Perfect Practice Makes Perfect: Overhaul Your Swim Technique This Winter

To refine your freestyle for the coming season, select a three-month period during your off-season downtime to work on technique.

The offseason is the best time to overhaul your swimming technique, but the challenge, particularly this time of year, is that drills and yardage without focus or with less-than-perfect technique are barely worth the effort and yield minimal results.

To refine your freestyle for the coming season, select a three-month period during your offseason downtime—ideally a block well out from a scheduled A-priority race—in which you can focus on tweaking technique rather than on big volume and high intensity.

Before starting your three-month swim-technique block (which will be broken down below into three, four-week microcycles), get a video of yourself in the pool to establish a baseline. This will also help you determine which aspects of your technique require greater attention.

For example, if upon analyzing your swim video you see you have a good body position but a short, ineffective pull, you may decide to rework the below schedule to spend more time on those areas in which you're relatively weak. Additionally, videotape your freestyle stroke after each of the following four-week blocks to monitor improvement.

Finally, performing a 500-meter/yard time trial once per month will also help you gauge your improvement.

Month 1: Body Position and Kick Focus

The more streamlined you can become, the more efficient your swimming will be: Think narrow and long. There are many variations of this drill, and my experience shows that the best results come from doing the following three variations in the order below.

Kick on side with no rotation
This is one of the best body-position drills. The objective here is to get comfortable kicking on your side with your bottom arm stretched forward, your ear on your shoulder and one goggle in and one out of the water. This is the ideal position for your head when you breathe. Use fins if you have trouble staying afloat.

Kick on side with one stroke
This drill targets body position and rotation. Perform the kick drill as above, but every five seconds take one stroke and switch from one side to the other. Focus on making a smooth rotation and keeping the body in alignment.

To accomplish this, begin the recovery with your trailing arm, and stay on your side until your hand passes your face, then start to bend the elbow of your leading arm. As the recovering arm enters the water, pull with the leading arm and roll to your other side. Keep your neck in alignment with your spine (don't lift your head) throughout.

Kick on side with three strokes
This drill is the same as the previous drill; however, instead of just one stroke, take three strokes as you rotate from side to side. Drive each rotation with your kick and hips, not your head or shoulders.

I suggest you spend four weeks perfecting these drills by integrating a drill set into every swim workout. For example:
  1. Warm-up: 500 meters/yards
  2. 4 x 50 meters/yards of each kick-on-side drill. Take 15 seconds' rest after each 50 and focus on doing the drill properly
  3. Main set
  4. Cool-down: 300-500 meters/yards

Month 2: The Pull

There are five basic components to the pull cycle: entry/extension, elbow bend (catch), pull, release and recovery. Analyzing your video will show you which parts of the cycle you need to focus on improving. My experience suggests that, most often, pull shortcomings arise when swimmers do not start the pull with a bent elbow, which allows them to catch and hold water.

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