Brought to you by the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University.




A swimsuit…a pair of goggles…a swim partner or lifeguard…and a pool are all you need for splashing around or swimming laps. A swimsuit saves you embarrassment (or keeps you out of jail). Goggles keep water out of your eyes. A swim partner or lifeguard offers a measure of safety and a pool gets you wet! Children (and adults) unable to swim should be attended closely by an adult when in the water.

Optional equipment includes swim fins, kickboards, hand paddles, and leg floats. Swim fins provide your lower body (muscles of the hips and knees) with a good workout and improve the flexibility of your ankles. Swim fins also enable you to swim faster. The remaining equipment (kickboard, hand paddles, and leg floats) should be used only by those whose swim technique is sound (see the General Technique Tips below).


?Did you know that humans are the only mammals that must learn how to swim?

All other mammals have an instinctive ability to swim. Regardless of your stroke choice, it is important to understand that technique is critically important - the wrong technique will likely cause injury and hinder efficient progress through the water. You will improve your swimming performance most readily by eliminating resistance. Stroking furiously in the water does not necessarily propel you faster, it only exhausts you faster!

General Technique Tips: Even if you are a recreational swimmer, you will benefit from this advice. Swim speed, or velocity, is the product of Stroke Length (SL) and Stroke Frequency (SF). Increasing the SL (distance traveled per stroke) requires that you first learn to reduce resistance to forward progress. After perfecting a position of low resistance, you can then add power to your stroke. This power originates in the hips and is translated up through the torso to the shoulder. SF is not as important as SL. World class swimmers are not fast and efficient because they take frequent strokes. They are fast and efficient because they travel further in the water with each stroke. The following tips should help you maximize SL, improve efficiency, and minimize risk of injury.

  1. Buoyancy varies from person to person (some are natural sinkers), so make the best of what you have. You will find that your swim speed improves as you take advantage of your buoyancy (no matter how small). You will find your center of buoyancy in the region of your sternum. By balancing yourself on your center of buoyancy (especially in the crawl, breast, and back strokes) you will move more easily in the water. Here’s a secret of world class swimmers: Balance yourself by consciously pushing or pressing your upper chest into the water. This maneuver brings your hips closer to the surface and reduces your frontal resistance.
  2. Rowing sculls are long and narrow. This shape reduces water resistance to forward progress. What can you do? Maintain a long, streamlined body. Between strokes pause slightly (with one hand extended in front of you) - this introduces a longer glide and streamlines your body (making it long and narrow) as it is propelled.
  3. When swimming backstroke and freestyle, rotate the body side-to-side from the hips. It might seem like you are swimming on your side, but this is exactly what you want. This rotation begins at the hips and is transferred up the torso to the shoulder and arm. Just before you begin the arm pull, you should begin to rotate in the opposite direction. Use this rotational force (biomechanists call this torque) to help pull you through the water. A similar series of movements is used by major league baseball pitchers to throw 90+ MPH fastballs!
  4. Do not force your hands through the water! As your technique improves you should feel like you are climbing a "water ladder" with your hands and forearms resting against solid rungs of water. This is what collegiate coaches call a "feel for the water."
  5. The use of equipment such as kickboards, certain hand paddles, and leg floats should be reserved for those swimmers with firmly established technique! Use of these pool "toys" generally alters the body’s center of buoyancy and may harm your technique. Swim fins are acceptable swim aids.
It helps to realize that good swim technique takes time to develop and regular practice to maintain. See the sample workouts below to improve or maintain your good form. Don’t risk injury by swimming at high intensities with poor technique!

Muscle Groups:

Swimming is an excellent aerobic exercise. Nearly all the major muscle groups are recruited when you swim with the proper technique. Also, use a variety of strokes to recruit additional muscles. MIX IT UP!



The American Red Cross

United States Swimming


The following workout is designed primarily to improve your technique. It is intended as the first half of 2,000-2,500 meter workout. More advanced swimmers should consider workouts listed in J.E. Counsilman’s book, The New Science of Swimming, 1994, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.


The heart rate response to swimming is more moderate than the response seen in dry land exercise. Consequently, the Karvonen determination of target heart rate should be adjusted downward 10 to 15 beats per minute for each zone.

Go to The Exercise and Physical Fitness Home Page

The Exercise and Physical Fitness Web Page is an ongoing project by graduate students in the Master of Science program in Exercise Science in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University. This project was created by J. Andrew Doyle, PhD, and was last modified on: March 25, 1999.