The 50 freestyle is one of the most exciting events in swimming. In a flash of whitewater, swimmers race to be the first to touch the wall. It’s the ultimate test of speed, power and anaerobic capacity.
And while anyone can race the 50 free, only a select, elite group of athletes have clocked 17-second race times. How is that even possible?
To find out, let’s take a look at two of the fastest 50-yard freestyle performances of all time: Caeleb Dressel’s 17.63 at 2018 NCAAs and Jordan Crooks’ 17.93 at the 2023 SEC Championships.
Even if you aren’t close to a 17-second 50 freestyle, you can apply some of the same concepts Caeleb and Jordan use to swim faster and shave off excess time in your race.
Comparing Caeleb Dressel’s & Jordan Crooks’ 50 Freestyles
Before we dive in, a couple notes: At the time they swam these races, both Caeleb and Jordan were 6’3 and weighed 190 lbs, and both were competing for their universities. Let’s look at their races side by side.
Reaction time is a measure of how fast a swimmer leaves the block after the race starts. For an elite level swimmer, we can expect a reaction time of about 0.6-0.7 seconds. Caeleb was slightly faster than Jordan off the blocks.
You may also notice that the stroke counts are pretty low for both swimmers. Keep in mind that they both raced in a 25-yard pool, and were maximizing their underwaters off of the dive and off of the turn.
With so much of the race done underwater, they didn’t have to take many strokes! Because Jordan took more dolphin kicks off of the start and turn, he ended up taking fewer strokes than Caeleb.
One last item to note: Caeleb and Jordan both took zero breaths during their swims. It might sound crazy, but at such an elite level, no-breath 50s are very common. Breathing can throw off your stroke tempo and slow you down in a race as short as the 50, so many swimmers opt for no breathing (or just one breath).
Because they’re so fast, they only have to hold their breath for 17 seconds…which is doable!
How to Swim a Fast 50 Freestyle
In the 50 free, every millisecond counts! To maximize your speed, make sure to perfect your start, turn and finish in addition to your overall stroke.
To nail the start, you need to think about three things:
- Reaction Time: Get off the block fast! Work on explosiveness.
- Entry & Streamline: If you belly flop into the water, you lose any momentum generated from the start. Think about entering the water like a torpedo and transitioning into a powerful, fast dolphin kick to carry your speed into the race.
- Breakout: This is the transition from streamline to your first stroke. Try to make this as smooth as possible.
A perfect flip turn is key to a fast 50 free.
- Approach: Don’t slow down into the turn! Try to accelerate instead. To come off the wall fast, you need to go into the turn fast.
- Flip: With a fast approach, you should be able to flip quickly and push off the wall powerfully.
- Streamline & Breakout: Maximize your underwater off the turn with a tight streamline and dolphin kicks. Try not to breathe right after the breakout. Take a couple strokes before breathing, or take a breath before you turn.
As you approach the end of the race, give it all you’ve got!
- Closing Speed: Over the course of the race, you’ll start to decelerate. Dig deep to squeeze out any extra speed you have left to counteract the deceleration.
- Body Position: Don’t lift your head to look at the wall. Keep your hips up so you don’t create excess drag into the finish.
- Tempo: As you get tired, your tempo will naturally slow down. Work on powering through and making your last few strokes as fast as possible.
While most of us won’t ever swim a 17-second 50 free, we can learn a lot from watching the best swimmers in the world.
If you want to swim a faster 50 or 100 freestyle, check out the Enhance Speed or USRPT Training Plans in the MySwimPro app. Get personalized workouts designed to help you improve your max speed just in time for your next swim meet!