Ask the Coach How to Swim Faster – Part 1

This is part 1 in a series of blog posts where we ask important questions to successful coaches in the Vasa community.  Here are their answers to an important question:

What separates adult-onset swimmers who actually get fast, from those who stay slow?

Coach Eric Neilsen:

“Proper technique would be the biggest thing that separates them.  The 2 most significant limiters would be overall body position (drag) and swimming with a ‘monospeed pull’.  I have had countless swimmers come to me with a big endurance engine but they work way too hard while swimming and do not get much out of it.  Recently, I worked with an adult-learned swimmer who improved her time by 5-6 seconds per 100M as soon as she was able to eliminate her monospeed pull.  Double-arm pulls, from either a prone or a supine position on the Vasa SwimErg, are one of the best drills to correct for this inefficiency.”

Ask Coach Eric Neilson How to Swim FasterEric Neilsen
Masters Swimming & Multisport Coach


Coach Lesley Paterson:

“Those who work on a combination of speed/strength and technique (will get faster). My athlete, Tanja, was not a swimmer growing up.  She focused on technique training and video analysis in the pool,  Vasa SwimErg training for strength and quality speed work, with plenty of rest when at the pool.  This allowed her to recruit the right muscles to fire and also the fitness to be able to apply it.”

Ask Coach Lesley Paterson How to Swim Faster

Lesley Paterson
Braveheart Coaching
XTERRA World Champion (3X)
Co-Author of the best-selling book, “The Brave Athlete” 


Coach Martin Hill:

“Those who we see progress most do so because they commit to swimming and do so consistently – week after week, month after month. The sessions they perform are specific to swimming for triathlons and develop aerobic fitness and muscular strength in the upper body.

Ask Coach Martin Hill How to Swim FasterBasic fitness is not generally an issue for those that progress slower, what lets them down is the lack of swim frequency, too much focus on long sets mixed with too much drill work. 

Typically, we find that two swims per week are the norm with one being a straight swim of 2000-3000m.  The other is then often primarily technique biased with a lot of drill work and maybe only 1500m. For those doing Ironman or longer distance open water swimming, that’s not even covering race distance over a full week!   

Fitness, swim-specific strength, and enjoying the swim

We encourage adult triathletes (performing at any distance) to commit to at least 3 swims per week. Each session should be broken into sets, reps, and rest. Also, incorporate training tools that help develop strength and “feel” with the upper body – pull buoy and paddles. These not only make swimming more enjoyable (so the commitment is easier) but also enable fitness and swim-specific strength to be developed quickly.   

We have found that the most effective way of training triathletes is to polarize the effort and we apply this approach across the swim, bike, and run training. Most of the training is aerobic (triathlon being an aerobic sport), or easy and has contrasting hard, strength-based sets. Very little, if any, time is spent at race pace/threshold/CSS.”

Ask Coach Martin Hill How to Swim Faster

Martin Hill (Based in Alicante, Spain)
ASA Swim coach, Trisutto Certified coach
UK Strength & Conditioning coach, BTF L3 coach


Want to Ask A Coach How to Swim Faster? Just send an email with your question(s) to [email protected]

About the Coaches

Eric, Lesley, and Martin are among the World’s most respected coaches & athletes from the Vasa community.  They also are contributors to our ebook, Four Keys to Fearless Open Water Swimming.  It’s excellent, it’s useful, and it’s FREE!    Click here to get your free copy.

Related Posts


How to Swim Freestyle Better: Overcoming a “Monospeed” Stroke

A common limiter for many swimmers is the tendency to maintain the exact same hand speed through the entire stroke.  This is especially noticeable in those who began swimming as an adult. Top masters swimming coach Eric Neilsen initially brought this concept to our attention. He refers to this limiter as swimming with a “monospeed” […]

How to Use Setbacks to Swim Stronger

Setbacks are opportunities to use creativity, grit, and determination to swim stronger. It takes a special person to turn adversity into successful learning and improvements.  There are many forms of setbacks, whether they be an injury, illness, limited pool availability, race cancellations, and more. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate that Vasa athletes and coaches […]

Ask the Coach How to Swim Faster - Part 3

This is part 3 in a series of blog posts where we ask important questions to successful coaches in the Vasa community.  Here are their answers to an important question: What are the primary differences in how triathletes & open water swimmers should approach swim training versus competitive pool swimmers?  Coach Dan Daly: “Triathletes and […]

15 Reasons to Swim at Home

How It Will Help You Swim Stronger, Better, Faster What? Swim at home without a pool? Yes, you can and thousands of athletes have been doing it for years. Did you know that dryland training from home is one of the best ways for swimmers, triathletes, and surfers to stay consistent and make improvements in […]