It seems like Katie Ledecky never gets tired…ever. From the 200 freestyle to the 1,500 freestyle, she crushes her competition with effortless speed and endurance, and has won dozens of medals in the process. How does she do it?
We’re about to find out! Along the way, we’ll teach you a few pro tips to maintain your power throughout your races and workouts so you can swim just like Katie.
How to Swim Fast Without Getting Tired
Good technique is the foundation of fast swimming. It comes down to five factors: Rotation and rhythm, kick, pull and body position.
Rotation & Rhythm
When you watch a good distance swimmer, you’ll notice that many of them have what’s called a gallop stroke. This type of stroke is very rhythmic, using the hips and the kick to develop torque and rotation in the body.
At first glance, the gallop may look like an imbalance in a swimmer’s stroke, but it actually ends up being more efficient over time. Katie Ledecky is a great example of a swimmer with a gallop stroke…and it has helped her break world records!
Whether you swim distance or sprint events, focus on good rotation to maximize your distance per stroke.
Top distance swimmers don’t kick too much. When you overuse your legs, you tire yourself out very quickly! Most distance pros stick with a two-beat kick (one kick per arm stroke) for the majority of their training and racing.
When it gets down to the last 50 or 100 meters of a race, though, they’ll turn on the high gears and switch to a six-beat kick (three kicks per arm stroke) for an extra speed boost into the finish. Learn more about the different types of kicking here.
In your training, practice both types of kick – try the two-beat kick during longer sets and the six-beat kick in sprint or speed work sets.
When it comes to your pull, it’s all about Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) and maximizing the amount of water you pull with each stroke.
When your hand enters the water, initiate your pull by bending at the elbow, and keep your elbow high as you start to pull. This turns your forearm, wrist and hand into one giant paddle, which pulls more water than a straight arm.
A lot of beginner swimmers tend to swim with their eyes looking forward. And while it’s tempting to want to see where you’re going at all times, the wall isn’t moving. So you don’t need to look at it! Plus, when you look forward when you swim, your hips will drop and slow you down.
Instead, keep your neck in a neutral position, which will encourage your hips to stay closer to the surface of the water, and make it easier to swim.
The best swimmers in the world (Katie Ledecky included) swim with a high body position and don’t create much drag as they swim. Aim to be like them!
All that technique work is great, but swimming fast is all about the training you put in. And boy, doesn’t Katie Ledecky know it! She’s spent thousands of hours in the pool and in the gym honing her skills and perfecting her race pace so she’s all set to dominate on race day.
Here’s a look at how her training has progressed over the years, leading into her first Olympic Games at age 15:
- 10 Years Old: 5-6 workouts per week = 20-25k/week + minimal dryland
- 11-12 Years Old: 6-7 workouts per week = 35-40k/week + bodyweight dryland
- 13-14 Years old: 7-8 workouts/week = 40-50k/week + core & shoulder stability exercises
- 15 Years Old: 9 workouts/week = 60-70k/week + med ball, resistance training
Katie Ledecky swims a lot of volume…but you don’t need to do the same if you want to take your swimming to the next level. We’re using Katie’s training history as an example of how you can continue to improve and grow as your training progresses. So meet yourself where you’re at and make sure you’re following a training plan that pushes you to improve. Check out the MySwimPro app for personalized workouts, Training Plans and more!
Train in Phases
When Katie Ledecky is training for competition, her workouts fall under one of three phases: Endurance, Threshold and Power & Pace. Let’s dive into the differences between each phase and how they contribute to Katie’s number one goal: Beating her best times.
In this phase of training, Katie is putting in the hours building up her endurance “base.” This means she may not do much speed work, but instead focus on longer sets designed to challenge her overall aerobic capacity.
Related: 5 Ways to Pace for Distance Swimming
- 11 x 400 Freestyle @ 5:00, Descend 1-11 and drop :05 from the interval each rep (#1 @ 5:00, #2 @ 4:55, #3 @ 4:50, etc.)
- 1000 Freestyle, 900, 800, 700, 600, 500, 400, 300, 200, 100 descend your average pace all the way down
- 3x [200, 400, 800] Descend by round
In this phase, Katie starts incorporating some speed to the endurance she built in the endurance phase. She might see shorter rest intervals and higher intensity swims during this time.
- 6 x 250 Freestyle @ 4:00 Hold Best Average (this is essentially a broken 1,500m)
- 1 x 100 Easy Freestyle, 1 x 200 Fast Freestyle, 2 x 100 Easy Freestyle, 2 x 200 Fast Freestyle…continue all the way up to 5 x 100 Easy Freestyle, 5 x 200 Fast Freestyle
- 15 x 100 Freestyle LCM Best Average @ 1:30 (This is a 1,500 pace predictor set)
Power & Pace Phase
This phase is just what it sounds like…lots of power and race pace work to help Katie gear up for her races. During these workouts, she’ll focus on refining her technique at high speeds and sticking to her goal race pace for each distance she swims.
- Start cycles of 125s holding 12 strokes per length
- 3x [1 x 200 drill/swim, 3 x 100 @ Race Pace, 1 x 200 Negative Split, 4 x 50 @ Race Pace]
- Broken 200s and 400s (break the 200 or 400 into 100s, 50s or 25s with 10-20 seconds of rest in between)
Even if you’re not planning to compete, it’s important to train in each of these phases to make sure you’re getting the most well-rounded results from your swim training program.
Try This Swim Workout: The Endurance Special
We can’t all train like Katie Ledecky, and that’s ok! Try this workout for a taste of the endurance training Katie might do. Log this workout in the MySwimPro app for in-depth tracking, analytics and personalized intervals for every set.
- Distance: 5,500 yards/meters
- Duration: 1 hour, 40 minutes
- 1 x 500 Free Easy @ 7:40
- 10 x 50 Kick Descend with Fins @ 1:00
- 5 x 100 IM @ 1:45
- 4 x 50 Drill (Bow & Arrow) @ :55
- 1 x 300 Pull Build @ 4:20
Main Set (3x)
- 1 x 200 Free Endurance Build @ 2:40
- 1 x 400 Free Threshold Negative Split @ 5:00
- 4 x 100 Free Best Average @ 2:00
10 x 50 Perfect Freestyle @ :50
3 Pro Tips for Distance Training
- Train the Way You Want to Swim in Competition
Your technique is so important. Whatever your goals, make sure your technique aligns with the type of swimmer you want to be. Your training should include lots of technique work along with your hard aerobic or pace sets, to make sure you can swim for decades to come, injury free.
- If You Want to Swim Fast, You Have to Train Fast
You need to put in the hard work in training if you want to swim faster. There’s no way around it! Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and push your limits. You’re capable of more than you know!
- Finish Your Workout the Way You Want to Start the Next Workout
It’s important to always end on a high note. Maybe you end your workout with some technique work, or just a few laps of mindful swimming to connect with your senses and feel each stroke. Don’t skimp on the cool down…finish strong and hop out of the pool feeling accomplished!
Every swimmer can find a bit of inspiration from Katie Ledecky. Whether you aspire to break records in distance events or you’re eager to challenge your endurance with more distance training, commit to training hard and you’ll achieve your goals.