Swim Drills – the why and the how

The Swim Smooth Drills – why and how do we do them?

• What do all good swimmers have in common?

o Low drag and good propulsion

• What do drills do?

o Help improve aspects of technique that reduce drag or increase propulsion, or both!
o Freestyle is a complex series of movements. Drills look to focus on specific aspects of the stroke and build good form into muscle memory.
o Change will always feel weird!

Torpedo kick with fins

• Purpose:

o To develop kick technique (and fins improve ankle flexibility??). What’s the point if kick isn’t propulsive? Reduce drag!

• Key Points:

o Drive off the wall in a streamlined torpedo shape: Stretch, look straight down or a little behind, squeeze ears between shoulders
o Kick and exhale continuously
o Half a breaststroke/scull to raise your head to take a breath, kicking continuously
o Return your head under your arms and continue exhaling
o If you don’t have fins, or they aren’t allowed, just do the drill for part of each length they progress to freestyle

Kick on side drill

• Purpose:

o Helps you develop good BALANCE, posture and alignment in the water (and rotation) and an excellent catch set up position

• Key Points

o Use fins and push off in a great torpedo position
o Rotate onto your side (90°), leaving your lower arm in front of you and upper arm by your side (your hand in ‘your pocket’)
o Draw your shoulder blades together and back to maintain good alignment
o Kick at a steady pace from the hips with relatively straight legs
o Face downwards and exhale into the water continuously
o Rotate (don’t lift) your head to take a breath in, keeping one eye in the water at the top of your head pointing at the far pool wall
o Rotate your head back down while you exhale
o Notice whether you tend to track straight or weave about
o Swap sides after 25m/yds, are you better or worse on the other side?

• Hand Position:

o Notice the position of your lead hand, are you crossing over the centre line? If you’re crossing over or it’s likely this also happens in your full stroke
o Notice if your little finger or thumb is facing down
o Are you dropping your elbow showing the palm to the front (putting on the brakes)? If so it’s likely you do this in the full stroke too and this drill will really help to correct it
o The correct technique is keeping the palm of your hand facing down, fingertips lower than wrist, wrist lower than elbow at all times, with your middle finger pointing straight out in line with your shoulder

• Progressing to full stroke

o Perform some freestyle immediately after the drill, keeping your fins on
o As you start the full stroke following the drill think about maintaining your alignment and extending the middle finger on your lead hand in front of the shoulder

6-1-6 or Six kicks

• Purpose:

o A progression of the Kick on Side drill, it helps develop your alignment, posture and catch set up position (It’s also described as a stroke/breath timing drill, the focus on length and rotation helps with breathing)

• Key Points:

o Take a breath, away from leading arm, after the stroke and rotation to the other side
o Use the mantra: 6-1-breathe-6. This makes the breathing timing as close to full stroke freestyle as possible
o A common mistake is to take too many kicks
o Can progress from this to 6-3-6 and 6-5-6. Less breathing to interrupt form – practice keeping head steady during the 5 stroke cycles


• Purpose:

o Similar to 6/1/6 it’s used to improve your a sense of core balance and core control in the water, develop your body rotation, helps train a classic high elbow recovery, enables you to improve your hand entry, and it can help you improve your upper back flexibility

• Key Points:

o Use fins and kick on your side with your lower arm leading straight out in front
o Slide the thumb of your upper arm up the side of your body to your armpit, with elbow pointing UP!
o Return your hand to your hip then back up to your armpit, then spear the hand into the water
o Catch and pull through with the underwater arm, rotate onto the other side, and take a breath after the stroke and rotation

Broken Arrow Drill

• Purpose:

o This drill is designed for swimmers with tight upper backs and shoulders to help you loosen off
o It helps you relax your arm and shoulder while recovering over the top of the water, it enables you to focus on how your hand is entering the water

• Key points:

o Should always be performed wearing fins
o Kick on side and without delay raise your top hand above your head vertically and pause there for two seconds – your ‘arrow’ – allow arm to sink into shoulder joint.
o Then bend the elbow and spear into the water hand entering in line with your shoulder
o Rotate onto the other side by catching and pulling through with the lower arm, take a breath, lift it up and pause again vertically for two seconds, using the mantra:
o Up–break–spear in–breathe

Scull #1

• Purpose:

o Sculling is valuable to help develop your ‘feel for the water’ – how it feels to position and time the catch and pull stroke movements correctly.
o Scull #1 is the most important of all the scull drills and should be practiced the most, since it replicates the initial catch phase when you first apply pressure to the water.
o Many swimmers press downwards, sideways or forwards in this position, or even cheat trying to do breastroke!
o Don’t be put off if you struggle at first, this simply highlights an area of weakness in your stroke and that you will greatly benefit from improving your catch and feel for the water

• Key Points

o Always use a pull buoy to isolate your arms and prevent you from gaining any leg kick propulsion
o Push off, bring your head out of the water and scull with both arms left and right symmetrically
o Scull slightly wider than your shoulders, bringing your hands a few inches apart in front of you (so quite close)
o Slightly change the angle of your hand so you’re leading the scull with your palms, keeping a constant pressure on the water with your hands and forearms (see photo – fingers pointing forward and down)
o Keep your fingertips lower than your wrist and wrist lower than your elbow at all times

• Think About

o Keeping your hands near the surface will be very slow, so keep your fingertips roughly 30cm below the surface
o When you get the drill right you’ll feel your chest lift up and pace slightly increase (bear in mind this is a feeling not a fast drill)
o Draw your shoulder blades back and lift your chest high to introduce good swimming posture
o You should feel your traps and lat muscles working
o Sculling is best performed over short distances before immediately transitioning into freestyle
o As you transition into freestyle, think about lightly pressing the water back to the wall behind you
o Don’t be surprised if your stroke rate naturally picks up straight after sculling – this is perfectly normal and means that you’ve improved your catch technique and removed any deadspots!

• Secondary sculls

o Scull #2: Elbows bent and fixed just ahead of shoulders
o Scull #3: Elbows by side and push back to hip with alternating hands. Think truncated doggy paddle.

Doggy Paddle or Long Dog

• Purpose

o It’s a powerful drill for developing your catch and ‘feel for the water’ as it forces you to develop a bent elbow catch
o If you struggle with the drill, its likely you’re in the habit of catching the water with a straight arm
o It also helps you develop good rhythm and timing
o It enables you to focus on keeping the hand in line with the shoulder rather than sweeping out or crossing under the body

• Key Points

o Don’t do kids doggy paddle! Rotate!
o Use a pull buoy to prevent your legs from kicking
o Keep pulling back to the hip
o Keeping your arms underwater for the recovery forwards, in whichever way feels natural, but fingertips first
o Extend your hands in line with the shoulder
o Tip the wrist then exaggerate bending your elbow as you emphasise ‘reaching over the barrel’
o Keep the lead hand constantly in motion, either extending forwards in front of the shoulder, tipping over and catching the water or pulling backwards, no pausing!
o Repeat the mantra: Reach and roll!
o Progress into freestyle

Unco (un-coordinated)

o The ‘King of Drills’, it’s challenging but beneficial to almost every swimmer, even elites
• Purpose
o Helps you develop rhythm and timing of your stroke
o It brings many stroke elements together, forcing you to time your catch, pull and body rotation correctly
o It also can help tune your breathing timing to the rotation of your body
o Remember if the drill is tough you’re probably highlighting an area of your stroke that needs some work, so stick with it!

• Key Points

o Use fins, push off and pull with one arm, with the other relaxed by your side
o Breathe away from the stroking arm, timing your head turn to the rotation of your body
o Make sure you rotate your body to both sides, by driving the non-stroking arm shoulder down, using the mantra:
o Stroke and dip

• Think About

o You should feel a surge forwards as you generate propulsion with one arm
o If you feel like you’re bobbing up and down you’re probably pressing down too much at the catch causing your legs to sink, creating drag rather than pushing the water backwards
o No other drill works as well to put all the elements of the stroke together in the right timing

• Progression into full stroke

o You’ll feel the magic of Unco when you swim freestyle immediately after performing the drill
o Swim the drill breathing one way then full stroke freestyle breathing the same way (breathe every 2 or 4 arm pulls), repeat on the other side
o Keep the fins on and feel the easier rhythm and timing of the stroke- for some it can be a revelation!

• Alternative drill: Breathing under the arm

o Easier than Unco, you breath to the same side as the stroke arm, using the stroke to support the breath.

If you’d like to know more about these, or any other, drills then please ask your club swim coach who will be happy to help. There is also an extensive library of Swim Smooth videos on their YouTube channel to keep you happy for hours and hours – https://www.youtube.com/user/swimsmooth