Swimming Drills: A Number of Ways To Perfect Your Stroke

A swimming drill means taking a small section of the full stroke and practicing it many times over. Sometimes the drill is slightly altered from how the full stroke is performed.

Drills have multiple purposes. They can be used:

  • to teach a new swimmer small parts of the stroke, then putting it together one piece at a time e.g. breaststroke pull, whip kick, then putting them together.
  • to correct incorrect biomechanics that perhaps the swimmer has learned incorrectly e.g. getting the elbow higher during freestyle recovery.
  • to strengthen a weak part of a stroke e.g. pulling harder underwater.
  • during warm-up or cool-down.
  • to maintain fitness during injury recovery e.g. using only one arm during an opposite shoulder injury.

The variations on drills are endless and only dependent on the imagination. However, drills need to have a specific purpose otherwise they are useless. It is vital that drills are done properly so they do not cause injury. In addition, caution must be used to avoid deteriorating proper stroke mechanics. Do not over-do drills, otherwise the swimmer may be come too accustomed to them and then can not swim the full stroke effectively. There are drills for the upper body and also for kicking.

Below are some problems that swimmers have with their strokes and some ideas of drills to try to correct these problems.

Freestyle: elbow is not high enough. Have swimmer use only one arm, with the other arm in front of them during the entire time. While swimming the swimmer can concentrate on one arm only. This way they can pay more attention to getting the elbow higher during recovery. This drill can also be used to teach the swimmer to push all the way down to the hips. A slight variation of this drill is to have the non-swimming arm down by the side. The swimmer can also do a finger drag, which is having the fingers barely touch the water during recovery.

Freestyle: swimmer is not rolling from side to side. Have the swimmer swim on one side, with bottom arm in front, for 14-18 kicks. Then they roll onto the other side. For this to work the swimmer is literally on their side. As they get better reduce the number of kicks between each roll.

Freestyle: the arms are catching up to each other. Have the swimmer do a catch-up. They swim with both arms in front. Then one arm at a time they pull and recover while the other arm stays in front. When the swimming arm reaches the front then the same arm can go again or they alternate. Be careful of this drill so they don't start doing the full stroke like this.

Freestyle: swimmer moves side to side. Chances are the arms are crossing over underwater. Have the swimmer swim with only one arm while the other one is straight in front. Concentrating on avoiding a cross over.

Backstroke: the swimmer is bobbing up and down. Chances are the swimmer is not doing a bent arm pull. A good way to correct this is by practicing double arm back. This is the elementary back stroke, with an emphasis on bending the arms during the propulsion phase.

Backstroke: swimmer moves side to side. Similar to above. The swimmer is pulling at the sides as opposed to pulling underwater with a bent arm pull. Try the same drill as above. Also try having the swimmer swim with only one arm while the emphasis is on the pulling arm and the correct mechanics.

Backstroke: the swimmer is not rolling side to side. Have the swimmer swim on one side, with bottom arm in front, for 14-18 kicks. Then they roll onto the other side. For this to work the swimmer is literally on their side. As they get better reduce the number of kicks between each roll.

Breaststroke: swimmer is pulling too far past the shoulders. Have them practice the pull with no kicking (use pull buoys) so they can concentrate on the arms only. Instruct them to do small heart shapes in front of them.

Breaststroke: poor coordination between arms and legs – timing is off. Emphasize a very long glide phase. Also try 2 or 3 kicks per each arm stroke.

Butterfly kick: have the swimmer develop a strong kick before they attempt the full stroke. This can be done by lots of short swims under water, face down, on the back, and on the side. Some board kicking may help but with the board the body position is not correct for the full stroke. If the kick is weak there will be many problems with the stroke.

Butterfly: arms not clearing the water during recovery. Have the swimmer practice with one arm only with the other arm in front. Maybe alternating every 3 strokes.

Butterfly: arms not recovering symmetrically. Again, have the swimmer practice one arm at a time. Chances are this is happening because one side of the body is stronger than the other. A lot of practice is needed to correct this.

Week or no kick. Have the swimmer practice kicking without a flutter board with the arms in front. It is easier to kick with a board but this does not duplicate the body position of the full stroke. With a board the upper body is too high up. This can be done for all strokes. For backstroke the swimmer is obviously on their back.

Pull buoys are used to keep the legs high while there is no kicking. This forces the swimmer to use the upper body more. This is excellent for building upper body strength and endurance. However, if pull buoys are over used the athlete will have difficulty swimming with out them later on. So, use them sparingly and not with new swimmers.

Hand paddles can be used to increase the resistance during the pulling phase. This will increase strength and pulling power. However, if over used, or the shoulders are week, they can increase the chance of a shoulder injury. So, use them sparingly and not with new swimmers.

Flippers can be used to strengthen the legs for flutter kicking. However, similar to hand paddles, use them sparingly so the swimmer doesn't become accustomed to them.

A lose rubber band can be used by placing it just above the knees to keep the upper legs together during whip kick. This should be used only if the swimmer needs it, and very sparingly. If this is over used it can cause knee injury. Also, make sure all swimmers are well supervised as the rubber band may reduce swimming ability.

A small stick can be used with new swimmers during front crawl. By holding on to the stick in front of them they can swim with only one arm at a time. This can be used if the swimmer has a catch-up, where one arm catches up to the other.

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