Whether you’re a beginner who’s still learning the strokes or an advanced athlete with decades of competitive experience, there’s always something you can do to level up your swimming.
If improving in the pool is important to you, it’s important to understand where you’re at now and to make a plan to keep growing year over year.
Let’s take a look at the seven different swimming levels and what it takes to move up the scale!
Breaking Down the 7 Swimming Levels
1. Survival (Top 50%)
If you are able to keep yourself afloat and swim to safety in a pool or open water, you’re in the top half of swimmers in the world – and your skills could save your life!
According to the American Red Cross, 54 percent of adults either could not swim at all or were unable to perform at least one of the following basic water safety skills:
- Jumping into water over your head
- Returning to the surface and treading water for one minute
- Turning around in a full circle, finding an exit and swimming 25 yards to the exit
- Exiting the water
- Exiting the water without using the ladder
Basic swimming skills will keep you safe, and that’s a big deal. Not everyone has access to swimming lessons or water safety education.
2. Capable (Top 25%)
If you can swim all four competitive strokes legally for at least 25 meters, you’re at level two! The four competitive strokes are:
- Freestyle (Front Crawl)
Your technique doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you can make it one length of the pool, you’re doing great!
If you can swim just one or two strokes right now, don’t worry – learning a new stroke is possible! It takes is time and lots of practice, but you can absolutely get there.
3. Competent (Top 10%)
Level three brings in more refined technique and speed. Competent swimmers are able to push off of the wall in streamline position, and can breathe to their side when swimming freestyle.
Additionally, level three swimmers should be able to:
- Hold their breath for approximately 30 seconds (that’s like swimming 25 meters underwater)
- Swim 100 meters under 3:00
- Swim 500 meters under 15:00
With the right training, you can easily drop under these time thresholds. It’s all about consistency!
4. Advanced (Top 5%)
Swimmers in the advanced category take their training up a notch. They mostly swim structured swim workouts that contain different sets, and include additional speed variation within each set such as:
- Negative Split
Advanced swimmers also level up their technique with stroke-specific drills designed to improve their efficiency. They also do dryland training in the gym to build strength and power, and to prevent injuries.
To make level 4, you should be able to:
- Hold your breath for 60+ seconds (that’s the equivalent of swimming 50 meters without breathing)
- Swim 100 meters under 1:30
- Swim 500 meters under 10:00
Ready to level up? Try personalized, structured swim workouts in the MySwimPro app!
5. The 1% Club
Level five is where we start to see more elite swimmers. If you’re up here, you’re in the top 1% of swimmers in the world.
These swimmers are probably one of the best – if not the best – swimmers at their pools. They’re swimming five or more times per week (sometimes multiple times per day), and incorporate strength training two to four times per week.
Age group swimmers who are in the top 1% most likely place in the top three at their State Championships. They may have qualified for Junior Nationals, too.
On the Masters side of things, the top 1% looks like swimmers who finish in the top 10 in their age group at Masters Nationals.
These swimmers generally hit the following time standards:
- Swim 100 meters under 1:00
- Swim 500 meters under 6:00
6. International Competitor (Top 0.1%)
Swimmers who compete on the international level make up level six. For them, swimming is almost a full-time job!
They’re probably training 15-25 hours per week in the pool, with an additional three or four strength sessions per week in the gym.
Age group swimmers at this level are placing in the top eight at nationals in the USA or Australia. They might go on to be a top performer at a NCAA Division II or III university. Masters swimmers in level six will win events for their age group at Masters Nationals.
Level six swimmers can:
- Swim 100 meters under :50 for men, and under 55 for women
- Swim 500 meters under 5:00 for men and under 5:30 for women
7. International ELITE (Top 0.01%)
And last but not least, are the world’s top swimmers. While they may dominate what we see on TV when it comes to swimming news and competitions, level seven swimmers make up a tiny fraction of the world’s swimming population.
For these swimmers, swimming is life. They spend hours training each week, working with a dedicated swim coach, physiotherapist, strength coach, nutritionist and other providers to maximize their performance and recovery.
Swimmers in level seven are likely to finish in the top eight at the NCAA Division I Championships, and might be in the top 16 in the world in their event(s).
An even smaller fraction of level seven swimmers will make the U.S. Olympic Swim Team (typically about 35 athletes). Where do you fall on this seven level spectrum? Share your thoughts in the comments. If you’re ready to level up your swimming speed and technique, download the MySwimPro app to start a personalized Training Plan.