MythBusters: Swimming in Syrup and “the Momentum Force”

Rhett Allain
5 min readDec 1, 2023
Illustration: Rhett Allain. A swimmer in a pool of syrup (Buddy the Elf would be proud).

In a recent episode of Adam Savage’s Tested, Adam talked about some myths that changed due to budget constraints. As always, it’s quite entertaining to listen to all of his stories from his time on The MythBusters.

I’m going to talk about some physics from this episode, but I want to make sure some stuff is clear. I think Adam Savage is awesome. I’m a huge fan of MythBusters (especially after working as the science advisor for about the last 5 years). I think that one of the things that made The MythBusters so popular was that Adam and Jamie weren’t labeled as “scientists”. Instead, they seem like normal people answering questions with their super awesome building skills. Of course, this is exactly what makes them scientists — but they don’t sound like them.

I remember while working for the show, I would get an email with a video or quote for Adam (it was always Adam). The producer wanted to know if what Adam said about science was legit. My answer was always that it didn’t really matter. It was Adam just talking like a normal human. If he said things that weren’t technically true — that was fine. Now, what was NOT fine was a error in the “science panels” that they put up in the show. That’s mostly the part I worked on.

OK, so I should summarize: Adam good, MythBusters good. However, I think this is still a great opportunity to further explore some terminology and physics concepts that come up in his YouTube channel.

The Myth: Swimming in Syrup.

It’s difficult to keep track of all the myths. This one is from 2009 and the goal was to see if it’s possible to swim as fast in syrup as you could in water. Yes, syrup is much thicker than water and that makes it difficult to move through it. However, since it’s thicker you should be able to a better push with your hands to move forward.

In the end, they couldn’t get great data that clearly showed syrup was either faster or slower than water — so, it’s labeled as “plausible”.

Adam’s Explanation of Swimming

While talking about the main premise of the syrup-swim myth, Adam offers the following explanation of why swimming in syrup might be the same as water.

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Rhett Allain

Physics faculty, science blogger of all things geek. Technical Consultant for CBS MacGyver and MythBusters. WIRED blogger.