Swimming faster is more about the training mechanisms than anything else. Deliberate practice and building good habits are a recipe for faster swimming.
This is the same as the principal of marginal gains made famous by British cycling, where the team looked for 1% improvements in small things that added up to a huge improvement over time.
If you think of a good habit as a 1% improvement every time you do it and a bad habit as a 1% decline every time you do it, by the end of the year you'll either be 300 times worse off or 300 times better off.
As an athlete building good habits when training should be a given.
The book Atomic Habits by James Clear is a great way to understand how you can build good habits that will help you grow into the person or athlete you want to become.
Building good habits in swimming training is a way to supercharge your progress.
How to build a good habit in swimming training
A trigger or reminder is often required. This is something that triggers you to do the thing you want to turn into a habit.
In swimming it could be every time you do a tumble turn at the wall, you do 7 butterfly kicks under water before you surface.
Or another example could be every-time you go swimming you make sure you do a certain number of lengths.
To begin with this will be a conscious decision you make because you want to improve but after a while you will start to do it subconsciously. You've then formed a good habit.
Here are some examples of habit forming when swimming. Some that can be done by yourself when you don't have a swimming coach to drive these habits into your brain.
Habit #1: Practice kicking every swimming session
A good habit to get into as a novice swimmer is to practice freestyle kicking every swimming session.
Your legs are the biggest muscles in your body and therefore they use the most oxygen. So if you haven't trained your leg muscles correctly they are going to get tired really quickly and use up oxygen quickly.
Too many swimmers shy away from kicking because it's slow and can be hard, but if you never practice it then you will never get better.
A good way to trigger this habit is to buy a small float and take it with you every training session.
By having the float with you it will trigger you to remember to practice kicking every time.
Habit #2: Counting your strokes
Another great habit to build when swimming is counting your strokes.
Counting your strokes is a good habit to get into because it teaches you to measure your efficiency and gives you feedback length by length on how well you are doing.
By combining stroke counting with time you have a recipe for success.
You can try to reduce your stroke count whilst maintaining or improving your time.
For example: I want to swim 100m front crawl whilst maintaining the same time and taking 5 less strokes per length.
Habit #3: Breathing on both sides whilst swimming front crawl
Breathing only on one side is a bad habit because it can make your stroke uneven and can cause injury because your muscles on one side of your body will be stronger than the other.
Make sure every-time you practice front crawl when swimming that you breath every 3 strokes or breath to one-side on one length and then on the other side on the next length.
If you can teach yourself to form these 3 good habits then you are well on your way to swimming much faster.
The beauty if this approach is that once you have formed these habits you can then move on to another one, and another one. Building them up over time and linking them together to help supercharge your swimming practices.