6 Ways to Swim Tall: Advice for the Vertically Challenged

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Photo Courtesy: Delaney Lanker

6 Ways to Swim Tall: Advice for the Vertically Challenged

By Delaney Lanker

My whole swimming career people have been telling me to swim tall. Standing at 5’0″, I wouldn’t really consider myself “tall.” I don’t fit the typical swimmer mold, but I’m okay with that.

While my height might be a disadvantage to my taller competition, I’ve never loved anything more than touching out that long, lean girl in the lane next to me.  I haven’t let my height stop me from doing what I love. But I have learned some things to make up for my height, or lack thereof.

For all the shorties out there, we might not have picked the right sport for our size, but it shouldn’t stop us from reaching our goals.

1. No Excuses 

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Photo Courtesy: Delaney Lanker

Do not use your lack of height as an excuse for why you didn’t beat the person in the lane next to you or get a best time. Don’t let that voice in your head say, “If only I were six inches taller,” because you can’t change your height. Willy Wonka isn’t here to stretch you out. So, you have to learn to work with every inch that you’ve got and make the best of it.

By constantly telling yourself you are too short or too small, you will never succeed. The biggest obstacle for all athletes, regardless of their height, is their mind. So stop blaming failure on something you cannot change and instead, embrace it. Make the best of the challenges you face and remember why you chose to swim in the first place– because you love the sport and the competition.

Don’t hinder yourself with just another excuse.

2. Fast Starts, Turns and Underwaters

My mom always told me that because I was small there was less mass for me to pull through the water, so I would be faster than my taller competition. While this wasn’t always the case, her statement held some truth. I may be a foot shorter than some swimmers, but if done correctly, I can use this height difference to my advantage. I can get off the blocks faster, turn tighter and quicker and kick underwater more efficiently than my competition.

These small, swift movements can help you get ahead. If you start a race off with a great start, carry the momentum into a quick turn and underwater, it makes the most of your actual swimming time, giving your competitors less time to catch up.

The second someone told me to count my kicks off of every wall in the 200 butterfly is when I finally got it. While my stroke may not be as pretty or long as another swimmer’s, my underwater kick beats most of the girls next to me. The less time I am actually swimming fly the better.

Every part of the race counts when you are short. The little details cannot fall through the cracks, so work on the little things, like starts, turns and underwaters and you may be surprised with the results.

Pay attention to the details and find ways to make your height an advantage.

3. Swim Long 

Athletics – Men's and Women's Swimming, Underwater Action Shots, Chatham County Aquatic Center – Fall 2013 – Photography by Stephanie Krell, courtesy of SCAD DVD and SLEEVE TITLE = Athletics: Swimming, Action Shots #1 (underwater), Fall 2013

Photo Courtesy: Stephanie Krell/SCAD Athletics

Fake it until you make it and use every inch you’ve got.

Short swimmers cannot afford to have a sloppy, short stroke. Some taller swimmers can get away with subpar technique because they make up for it in height and strength. But we don’t have that advantage, so make sure to lengthen your strokes the best you can.

It all starts during practice, when your coach says you can only do 10 strokes a length, don’t say you can’t because your arms are “too short.” Practice reaching farther and kicking a little harder to get you there. Embrace all the pull sets and make a conscious effort to swim long and powerfully because it will make applying this in a race that much easier.

My butterfly, especially when sprinting, used to look like a T-Rex trying to swim. My arms we incredibly bent and my strokes were short and choppy. I was making a short stroke even shorter. Over the years, I’ve tried my best to lengthen out and my stroke still isn’t perfect, but I’m making progress.

You may only be 5’3″, but you’ve got to fake your way through every race and swim like you’re 6’3″.

4. Stretch 

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Photo Courtesy: Delaney Lanker

Stretching won’t actually make you taller, but it will help with your flexibility. And that extra flexibility will help you with tip #3, swim long. If you are more flexible, it will help you reach farther and make the most out of the length you have.

I’m not say you have to be able to do the splits or reach your feet to the back of your head, but being able to touch your toes is probably a good thing. Stretching is important, regardless of size, and in general, I don’t think swimmers stretch enough. Because we are repeating the same movements day in and day out, it’s good to stretch out your muscles, for recovery and injury prevention as well. So, get in the habit of stretching at least once a day, before or after practice or even just for ten minutes at home.

People assume we are gymnasts anyways, why not live up to the stereotype?

5. Weight Training 

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Photo Courtesy: Delaney Lanker

Most competitive swimmers have some form of weight training fit into their schedules and this change of pace can have a direct effect on your work in the pool.

One reason I love our out of water training is that it doesn’t matter that I’m short. Since height isn’t a limiting factor in the weight room (except for when it comes to the squatting rack plates that are so conveniently made for someone on the basketball team), I excel in this setting.

Compared to the rest of the swim team, my vertical jump and number of pull ups is higher than most. I told my weight coach once, “I wish I was as good at swimming as I am at lifting.” And he said back to me, “Well you probably are. You make up for your height with your strength.”

And that’s when I started to get it. I may not be a natural born swimmer, but I am an athlete and using my strengths out of the water only helps me in the pool.

Having a high vertical jump, helps with better starts and turns, hitting a high squatting weight can correlate with a powerful kick and every pull up go towards a stronger pull.

The weight room is usually a height equalizer, so make sure to take your time there seriously. It can have a positive impact on the work you’re putting into the pool.

6. Believe in Yourself

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Photo Courtesy: Delaney Lanker

I have heard many a times that I’m too short to be a swimmer; even an old coach told me once that I’d never be good at long course because of my height. But I’ve also had an old coach come up to me and tell me he uses me as an example to his young swimmers– that your height and your age shouldn’t stop you from working hard and becoming a better athlete.

I’m no Olympian. I never will make the USA National team or the NCAA ‘A’ cut in the 200 butterfly. But I swim because I love it.

My biggest obstacle isn’t my height or people not believing in me, it’s myself.

If you don’t believe you can do it, then you never will. I know I’m at a disadvantage the second I get off the blocks, but it can’t be my excuse for not getting a best time or losing a race. Believe in yourself and your abilities and that alone will go just as far as all of the hard work you put in the water.

So embrace all of the short jokes, the challenges and make being short your secret weapon.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

22 comments

  1. avatar
    Chris

    You have not gone far enough. I believe that it is a sad fallacy that height naturally equals a better swimmer. It’s based on evidence that already contains a prejudice. Shorter swimmers are turned away from swimming based on the evidence that no short swimmer perform well at swimming. Maybe it’s because they are turned away before they have the chance to explore the sport with proper support. I am so inspired by the Japanese swimmers who don’t seem to have that prejudice in their culture. The performances of their ‘short’ swimmers are world class. Height plays a much smaller part in swimming performance than is commanly accepted.

    • Andy Landy

      Love it Rach! Am actually going to post it to RSC ❤️

  2. Jagrut Amuri

    Shruthi… Omg that was the word I was looking all my life :O VERTICALLY CHALLENGED <3 xD xD

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