The 50-meter freestyle is one of the most exciting races to watch. Swimmers give it everything they’ve got, and in a flash of white water, the race is over in a matter of seconds! 

That got us thinking: What’s the fastest a human can possibly swim in the 50 free?

We’re breaking down the math to predict the fastest times for both men and women and sharing some tips to help you improve your own 50 free!

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Current 50 Freestyle World Records

Here’s a breakdown of the current world records in the 50 freestyle (as of June 2022):

Men’s Records

Cesar Cielo of Brazil currently holds the long course meters record of 20.91. He set this record in 2009, during the age of full-body racing suits. As of 2020, that record still stands!

Caeleb Dressel holds the short course meters record. He went 20.16 at the International Swim League’s Final in 2020. Dressel also has the short course yards record — a speedy 17.63!

Related: How Caeleb Dressel Swims a 17.63 50 Yard Freestyle

Women’s Records

Since 2017, Sarah Sjöström of Sweden has held the long course meters record of 23.67. 

Related: Analyzing Sarah Sjöström’s Butterfly Technique

Ranomi Kromowidjojo of The Netherlands snagged the short course meters record with a time of 22.93, also set in 2017. 

Kate Douglass of the United States holds the record for the fastest 50 yard freestyle: a 20.84.

History of the 50 Free

Let’s look back at previous 50 freestyle races to see how the event has progressed over time.

In 1988, Matt Biondi set the world record for the men’s 50 LCM free with a time of 22.14. He held this record for more than 10 years!

On the women’s side, Dara Torres set the world record for the women’s 50 LCM free in 1984 with her time of 25.61. 

When you look at how fast a human can swim a 50 LCM underwater while wearing fins and a bodysuit, things get crazy. The world record for this swim is 13.85.

How to Get Faster in the 50m Free

To get faster in the 50m free, swimmers need to break the race into 5 parts. 

For meters 0-15 of the race, consider:

  1. Reaction Time: Essentially the speed of your start. The time from when the “beep” sounds to when your feet leave the block. Top athletes generally fall between 0.6 and 0.7 seconds for reaction time.
  2. Hang Time: The time you are in the air. From when your toes leave the block to when you hit the water.
  3. Underwater Time: How well you carry your velocity into the water. This will be the fastest you will move the whole race!
  4. Breakout Time: Your first stroke.

Related: The Greatest Swimming Performance of All Time (Beijing 2008)

For meters 16-50, think about:

  1. Swim Time: As you progress through the race, your velocity will decrease. This is why you focus on solid starts, underwaters and breakouts!

Breaking Down Caeleb Dressel’s 50 Free

Ready to go full swim nerd mode? We’re diving deep into two of Caeleb Dressel’s 50m free races to break down his speed at different stages of the race.

2017 Worlds: 21.15

  • 0-15m: 3.0m/s
  • 15-25m: 2.38m/s
  • 25-35m: 2.13m/s
  • 35-50m: 2.07m/s

2019 Worlds: 21.18

  • 0-15m: 3.13m/s
  • 15-25m: 2.27m/s
  • 25-35m: 2.17m/s
  • 35-50m: 2.07m/s
Foto Gian Mattia D’Alberto/LaPresse 20 Dicembre 2019 Las Vegas – USA sport nuoto 2019 ISL – International Swimming League Nella foto: DRESSEL Caeleb Photo Gian Mattia D’Alberto/LaPresse December 20, 2019 Las Vegas – USA sport swimming 2019 ISL – International Swimming League

Related: Caeleb Dressel Shares His Training Routine

Based on this breakdown, here’s what we think Caeleb Dressel’s best-case scenario 50m free could look like:

Best Case Scenario (Dressel): 20.52

  • 0-15m: 3.2m/s – 4.68 seconds
  • 15-25m: 2.4m/s – 4.16 seconds
  • 25-35m: 2.2m/s – 4.54 seconds
  • 35-50m: 2.1m/s – 7.14 seconds

Forecasting Future 50 LCM Free Times

Ilya Shymanovich (photo: Mike Lewis)

So, knowing what we know, what is the best case scenario time for a human being to swim the 50m freestyle?

Best Case Scenario (Human in 2050-2100): 19.22

  • 0-15m: 3.3m/s – 4.54 seconds
  • 15-25m: 2.5m/s – 4.00 seconds
  • 25-35m: 2.4m/s – 4.16 seconds
  • 35-50m: 2.3m/s – 6.52 seconds

That equates to a 16-low in short course yards! 

This time operates under a few key assumptions:

  • Swimming “All Natural:” No equipment
  • No Full-Body Racing Suit: FINA-approved tech suits only!
  • Following All Existing FINA Rules: No running starts, 15m underwater rule applies, etc.
  • Regulation Water Density, Diving Block Height, etc.: No fancy, new changes to the pool environment to make you faster.

What Can We Learn From This?

There are 3 main takeaways from this analysis, and they can be applied to swimmers at all levels!

  1. There is always room to improve: You can always get faster
  2. Break Your Swims into Small Segments: Break your swims into pieces
  3. Focus Your Training on Individual Components: Tailor your training to specific segments of the race to ensure you’re making the most of your time in the pool.

Related: USRPT Sprint Training Plan

When Will We See a 16-Second 50-Yard Freestyle?

Using a forecast linear regression, we can look at the progression of the world record over the last 30-40 years to predict when new records will be set. 

From 1976 to 2009, the men’s 50m free world record averaged a 0.39% decrease per year. If we keep regressing this record, we can expect someone to swim the 50 LCM free in 19.95 seconds in the year 2037! That’s a 0.27% time reduction per year.

Looking to short course yards, the men’s 50y free record averaged a 0.36% drop each year from 1961 to 2020. We can expect a 16.95 second 50y free in 2045 — a 0.16% drop per year.

On the women’s side, we’ll see a 22.97 in the 50 LCM free in 2027. That’s not too far off!

We hope you enjoyed this in-depth breakdown of the 50 free! If you’re training for the 50 free (or any other race), the MySwimPro app can help! Learn how we can help you swim 10% faster in 4 weeks:

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1 Comment

  1. The current US Masters Virtual Championship 50 yard short course winner is :22.
    These are on your honor entries, or synced from Garmin or Apple watch. The times don’t count for any records. But assuming the :22 was from a smart watch, it’s not counting the time of the gun to water.
    Go, master’s swimmers, go!

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