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Best Swim Drills for Triathletes

As coaches we are taught that a swim workout should include a warm up, drills, a main set, and a cool down. I'm here to talk to you briefly about swim drills, why I think they are important, and what they can do for your triathlon swim.

According to, a swim drill is an exercise done specifically to help your swimming technique. It's usually a modified version of one of the four competitive strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, or freestyle). A drill is designed to help you focus on a specific part of the technique, like your arm position, kicking, or breathing.

In swimming, technique is everything. How you glide through the water is going to affect your speed more than the power of your stroke. Efficient swimmers have very little drag and lots of forward propulsion. This means they get from point A to point B with good swim economy. The purpose of swim drills is to teach you to move through the water in the most efficient way for optimal performance and injury prevention. Drills are necessary in my opinion, and I include them in every swim session. Some drills involve using equipment such as pull buoys, kickboards, paddles, or a snorkel. I don't usually get too crazy with equipment- just the basics is all you need.

Below is a list of some really great swim drills that I have accumulated over my years in coaching. Whenever I find a new useful swim drill I tack it on to this list and give it to my athletes. I highly recommend printing this out and either laminating it or putting it in some sort of waterproof covering so you can always have it handy in your pool bag. For the drills section of a workout, I usually choose one or two drills and do 6X50 or 3X100 of that drill.

Swim Drills:

1. Catch up Drill- one hand catching up to the other in front of the swimmers head.

2. Hypoxic Breath Control Sets-try for 2 or 3 breaths for each 25-yard length. This is a great drill for increasing lung capacity.

3. 6-3-6 Drill- Swimmer kicks 6 times on the right side with right arm extended and practices breathing with one goggle staying under water. One strong stroke is used to rotate swimmer to left side where he kicks 6 more times and takes another low profile breath. In

6-3-6, three strokes are taken between each pause for kicking.

4. Fingertip Drag Drill-The goal here is to drag half in o f the fingertips from hip to head through the water. The hand should not fully leave the water after the finish at the hip. The elbow points skyward as the fingers make a half moon arc toward the head. When the arm is almost fully extended, it drops into the water behind the fingertips.

5. Single Arm Drill-Non stroking arm stays extended overhead or relaxed at side. The stroking arm is alternated after each length of the pool. Focus on body rotation.

6. Thumb Drag Drill-swimmer’s hands should be exiting the water almost fully extended. Thumb is extended and drags along side of the body. Swimmer should feel where the hand is exiting the water and should try to feel the thumb scrape along the thigh.

7. Kick with Fins or Kickboard

8. Side Kicking Drill- kicking on your side with fins (if you have them)

Odd 25’s: Left side kicking, Even 25’s: Right side kicking,

9. Fist Drill- 25 closed fist, 25 open hands- this creates an awareness of the catch phase of the stroke and forces use of forearms, high elbow, and leveraging of chest, lats, and back to pull through the water.

10. Stroke Counting Drill- Try to swim the length of the pool in as few strokes as possible, with maximum length and efficiency of each stroke.

11. Bilateral Breathing Drill-Breathe to alternate sides each length- once to the left and once to the right. This is great for developing symmetry with your strokes and avoids overusing all the muscles of one side of the body.

12. Hip Rotation Drill-this helps with efficiency in the water. Begin by flutter kicking with your hands at your sides and head down in the water. Rotate 90 degrees to the right then 90 degrees to the left while kicking. Lift the head out of the water and immediately bring it back down into the water. This drill is made easier with a set of fins, but can be done with or without them.

13. Under/Over drill- swim 25 yards UNDER water and try not to take a breath until you get to the wall; swim freestyle back. This will build your lung capacity!

14. Fin Drill- This drill will help you practice good hip rotation. Place the kickboard between your legs holding it with knees, as you move forward rotate the hips so as to touch the kickboard to R and L side.

15. Chicken Drill- place thumbs under armpits and swim the length of the pool with elbows only. This drill will help you to practice using your lats to pull the water and to engage your core.

16. Tarzan Drill- Swim freestyle with your head out of the water. Look forward as if you were sighting a buoy or landmark in open water. Keep your head out of the water for the entire 25 to strengthen your neck muscles for triathlon swimming!

I hope you find these useful. Print them out and make them yours!

Have you thought about hiring a coach for your next triathlon? Click HERE for a free 15 minute phone call with me!


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