How To Train For Sprint Swimming

Looking for swimming sprint tips? If you are in a short speed event, it makes sense that you should train for speed with short sharp sprint sets with plenty of recovery, says Adam Walker.

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Sprint training is different to endurance swimming in that you are not ploughing up and down the pool churning out the long sets. Sprint training involves short and intense sets and training will be specific to your event which will typically be 50 metres or 100 metres.


For sprinting it is crucial you get a good start off the blocks, as this could be the difference between winning and losing the race. In a 50 metre freestyle race, it’s estimated that the start accounts for approximately 25 per cent of the race.

In a 50 metre freestyle race, it’s estimated that the start accounts for approximately 25 per cent of the race.

The more popular way of starting now is by track start with one bent leg in front of the other to get the best possible push off. If there is a fin at the back of the block, this can be used to drive off with the back foot.

The start is broken down into four areas:

  • Reaction time – The starting signal and feet pushing off the block
  • Flight – The phase between the feet leaving the block and hands entering the water, concentrating on trajectory in the air
  • Entry – hand entry followed by arms, body and then legs and feet
  • Under water – body is immersed and converts the speed generate through the dive with an effective under water phase

Practicing gripping the block with fingers and thumb as wide as possible in order to maximise the force. The more you practice your reaction time to the whistle or gun in training the faster you will react.

As you drive off with front and back legs, arms pull back off the block helping propel the swimmer forward. As you hit the water, depending on the stroke practice the timing and power of the leg kick.


Whatever your stroke, making sure you’re as efficient as possible and maximising every pull can also be the difference between winning or losing. Carrying out sessions purely on technique is as important as pushing yourself hard. Make sure the technique sessions are factored in amongst your training.


In breaststroke and backstroke races competitors will breathe throughout the race due to the nature of the stroke. In butterfly and freestyle competitors may choose to skip some breaths and if it is a short course event some may not breathe at all in order to save time.

For example, in butterfly the conventional way of breathing is in front. This involves lifting the neck up which can then lift the shoulders and create an inefficient body position. Some adopt breathing to the side, same as in the front crawl technique which keeps a lower head, however  there is still some drag all the same and so breathing can slow you down.

Practising holding your breath can be beneficial and save crucial time.

Therefore practising holding your breath can be beneficial and save crucial time. I would not recommend this for long distance swimming as holding your breathe does tighten your body up and you want to be as relaxed as possible for endurance swimming.

Gym training

Training for explosive power in the gym for the dive, stroke and finish is really beneficial for sprint racing. I would say lifting heavier weights is more important than for endurance events as there is less power needed and more muscular endurance.

Ideally if you are racing at a serious standard you should try and visit the gym three times a week amongst your pool sessions. You should build up the weight over a period of time to gain explosive power.

What you do in the gym needs to be specific for your event. For example: Incline chest press, lat pull downs, seated rows, tricep and bicep curls as well as leg exercises are all specific for swimming.


Leading up to a competition, it is important to be at your best. Tapering down the intensity of the sessions and even dropping a session a couple of weeks before allowing muscles to recover from frequently training hard is advisable.


On the subject of muscle recovery, it’s not only important to rest well to allow muscles to recover to aid the process. Eating the right balance of carbs and protein and avoiding simple carbs leading up to the race that will increase your blood sugar levels is the way to go.

Before a race, bananas, rice pudding, peanut butter are all great snacks to give you a boost. Just make sure you have a couple of hours gap to digest your food before consuming it.