Swimming underwater is faster than swimming on the surface

By | June 6, 2012

Swimming underwater is faster than swimming on the surface

It is a misconception that the higher you are in the water, the faster you can swim. On the contrary, the highest speeds are reached by swimming completely submerged, because this allows for more efficient transfer of momentum to the water (which creates forward thrust according to Newton’s third law), and because less energy is wasted splashing water.
– Hans Starnberg, Department of Physics Gothenburg University Sweden

Turbulence at the surface of the water increases drag and slows swimmers down. Trained swimmers know that swimming underwater is faster than swimming at the surface.

In all the different types of competition stroke, from Olympic level down to club level and at all distances, the number of underwater strokes is strictly limited (especially at the turn) for this very reason. Competitors are disqualified and records annulled if they break the rules.
– Kevin Dixon-jackson, Eccles Lancashire


Hill Taylor stunned the crowd at a university event by completing the 50m backstroke in an astonishing 23.1 seconds – almost a second faster than the world record.

3 thoughts on “Swimming underwater is faster than swimming on the surface

  1. Sam

    I have known this practically forever. For whatever odd reason, I first learned to swim underwater, not on the top, and when I got to high school and they made me learn to swim on the top. I remember feeling like it just didn’t work as well. (Of course, when you’re in high school, you have this attitude about everything: “They just want you to fit a mold, they can’t stand it if you can do something better, blah, blah, blah.” Ah, youth.)

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