What Is A Fast Swim Speed? (From Beginners to Olympians)


fast swim speed

When you pass the absolute beginner stage and start completing more swims with less effort, it is natural to wonder what a fast swim time is and how you compare.

Although swim speed should not be the focus of your swims unless you are competing, so many of us are fascinated with speed.

As a general rule, Olympians are the fastest swimmers with elites such as Michael Phelps swimming 200m freestyle at a time of 1m 42secs, which equates to a swim speed of around 7.1km/h. In comparison, an average swimmer can swim 200m in 3m 44secs, which is a swim speed of 3.2km/h.

Recording swim times and distance will give you an idea of how fast you are swimming, which can be an interesting benchmark to gauge how you are improving, assuming that speed is your goal.

In this article I will cover:

  • What is considered a fast swim speed?
  • What is the fastest swim stroke?
  • How fast does a beginner swim?
  • How much faster are Olympic swimmers?
  • Should fast swim speeds matter to beginners?

I’m focusing on 200m swim speeds, so I won’t be covering the speed difference between long and short distance swimmers in this blog, as that is far too complicated to go into and warrants a whole blog in of itself.

What Is Considered A Fast Swim Speed?

To see the fastest swimmers in the world, we need to look at the Olympians.

A top Olympian, such as Michael Phelps, can swim at a speed of over 7km/h. That is over 4.3mph (miles per hour). When he broke the world record at 100m Butterfly, he was swimming at a speed of 8.8km/h, which is approximately 5.5mph. [source]

Although it is great to look at the Olympians for inspiration to help us swim faster, they spend their entire lives training for those couple of minutes in the pool.

If you are a beginner and you are swimming a mile in less than 45 minutes, then well done! This equates to a speed of around 2.1km/h [1.3mph]

An “average” experienced swimmer can swim at a pace of 3.2km/h [1.9mph]. [source]

Below is a table showing how a beginner swimmer compares to an experienced and Olympian elite swimmer:

Swimming LevelSwim Distance (Meters)Average Swim TimeAverage Swim Speed (km/h)
Beginner200m5min 37sec2.1km/h
Experienced200m3min 44 secs3.2km/h
Olympian200m1min 42 secs7.1km/h

It is important to note that these numbers are just averages.

For example, Michael Phelps does not maintain a constant swim speed for an entire race. Swimmers are much faster at the start of a race when they are fresh and have momentum from the dive start.

Again, swimmers get a boost to their speed when they reach the pool wall and complete a flip turn, kicking off the wall to give extra propulsion in the water.

What Is The Fastest Swim Stroke?

The swim stroke you choose will greatly contribute to how fast you will swim.

As a general rule, the front crawl is the fastest swim stroke, which is why it is the most popular swim stroke chosen by pros for freestyle swimming events. However, there are two underwater strokes that are faster, namely the dolphin kick and fish kick.

The dolphin kick and fish kick are not recognised as official strokes, but the dolphin kick plays an important part in swimming competitions as the underwater dolphin kick can gain some excellent speed and pace.

Here is a table showing how the different swim strokes compare for experienced female and male swimmers.

Female Swimmers – Fastest Swim Stroke Times

Swim StrokeSwimming LevelSwim Distance Record Swim Time Average Swim Speed (km/h) Average Swim Speed (mph)
BreaststrokeDivision 1 – Female100 Yards55 secs6km/h3.7mph
Front Crawl Division 1 – Female 100 Yards45 secs 7.3km/h 4.5mph
Backstroke Division 1 – Female 100 Yards49 secs 6.7mph4.2mph
Butterfly Division 1 – Female 100 Yards49 secs 6.7mph 4.2mph

Male Swimmers – Fastest Swim Stroke Times

Swim StrokeSwimming LevelSwim Distance Record Swim Time Average Swim Speed (km/h) Average Swim Speed (mph)
BreaststrokeDivision 1 – Male100 Yards59 secs5.6km/h3.5mph
Front Crawl Division 1 – Male 100 Yards39 secs 8.4km/h5.2mph
Backstroke Division 1 – Male 100 Yards43 secs 7.7mph4.8mph
Butterfly Division 1 – Male 100 Yards42 secs 7.8mph 4.9mph

What Is The Difference Between Freestyle And Front Crawl?

You might have heard that the freestyle is the fastest stroke and may wonder why it is not on my list. [source]

“The freestyle” is actually a category of swimming competition where you can choose whatever stroke you want in order to go as fast as you can. Because the front crawl is the fastest stroke, it is nearly always used in this swim category.

Therefore, the freestyle stroke is often used as a synonym for front crawl, as it is the most common stroke in freestyle competitions. [source]

How Fast Does A Beginner Swim?

On average, a beginner swims at a speed of 2.1km/h which is about 1.3 miles per hour.

As a beginner, it is tempting to want to go fast and increase speeds, but as a beginner, it is more important to focus on your technique and swim efficiency.

If you take things slow in the beginning and work on maintaining an efficient swim stroke, as you get more confident in the water with improved fitness levels, you will be able to turn up the speed as your technique will be well practised and in place.

On the other hand, if you “run before you can walk,” you might develop some bad habits that will hold you back.

For example, if you do not work on keeping your legs high in the water, this will create drag and slow you down. If you take the time as a beginner to get a good swim technique in place, then you can ensure your legs stay high in the water from day one, and you will then get faster as you progress.

How Much Faster Are Olympic Swimmers?

Olympians, such as Michael Phelps, can swim 200m with an average speed of between 7.1km/h to 7.6 km/h [4.4mph 4.7mph] [source]

This makes Olympic swimmers 55% faster than the average swimmer and 70% faster than the average beginner.

These figures are a general average as Olympic swimmers will vary their speed throughout the race.

Should Fast Swim Speeds Matter To Beginners?

In the pool, if you are an enthusiastic swimmer, you might want to swim fast. This is a natural thing to want to do as so many of us seem to equate going fast with being good.

You might be in training for a triathlon or just want to see some progress and swim speed might be one way to measure this.

It is important to point out, however, that being a fast swimmer does not equate to being a good swimmer.

At some point in the pool, you might see someone speeding up and down the fast lane of the pool, but with terrible technique.

A common sign of a bad technique is lots of water splashing about and spinning arms.

If you currently swim like this, you will never swim any faster unless you work on your technique.

Many swimmers with poor technique can battle through and swim quickly as they are fit. They have good cardiovascular fitness, so can push through a short workout with power. However, if they want to increase their swim speeds or distances, they will need to work on technique and become more efficient in the water.

As a beginner, your priority should be good swim technique and not speed. For a start, if you can swim a length of the pool effortlessly without being completely exhausted, then that is an achievement.

Stroke Rate Versus Speed

Once you can swim regular lengths effortlessly, it might be a better idea to focus on your stroke rate and not your speed.

In a nutshell, your stroke rate is how many full strokes you take over a length of the pool.

To measure your stroke rate, count how many full strokes you take when swimming one length of the pool.

A full stroke or full stroke cycle involves counting both arms in the stroke. In the front crawl, pulling with your left arm and then pulling with your right arm is counted as one full stroke cycle.

The aim is to reduce how many strokes you take per length of the pool. The fewer strokes you take, the more efficient you are in the water.

For example, imagine you have swum one length of a 20m pool and it took you 19 strokes to do it. Your aim is to reduce that number 19. If you can take fewer strokes, you know you will be improving and becoming a more efficient swimmer.

Speed will improve naturally because of this progress.

To learn more about swimming faster and improving swimming techniques, I recommend checking out the Total Immersion Swim Method.

Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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