The best swimmers don't swim faster merely by increasing their strokes per second; they do it by making each stroke do more work.
Maximizing swimming speed comes down to reducing drag while maximizing buoyancy, body fitness and the stroke efficiency. In other words, it's about getting the most bang for your buck. Think about it this way: If you were designing a Formula One racecar, you'd want to cut down its wind resistance, pack it with the most powerful engine available and equip it with a powertrain that could bring as much of that power to bear on the track as possible.
Now, let's look at how best to transform you into a sleek engine of efficiency with the most common stroke: the front crawl, or freestyle.
Good head position helps control drag and ensure that you can breathe effectively. If your noggin rides too high or low in the water, you might as well hang a 25-pound (11.3-kilogram) bowling ball around your neck. In proper position, the water should break just over your forehead as you swim. When breathing, don't turn your head beyond 90 degrees: Craning your neck not only strains your muscles, it slows you down.
Proper body posture and a balance on your center of buoyancy will minimize your drag and maximize your stroke effectiveness. Your buoyancy center usually sits in your chest, near the sternum. Pushing your upper chest outward will keep you balanced while also pushing your hips (the chief source of your swimming power) higher in the water.
Kicking is a common weak spot for many swimmers. Not only does it burn a lot of energy if done improperly -- it can actually slow you down. Whether you use a flutter kick for sprinting or a crossover kick for distance, keep your legs close together. It might help to imagine that you're swimming through a set of narrow, floating rings [source: Kostich].
Ultimately, the key to swimming faster lies in moving more water per stroke. The more water you move, the more power you transfer and (all else being equal) the faster you go. First, make sure you are maximizing your extension with each stroke. As you reach forward, extend your arm to its maximum length. During the stroke, your arm should move in toward your bellybutton, and then out again (the "hourglass pull"), maximizing the amount of water your arm "pulls" during the stroke [source: Kostich]. If you're doing it properly, it should feel like you are climbing a ladder made of "solid" rungs of water. Extend your arm downward as you complete your stroke. Your hand should just brush your thigh as it exits the water [source: GSU].
As you move one arm through a stroke and bring the other forward, your body will naturally want to rotate. Let it. Develop a feel for this rhythm. As your right arm extends forward, your body should rotate rightward, preparing for your next stroke. Simultaneously, your left side should breach the surface as you begin to bring your left arm out of the water. Your total rotation from stroke to stroke will last about one-third of a circle. Remember to breathe on both strokes (bilaterally).
That's about it for technique, but be sure to work on your turns and kickoffs as well. Finish with a strong final stroke into the wall -- don't let your speed bleed off by coasting [source: Kostich].
Now that you have the technique down, let's do some laps to get you in peak condition.