.
Being able to train how to close a sprint race faster with just a slight increase in speed and leg fitness at the end of your 50, 100 or 200 can make the difference between achieving your goals in the pool or that my-legs-feel-like-cement feeling that drops you out of contention.
This swim workout for speed is lovingly crafted specifically to help you develop unbeatable kick fitness at the end of your races:
Here’s how we do the darn thing with this speed swim workout:
- 8×25 swim at or as close to your 100 race pace @:30
- 8×25 kick (with a kickboard is cool) all-out @ :30
- 100 easy @ 3:00
This is a lot of high-intensity yardage at full intensity, but by mixing up the reps between swim and kick, the neurological demand is slightly reduced, cutting down on the CNS crash that happens from sprint swimming for an hour non-stop.
Plus, you’ll have an absolute rooster tail of a kick at the end of your races.
Speed Swim Workout 5: Connecting the Kick and Stroke
Sprinting and swimming fast requires a hard-core kick. For most swimmers, this means that they latch onto a kickboard and kick away, piling up the kick yardage. (Fun fact: I am 104% guilty of this swim-crime.)
But a strong kickboard kick doesn’t always correspond to a strong kick while you are swimming.
Many swimmers can kick fast on a kickboard but when it comes to using that kick in a swim situation, they over-rotate with the hips, scissor-kick, or don’t have the core strength to utilize both their awesome kick and strong arm pull.
(See: The Specialist– a swimmer who can kick or pull nearly at the same speed they swim.)
The reason a phenomenal kick on a kickboard doesn’t always translate to increased swimming speed is that they can be considered two separate skills: A kickboard keeps your hips in place, with no hip rotation and no pressure applied to overhead extension of the arms.
To “connect” that awesome kick of yours and make the most of it, split lengths of fast kicking with fast swimming.
Here is an example of how a kick and pull connector set would look like:
- 30×25 @1:00 as [10m all-out kick in a streamline + 15m swim all out]
Forego a breakout on this set. Push-off the wall and immediately go to the surface and start kicking your brains out.
USA Olympic coach and NCAA champion Gregg Troy, not considered specifically a sprint coach but who coached Caeleb Dressel to international sprint superstardom, used a form of this with one of his favorite swim sets for sprinters:
20×100 with fins and paddles @2:00
- ODDS: 25 kick all out + 50 swim breathing every 5 + 25 kick all out
- EVENS: 25 sprint + 50 kick + 25 swim no breath
The concept is simple and can be deployed in a creatively wide variety of ways: throw some fast kicking in the middle of reps in the pool and experience the full power of your kick.
Speed Swim Workout 6: Three Levels of Speed
Swimming fast is easy, in theory. Just go “hard,” am I right?
But swimming fast requires swimming fast a lot and giving the body LOTS of opportunities to truly learn what it takes to swim at peak speeds.
This set, one of my all-time favorites, is a sprint workout in three parts:
Round 1: Start off with a batch of fast 25s with DragSox or a small/medium parachute.
Round 2: Swim. You’ll feel like you got shot out of the sub like a torpedo.
Round 3: Close the set out with fast 25s with fins for doing overspeed work.
Ultimately, you have 30 (or 60 if you go with the more advanced option) chances to learn to move through the water as quickly as possible.
See also: Why Swimmers Should Swim Fast Every Day
Here is a look at how this bad boy plays out:
30×25 swim fast, all on a minute interval, as:
- 10 – with light to medium resistance (DragSox, swim chute, weight belt, or low weight on the power tower for 10-14 seconds). Focus on killer body position, fully engaging every part of your stroke, from the catch to the pull to both phases of the kick.
- 10 – swim. Like the PAP set earlier, going straight from resistance-based fast swimming to “regular” fast swimming feels awesome. Enjoy the ride and hold on.
- 10 – with swim fins and swim paddles. It’s overspeed time, baby! Ride the lightning, and embrace every moment and opportunity to teach and show the body what it takes to swim at the speeds you aspire to swim at.
As you progress, and plan on stacking up more reps, crank it up to 60x25s fast. This was a set that I used heavily at the tail end of 2019 as I was charging to try to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials.
This speed swim workout will help educate your body on performing at peak velocity under various types of resistance and assistance.
Pro Tip: To create an instant and highly enjoyable variation of this set, combine the “three levels of speed” with the kick and pull connector set, doing 30×25, the first ten with resistance, second 10 with no gear, and the third 10 with fins on.
Speed Swim Workout 7: Feel for the Water
Speed and power “feel” simple: throw all your energy at a lap, and you’ve got a decent swim under your belt.
But to get to the next level, to truly unlock speed in the water, requires mastering efficiency and feel for the water.
This speed swim workout, and the next one, will focus on this aspect of swimming, helping you fly across the water like a water-skier, parting chlorinated water like a hard-shell taco.
This set, I will admit, is more cerebral and isn’t a lock-stock-and-let-it-rock type of speed swim workout.
It requires… and I know I’m getting a little New Agey and hokey or whatever… you to get in touch with the water and emphasize improving feel for the water.
We’ll call it the “Exploring Speed” swim workout…
800m done as:
- 75m doing three different drills. I like closed fist, sculling, and long dog. Choose drills that emphasize body position, catching more water, and enhancing your overall feel for the water.
- Take some time to catch your breath and get focused…
- 25m swim ALL-OUT
- Repeat 8 times through.
No intervals. No target pace.
Just you, the water, maximum focus and intention, and finding new ways to manipulate your way through the water more efficiently.
Speed Swim Workout 8: Efficient Speed
The faster you go in the water, the more drag you will create. An increase in speed in the water doesn’t just create more drag; it creates an exponential increase in drag.
This means that stroke and speed efficiency are crucial. Common sense and research with elite swimmers tell us that propelling efficiency is tied to speed in the water (Toussaint & Peek, 1992).
This speed-based swim workout is all about pushing you to find ways to go fast with the minimum number of strokes.
- 16×25 swim fast @:40, targeting maximum speed with the smallest stroke count.
Track the number of strokes you take per lap (i.e. 12 strokes) and how fast you go (i.e. :14 seconds) and you’ll get an efficiency score (i.e. 12 + 14 = 26).
In the video below, I take this type of set to an extreme with fins and swim paddles on, taking just five strokes over 25 yards in around 11 seconds.
This type of speed workout encourages you to be as efficient as possible in the water while also swimming fast.
Repeat the site often over the course of the season, playing with different rest protocols and try and lower both the strokes taken and the time required to cross the pool.
Note: For testing consistency, use the same number of dolphin kicks each rep to keep stroke count testing more consistent.
How often should you do sprint swim workouts?
Sprint swim workouts are short in distance but long in demand when done with full focus and effort.
Unlike more traditional swim training, which can (and has) been done to weekly volumes most motor vehicle drivers don’t clock and are mainly focused on aerobic system development, sprinting at all-out, fully-rested effort generates a different kind of fatigue.
Compare going for seven long walks per week to doing seven weight-lifting sessions per week. One will leave you slightly refreshed each day; the other will leave you feeling flattened after day one or two.
The demand (and recovery requirements) are going to be different.
The answer to how often you should do sprint swimming workouts (infuriatingly, I understand) lies in your current swim-fitness levels and how much time you devote to recovery between sessions in the pool.
At the end of the day, listen to your body. If you wake up feeling wasted, rest or get more sleep. Or go to the pool that day for a swim practice focused on technique and recovery.
Even the fastest swimmers on the planet cannot train limitlessly in the sprint-o-sphere, so get lots of rest, spread out the swim workouts, and focus on being “fresh” when you tackle each sprint swim workout.
With any sprint or high-intensity program, start small and steadily increase the reps and intensity over weeks and months using a periodization model that matches your goals and current abilities.
What is the best way to warm up for a sprint swim workout?
Warm-up for speed workouts in the pool with a combination of dynamic stretches, activation exercises, and a pool warm-up that includes lots of kick and short bursts of speed to prime you for speed during the main set.
Dynamic stretches like arm swings, leg swings, and trunk rotations are excellent for loosening up the joints and softening muscle tissue. An activation routine for your swim practice that includes core exercises for swimmers, such as planks, Russian twists, and glute bridges, helps send blood flow to target muscles.
And a comprehensive movement-specific warm-up that includes lots of kicking and some short, high-speed efforts warms up the legs and nervous system for the swim workout ahead.
The Bottom Line
There is nothing more enjoyable in the water than experiencing the furthest reaches of your speed and potential in the pool.
Give these sprint swim workouts a try and unleash some of that bottled-up speed that’s just ready to lay siege to your goals in the pool.
Related Sprint Swimming Guides
NCAA and World Champion Josh Schneider’s Favorite Sprint Set. World and NCAA champion Josh Schneider shares one of his favorite sprint sets that will help you build blistering backhalf speed in your 100’s.
How to Develop Easy Sprinting Speed: The “Look Good, Feel Good” Set. Being able to swim fast isn’t just about swimming hard, it’s about swimming fast and mastering speed. Here’s how to establish easy sprinting speed.