Eight easy-to-implement training tips from Olympic champion Alexander Popov to help you improve your efficiency, technique and speed

Phil Mosley talks you through four-time Olympic gold medallist Alexander Popov’s super-efficient methods.

Swim Like An Olympic Champion

1. Swim Slowly 

Popov’s coach Gennadi Touretski allocated large proportions of time to low speeds, so his athletes focused on technique. That doesn’t mean you should avoid hard efforts, but you should focus on improving stroke.

2. Stroke Length

Popov would attempt to swim five fewer strokes per 25m than in a race. His coach believed speed improvements would come from efficiency. Challenge yourself to swim with two fewer strokes than usual.

3. Pull To The Rhythm

Popov’s arms and hands kept a rhythm underwater. He would start his catch by gently engaging the water with a high elbow position, then accelerate his arm through the water for maximal propulsion.

4. Increase Your Reach

Popov extends his hand a long way before a long, smooth stroke. Use your hand to lengthen your bodyline, not as a paddle. As your hand goes forward, rotate onto your side, engaging your latissimus dorsi.

5. Stay Relaxed

Popov kept arms and wrists relaxed during arm recovery, not wasting energy from tense muscles. Try lightly dragging your fingers along the surface. Above water, arms, wrists and hands are floppy.

6. Don’t Practise Failure

Don’t fight the water. If your stroke starts falling to pieces because you’re tired, you’re better off taking a rest. Popov’s mantra was: “If you can’t do it exactly right, don’t do it at all.”

7. Tune In To The Water

Popov would swim for hours simply tuning into how the water was resisting him, then seek ways to avoid drag. Drag increases the faster you go, so you won’t get much quicker until you improve your slipstreaming.

8. Kick To The Rhythm

Popov believed there was a rhythm to swimming well and it partly came from the kick. He would do a six-beat kick – kicking three times per arm stroke. For good form, keep toes pointed and knees straight.