Women’s 50 Freestyle: Should I Stay Underwater?


Jessica Hardy and the womens 50m free finals take off the blocks at 2012 Trials. (small)BY KATIE ARNOLD//HIGH PERFORMANCE CONSULTANT

It’s no secret that European women are some of the best 50 freestylers in the world. One of the things that we as a staff have noticed is that most of these women stay underwater for at least 10 meters off the start. Despite this observation, we still get push-back from athletes who feel their underwater dolphin kicks are not strong enough to be a weapon, and would rather pop up and start swimming as soon as possible. I set out last month to find out if the data supports my belief that the underwater portion of the 50 freestyle is the fastest part of that swim. I looked at 10 of the top 12 women for 2011-2013, and used the three fastest races for which we had video for each. The chart below shows each swimmer’s average speed (meters per second) for various parts of the race:

Womens 50m Free Speed Chart

  • Even the slowest underwater speed (2.460 mps) was faster than the fastest swimming speed (2.268 mps).
  • There is an obvious and dramatic drop in speed during the transition from underwater kicking to swimming on the surface.
  • The speed difference for these women underwater compared to above water ranged from .478-.767 mps faster underwater.

So what does it all mean? Simply stated, the underwater portion of the 50 freestyle is faster than the swimming portion. For the best in the world, they are about ½ meter per second (or more) faster underwater than they are on the surface. The important thing to keep in mind is not the actual speed of each part of the race, but rather the speed of each portion relative to the rest of the race. Regardless of an athlete’s perceived underwater ability, this is always the fastest portion of the 50 freestyle and should be a focal point to develop and improve.

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