The 50 freestyle is the shortest race on the typical swim meet roster, but don’t let that fool you. This quick race is a test of speed, power and efficiency.

Whether you have your eye on a 50 freestyle win at your next swim meet or you simply want to swim faster during your workouts, you’ve found the right place!

Check out 5 ways to drop 1 second or more in the 50 free. These tips can also be applied to 50s and 100s of other strokes!

Breaking Down the Race

Rather than thinking that you have to drop a whole second off of such a short race, it can be helpful to break the race into smaller chunks. As an example, let’s assume a swimmer goes 25 seconds in the short-course, 50-meter free. Dropping 1 second is the equivalent of shaving 4% off this race.

When we break the race into chunks, we see that our swimmer needs to drop a small increment in each part of the race to get their desired time:

  • 1×50 meters (1 sec drop)
  • 2×25 meters (0.5 sec drop per 25m)
  • 3×16.66 meters (0.33 second drop per 16.66m)
  • 4×12.5 meters (0.25 sec drop per 12.5m)
  • 10×5 meters (0.10 sec drop per 5m)

When our swimmer thinks this way, they can focus on improving individual aspects of the race, such as the start, breakout, turn or finish. The 50 free may be short, but there is lots of room to improve!

Related: What is the Fastest 50 Free Time Possible?

It’s also important to note that the faster you get, the tougher it is to drop time. When you first start swimming, you may see huge drops of multiple seconds, while many elite swimmers work very hard to drop just 0.1 seconds in the 50 free!

5 Steps to Drop Time in the 50 Freestyle

1. The Start

The start is the fastest part of the 50 freestyle (and any other race, too). You’ll never go faster than when you’re flying through the air! 

To improve this phase of the 50 free, work in improving your reaction time and entry:

  • Reaction Time: This is the amount of time it takes you to begin your start after the buzzer goes off. Your reaction time should be as fast as possible!
  • Entry: The tighter and smoother you can enter the water, the better! Work on tightening up your streamline, reducing your splash and incorporating some solid underwater dolphin kick before you break out and start swimming.

We want to leverage the speed in this phase of the race and carry as much of it into the water as possible.

2. The Turn

Let’s start with an example. If you throw a tennis ball at a wall lightly, it will bounce off the wall lightly. If you throw the ball at the wall as hard as you can, it’s going to bounce back at you pretty hard. The same concept applies to your flip turns!

Related: How to Do a Freestyle Flip Turn

The faster you go into your turns, the faster you will come out of them. Maintain your speed — or speed up — into the turn and you’ll be rewarded with a speedy underwater as you start your second 25!

Keep your streamline tight and do a few fast, underwater dolphin kicks. You can go up to 15 meters underwater, but 5-10 meters is a great place to start! Streamline is faster than all 4 strokes, so we want to take advantage of that off of the wall.

During your workouts, focus on accelerating into the wall, and maintaining your speed with dolphin kick before you break out. 

3. The Finish

As you progress through the race, you are slowly decelerating. Your momentum will reach its slowest point as you approach the finish, so give it your all to squeeze out a little more speed. Power through all the way to the wall! 

In your training, work on swimming at race pace and don’t glide into the wall — even during your easy swim sets. 

4. Breathing

In a race that’s all about speed, you want to breathe as little as possible. Breathing slows you down! You’ll notice that many elite swimmers take very few breaths (sometimes even no breaths!) in the 50 free.

Related: 5 Most Common Freestyle Breathing Mistakes

To improve your breathing, incorporate breath control training into your workouts. Start by figuring out how many breaths you can realistically take in the 50. Then, practice swimming the 50 at race pace with that many breaths so your body gets used to it! Incorporating underwater kicking and hypoxic swim sets can help improve your breath control as well.

5. Tempo

Stroke tempo — how fast you move your arms — also plays into your overall speed. However, it’s not just a matter of spinning your arms as fast as possible. Doing so will actually cause your arms to “slip” and not grab much water at all.

Instead, find a balance between increasing your stroke rate and maintaining your distance per stroke. Your stroke should be long and strong, but just a bit faster!

Related: What is USRPT?

To work on tempo, swim short distances at or above race pace and incorporate dryland training to build strength in your arms and train your body to move faster. You can also try using a tempo trainer to help you stick to a faster tempo. Set it to your desired tempo, stick it inside your swim cap or attach it to your goggles, and it will beep for each stroke to keep you on track. 

For training plans to help you put these tips into practice, download the MySwimPro app! Start a free, 30-day trial of ELITE to unlock all of our swimming and dryland training plans, technique resources and more.

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