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Don’t Skip Swim Drills and Here’s Why

Swim drills are a fantastic way to improve your swimming technique, whether you're a beginner or an experienced swimmer. These specific exercises help isolate and target different areas of your stroke to include hand entry into the water, the catch, the pull, the recovery, and breathing. One of the significant benefits of swim drills is that they help you develop muscle memory, making it easier to incorporate proper technique into your swimming. Swimming is about efficiency moving through the water with the least amount of resistance (drag) and the most forward propulsion possible. An efficient swimmer will usually be a fast swimmer. Swim drills can help you swim faster, longer, and with less effort.

Swim drills are especially important for open water swimming, where changing conditions can affect your form. By training with drills, you can improve your overall technique and become more adaptable in the water. Similarly, swim drills can also benefit pool swimmers by improving stroke mechanics and body position, leading to faster race times and more efficient swimming.

My athletes’ swim workouts usually have 4 parts: warm-up, drills, main set, and cool down. Swim drills are a must-have for any swimmer's training routine. They can help you achieve your swimming goals by improving your technique, developing muscle memory, and swimming with greater ease and efficiency. Below I have listed my favorites with explanations for you to use as you see fit in your training routine.

Swim Drills:

1. Catch up Drill- one hand catching up to the other in front of the swimmers head. This helps you to lengthen your body in the water making you glide along faster.

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. You can also do 4X25’s with #1 with 4 breaths, #2 with 3 breaths, and so on.

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 of 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 alongside of the body. Swimmer should feel where the hand is exiting the water on the recovery and should try to feel the thumb scrape along the thigh.

7. Kick with Fins or Kickboard.(Fins add propulsion, improve ankle flexibility, and improve your kicking technique. The kickboard improves kick endurance and speed.)

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. Use this drill in a sequence such as 4X25 and decrease the stroke count for each 25.

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. Bilateral breathing is extremely helpful in open water swimming so you can see other athletes and buoys, and kayaks on both sides.

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! If you can’t swim the entire 25 under water at first, try to take only 1 breath and work from there.

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 muscles for open water swimming.

Have you thought about hiring a coach for your next triathlon event? Click the button below and fill out your information for a free 15 minute chat about your goals!

Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach

ACSM Trainer

USA Cycling Coach


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