4 Steps to a Smooth 1.5K Swim

Pull Drill

1, 2, 3, Swim: Swim 100 yards, or four laps of the pool. The first lap, make a fist and extend only one finger on each hand. This will force you to grab more water with your forearm. The second lap, extend two fingers. The third lap three. And the fourth lap swim normally, but not you should be able to really feel all the water that is there to grab.

Note: Do not allow your hand to wiggle side-to-side in front of you. It will want to. Keep it steady in the water.


The pull phase ends with the finish. The finish is where swimmers get lazy. Your thumb should brush past your hip, extending your triceps. When swimmers get tired this is the first place the stroke suffers. Swimmers will pull their hand straight out of the water at their waist. Ending the stroke at your waist is a waste! You have ten more inches of pulling to do, at least.

This is where the pain starts first, you wear out the end of the triceps muscle with a good finish. Without locking your elbow you should contract the muscle fully, flexing it. Those last few inches of pull are very valuable and will mean serious differences in times once you are strong enough to maintain a good finish for an entire swim. And in triathlon, why not? When are you going to use your upper body again? Might as well wear those muscles out now, when you get the chance.

More: Become More Efficient By Finishing Your Stroke

Finish Drills

Flick drill: At the end of every stroke, flick water behind you and over your butt. Focus on getting a decent splash towards your feet. Then you will know you're finishing hard. This over-emphasis on the movement will translate into better regular finishing.

Thumb to Thigh: Stand up, let your arms fall to your side, extend your thumbs into your thighs. Every stroke, try to whack your thumb against your thigh. Try and leave a bruise in the same spot every time.


The recovery phase of freestyle begins at the finish and ends at the reach. Your goal is to be controlled; don't just flop your arms forward. Too much splashing is slow and ugly. Swimming should be smooth and pretty. Lift your arm from the elbow, allowing the bottom half of your arm to be relaxed. Relaxed, efficient movements are important because you want to use as little energy as possible in this phase. Breathing takes place from the finish to when your arm crosses just past your head. The hand enters the water a few degrees past your head and you begin the rotation/reach.

Recovery Stroke

Recovery Drills

Thumb Drag: Plant your thumb in your thigh at the finish and drag it up your body to your armpit during the recovery. This will force you to keep your elbow high.

Fingertip Drag/Piano: This is the same concept as the thumb drag. Let the tips of your fingers graze the surface of the water during recovery, lightly as though you were playing piano.

Half Stroke/Full Stroke: Reach to the front of the stroke and with the finishing hand go from your hip to your armpit and then back to your hip, then a complete recovery. This will force you to roll on to the side you should be on completely and balance. Do not rush the movement. Each one should be controlled and smooth. Be sure the elbow stays ever high.

More: How to Keep Your Stroke Balanced

A note on breath: Breathing should take place half underwater, half above water. Be sure you are blowing bubbles so that when you turn your head all you are doing is inhaling. You don't need a lungful of air; you only need enough to get to the next breath two or three strokes away.

Also, do not pull your head out of the water. Your head floats; allow it to float. When you need to breathe simply turn your head with your body until half your face breaks the surface. No need to look left or right. Breathe with the natural motion of the stroke. Watch for a detailed breathing drill in the Sustainable section.

There was not much mention of kicking in this section either but your kick should be smooth and regular—not hard. Look for more on kicking in the Smart section.

Note that all of these drills can be included in the workouts in the other sections, especially the Sustainability section. They will not work as well in the Strong sets because the goals for Strong are different. Examples will be given.

Just remember, technique will make the biggest difference in your times, especially if you are a beginning swimmer. You can't muscle your way through 1650 yards. You must fix your stroke first. Fast is not a worry until smooth is taken care of. It's an ongoing effort, and there are always small things to fix, but you've got to move the big rocks before worrying about speed.

More: 3 Swimming Sets for a Faster 1500 Meters

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