Perfect Practice Makes Perfect: Overhaul Your Swim Technique This Winter

The Key Drills

Fist drill
This drill is easy to perform: simply swim regular freestyle with closed fists, which will force you to bend your elbow to catch water with your forearms. Be conscious of feeling the water pressure on your forearms as you begin your pull. Swim half a length with closed fists, then open your hands.

The dynamic feeling of opening your hands and feeling the added power from the higher elbow is the positive feedback that makes the change carry over to your regular stroke. Since you actually need to struggle through the water a bit to feel this pressure on the forearm, it's best to do this drill without fins. This is the only drill whose effectiveness isn't enhanced by the use of fins.

Single-arm drill
Swim freestyle but only pull with one arm, keeping the non-working arm either stretched out in front or at your side. Perform this drill in sequences of two lengths, alternating arms with each length. Focus on your elbow bend at the beginning of the pull and on body rotation.

Spend four weeks perfecting these drills by integrating a drill set into each swim workout. Suggested workout:
  1. Warm-up: 500 meters/yards
  2. 8 x 50 meters/yards of fist and single-arm drills. Take 15 seconds after each 50 to re-focus on doing the drill properly
  3. Main set
  4. Cool-down: 300-500 meters/yards

Month 3: Integration

Here's where you start to pull it all together. The main drill here is an old favorite of many coaches and swimmers: the catch-up drill.

Catch-up drill
Begin in a streamlined position with both arms extended straight forward, then pull with one arm, leaving the other arm extended in front until you have finished a complete stroke with the working arm. The catch-up drill can help you develop a longer stroke and body position, which will increase your efficiency.

When first doing this drill, it's helpful to keep both arms in front of your head and kick for a few seconds before switching arms. This gives you time to visualize a proper pull with early elbow bending and good rotation during the power phase. If you see your pull is very short when you analyze your video, scrape your thumb on your thigh at the end of your pull during the drill.

Suggested workout:

  1. Warm-up: 500 meters/yards
  2. 10 x 50 meters/yards catch-up drill. Take 15 seconds after each 50 to re-focus on doing the drill properly
  3. Main set: Start to add long sets to build endurance. An example is 3 x 500 descending
  4. Cool-down: 300-500 meters/yards

There you have it! Take the journey and break out with a faster and more efficient swim next season.


Based in New York, Steve Tarpinian is the creator of the new Swimpower DVD, the author of Swimming for Triathlons and a keynote speaker on swimming at triathlons worldwide. For more information, visit www.swimpower.com.

Related Articles:

    ?Four Focused Swim Workouts

    ?Adding Speed and Efficiency to Technique

    ?Structure Drills Into a Beginner's Training Plan


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