Swimming Stroke Drills - Part I
A lot of triathletes neglect doing stroke drills because they consider drills boring or not an efficient use of their time. Some triathletes don't do drills because they don't understand what they are doing, or the purpose of the drill. However elite swimmers spend a large percentage of their training time practicing correct technique. Developing a good technique can do more for your swim split than churning out thousands of yards practicing an ineffective swim stroke
Swimming drills are incorporated into the swim practice by every respectable swim coach in the world. There is a good reason why swim coaches think they are important. Good technique is the best way to save energy while swimming fast so it makes sense to develop as efficient a stroke as possible. Strength and endurance are necessary factors in a fast swim split but you can shave off more time by developing an efficient stroke than you can by getting stronger or cranking out huge yardage in your swim workouts. Because as triathletes we have three disciplines to train, making the most of your swimming time is critical. In fact, if you were short of time, a good swim workout would be, a warm-up, some drills, a few intervals and a cooldown.
Here are a few stoke drills that will get you started and help you develop an efficient stroke.
The Catch-Up Drill: To begin, push off in the prone position with both arms extended. Take one complete one-arm stroke while the other arm remains extended. Then take a stroke with the opposite arm. When doing this drill, you will keep the recovered arm in the extended position until the other arm 'catches --up' and is now also in the extended position. The natural tendency is to start the pull of the extended arm before the recovering arm is completely 'caught-up' and extended. But don't do it! It will take some focus but with practice you will get better. Resist the urge to place your recovering arm directly in line with your nose. The reasoning for this is because you may overreach center and find yourself veering to one side or the other. Instead place your hand that is entering the water in line with your shoulder. The purpose of this drill is to teach you to incorporate a glide into your stroke. It is intended that this drill be performed at a moderate pace. Do not try to speed it up until you have mastered the technique. There must always be a glide with one arm extended while the other arm is pulling and recovering. If you feel that your legs are sinking too much because you are focusing entirely on your arm stroke it is all right to wear short fins while doing this drill. But don't forget to kick… a nice steady kick.
The Fingertip Drag Drill: This drill is one of the oldest and most popular. When practicing fingertip drag, swim a freestyle stroke but drag your fingertips through the water on the recovery phase. Keeping your arms close to your body and your fingertips in contact with the water will help you achieve a high elbow-recovery. Try to avoid dragging your entire hand and making a sloppy splash. You want to skim the surface with relaxed fingers so that you create a nice clean line as your hand enters the water. You may feel somewhat awkward in the beginning. Once again, practice makes perfect. Keep practicing and soon you will be so gracefully dragging your fingertips through the water that it will actually feel smooth. In all drills, always take it easy and focus on the drill. Don't hurry.
The Fist Swimming Drill: In this drill you swim with your hands closed in a tight fist. At first swimming with a closed fist will feel really strange and your arms will feel like sticks. Swim half the distance with a closed fist (12.5 or 25 yds) and then open your hands for the other half of the distance and feel the power. Fist swimming teaches you to swim from the 'inside out'. Many beginning swimmers focus only on their hands and legs. Doing this drill will teach you to use your core muscles to generate power from the center of your body. It will encourage you to maintain a high elbow throughout the stroke for power, help teach you balance and force you to use your entire arm as a paddle.
Kick on Side Drill: Lie on your left side with your lower arm extended, the one closest to the bottom of the pool, rest your head on your shoulder, your ear in the water. Your right arm should be lying on your right side. Take 4-6 kicks on your side. Then take three strokes starting with the left arm. When you finish the third stroke, now with the right arm extended, you have rolled/rotated to the right side. You have the right arm extended and your left arm resting on your left side. Take 4-6 kicks on this side, then repeat the process. It will feel a little like ice skating….step, step, step, glide or skate boarding... push, push, push, coast. This drill will train you to shift your weight from side to side. Keep kicking but it's okay to wear short fins for this drill.
One Arm Drill: The one arm drill is done exactly as it sounds. Swim a freestyle stroke using only one arm. Keep the arm that is not stroking, extended. After a pre-determined number of strokes or determined distance, switch arms and practice swimming with the opposite arm. You can count your strokes, say 5 strokes with the right arm then switch arms and do 5 strokes with the left arm. Or you may want to swim a pre-determined distance with each arm such as 25 yds. using the right arm and then changing to the left arm at the wall and doing the next 25 yds. When you are practicing this drill try to remember all the other aspects of good stroke technique: the catch, maintaining a high elbow, pulling all the way through, keeping your arm close to the body and rotation. Kick through out this drill.
There are dozens of drills to help you learn proper stroke technique and some can be combined, such as the fingertip drag and the catch-up drill. I have listed a few of the most common drills. If you practice these drills every time you go to the pool they will eventually become easier and you will develop a more efficient stroke. But that is not the time to cease with the drills. Drills should be included in every swim practice session, forever.? Practice, practice, practice!