Swimming takes place in a medium, that presents different gravitational and resistive forces, respiratory conditions and thermal stress compared to air. The energy cost of propulsion in swimming is high, but a considerable reduction occurs at a given velocity as result of regular swim training. In medley swimmers the energy cost is lowest for front crawl, followed by backstroke, butterfly and breast-stroke. Cardiac output is probably not limiting for performance since swimmers easily achieve higher values during running. Maximal heart rate, however, is lowered by approx. 10 beats/min during swimming compared to running. Most likely active muscle mass is smaller and rate of power production lesser in swimming. Local factors, such as peripheral circulation, capillary density, perfusion pressure and metabolic capacity of active muscles, are important determinants of the power production capacity and emphasize the role of swim specific training movements. Improved swimming technique and efficiency are likely to explain much of the continuous progress in performance. Rational principles based on improved understanding of the biomechanics and physiology of swimming should be guidelines for swimmers and coaches in their efforts to explore the limits of human performance.