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  • Writer's pictureScott Wrigley

Increase Speed in the Water by Improving Your Body Position

Improve your freestyle body position to swim faster and more efficiently.

By Scott Wrigley, MSc, CSCS, CPT, FNS, PN1, USAT Level 1 Coach, USA Cycling Level 3 Coach, US Masters Swimming Level 2 Coach

Image courtesy of Wix

Swimming is a highly technical sport. As I discussed in a previous article (mastering the five phases of freestyle swimming, article here) research shows that swimming technique directly impacts efficiency and speed (1, 2). Swimmers with better technical skills can reach greater speeds in the water. The higher an athlete’s propelling efficiency, the lower the energy cost of swimming.

When it comes to improving freestyle technique and efficiency, time in the water drilling and training is needed to improve the skills needed to swim fast. However, you can also swim faster and more efficiently by simply improving your body position.

The majority of energy expended in swimming is spent to overcome hydrodynamic resistance (2). Hydrodynamic resistance can be thought of as a combination of types of drag. If you decrease drag, you decrease hydrodynamic resistance and decrease the energy cost of swimming at a given speed.

Image courtesy of Wix

Your body position in the water directly influences drag. In order to minimize drag, you want to maintain as streamlined of a position as possible, decreasing your frontal area (the portion of your body exposed to the water in the direction of movement). This concept can be better understood by thinking about leg position.

When you have a low leg position in the water (legs sinking lower than the rest of your body), you have an increased frontal area. This is because more of your body is exposed to the water in the direction of movement. This increased bodily exposure leads to increased drag.

Image by Israel Gil courtesy of Unsplash

Having a lower leg position in the water is a common experience for many swimmers, especially beginners. However, as little as one session in the water can lead to improved body position and decreased drag. It comes down to two things: head position and torso.

Head position

Head position impacts the rest of the body. You can experience this by floating on your stomach in the freestyle body position. Place your arms directly out in front of your shoulders. You can scull lightly and kick lightly to help you maintain the position if needed.

Now, “resting” on your front, slowly move your head up and then back down as if nodding “yes.” Notice how the position of your hips and legs in the water change as you move your head. As you raise your head away from your chest, your hips and legs will sink. Conversely, as you lower your head back towards your chest, your hips and legs raise in the water.

Image courtesy of Wix

What you are aiming for is an “ideal” head position. This means your head is down with a slight angle, approximately 5-10%. This position will help bring your legs up, decreasing your frontal area and promoting a more streamlined position while keeping your eyes forward to see where you are going.


We have a center of mass in everything that we do. Think about a seesaw. When you press one side down, the other raises. In the water, we can manipulate this concept to help bring the legs up into a more streamlined position and decrease the frontal area.

Image by Markus Winkler courtesy of Unsplash

Picture your chest, shoulders, and head as one side of the seesaw and your legs as the other. When you swim, “press” your chest into the water. As with pressing one side of the seesaw down, this water will help raise your hips and feet.

The Takeaway

By improving your body position in the water, you can decrease drag and hydrodynamic resistance, increasing your efficiency and speed in the water. Two of the main drivers of body position in the water are the head and torso. By making small adjustments to your head and torso positions as suggested above, you can improve your body position in the water in minutes.

(Note: I am not advocating for neglecting technique work. In addition to improving your speed and efficiency, utilizing proper technique can decrease your risk of injury. All of my athletes utilize technique drills each swim session. Here is an article I wrote on the five phases of the freestyle stroke).


  1. Zamparo, P., Capelli, C. & Pendergast, D. Energetics of swimming: a historical perspective. Eur J Appl Physiol111, 367–378 (2011).

  2. Zamparo, P., Cortesi, M. & Gatta, G. The energy cost of swimming and its determinants.Eur J Appl Physiol120, 41–66 (2020).

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