How to optimise your timing for a faster swim

Looking to boost your swim speed? Here's a simple trick to help you do exactly that...

Woman doing swimming drills in a pool

So much of our success in the water is linked to timing. You need to do the right thing at the right time. If you don’t, it can make swimming freestyle a lot slower and a lot more difficult. 


Much of great timing in freestyle comes down to timing your rotation with your arm actions. Great rotation timing isn’t necessarily about how much you rotate. It’s about doing it at the right time.

Rotation can make it a lot easier to recover your arms over the surface and it can allow you to get more range of motion and strength out of your pull. However, this is only true if you rotate at the right time.

The challenge is that it’s really difficult to describe great timing with words. Unlike where to place your arm when you enter the water, or keeping your head low when you breathe, great timing isn’t a single action.

It’s an ever-changing rhythm that’s always happening, with no clearly defined goal. To find good timing, you need to feel it and you need to find exercises that help expose you to the timing you’re looking for.

A simple trick

The best exercises are the ones that almost force you to move in better ways. They don’t require much coaching and they provide the feedback you need to help improve your swimming.

To feel great timing requires a simple change in how you swim – recover your arms underwater.

You can watch a video of the exercise here or by clicking play on the video above. The idea is that by recovering the arms underwater, it forces you to work in opposition. When one arm is pulling back, the other arm is recovering forward.

When you’re reaching forward, you’re also rotating forward on that side. When you’re pulling back, you’re rotating back on that side.

It helps you feel the back-and-forth rhythm of the rotation, while syncing that rhythm up with the arm action. You move your body with your arm and the timing falls into place.

Once you get the hang of it, start recovering one arm under the water and one arm over the water. I call it Over-Under Freestyle (see video below). The purpose is to help transition the sensation and the timing you get from Underwater Recovery Freestyle to regular freestyle.

How to apply it to your swim

For some triathletes, it’s a bit too big of a jump, and recovering one arm under the water can help bridge the gap.  When you get the hang of it, it’s time to start working the same timing into regular freestyle.

If you’re struggling with your body position at first, pop a buoy between your thighs to help focus on just the timing.  Once you’ve got the timing down, then stop using the buoy.

When you get the hang of the timing, don’t be afraid to add some speed. Using these exercises, you can build speed within the same repetition, or you can get faster each repetition. This will further help you improve the skill.


Lastly, make sure you’re performing Underwater Recovery, Over-Under, and regular freestyle regularly, even if you’re focusing on one of the three. It’ll help ensure that what you learn in one will transfer to the others.