The Most Useful Drill for Each Stroke

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Feb 27, 2012

The Most Useful Drill for Each Stroke

Being a beginner swimmer is definitely not easy. Where do I start? How do I do it? It seems much harder than it looks, how come? These are just a few questions I get asked all the time. As I discussed on many occasions, swimming is not as simple sport as it may seem. Sure, what is there to it, just go back and forth between two walls. However, in reality the swimming motions are actually quite complex and very difficult to master. It is quite complicated to learn a stroke (be it butterfly, breaststroke, freestyle or backstroke) without breaking it down to specific swimming drills. This means isolating one or two aspects of a stroke and zooming in your focus. However, this brings another dilemma. Which drills should I do? What are they good for? Lauren, a competitive swimmer of 13 years will share with you what she thinks are the best drills to add to your swimming repertoire.

Enter Lauren:
Any competitive swimmer can give you a list of their favorite and least favorite swimming drills. Drills are an essential aspect of swimming and training. While putting in the yardage/kilometers is certainly essential to becoming a better and faster swimmer, training your mind and body to perform the strokes properly is just as (if not more) important. Swimming is a sport of practice and patience. Dedicated swimmers must spend hours and hours in the pool each week training their bodies to perform their strokes in the most efficient, most powerful, and safest way possible. To help them, swim coaches use different drills to deconstruct strokes for their swimmers. By deconstructing the strokes and focusing on each essential movement using different drills and techniques, swimmers can learn to feel the correct way in which a stroke should be completed. When mere hundredths of a second stand between you and your best time or the swimmer in the lane next to you, every movement you make in the water counts and every technique glitch you encounter can harm. More importantly, performing a stroke the wrong way can be harmful to your health as joints get pressure in the wrong places etc. Here is a list of drills that I find the most useful in my swimming workouts and feel that they are an essential aspect of mastering the stroke they are accompanied with.
fingertip drag example

Fingertip Drag Freestyle

Freestyle is the fastest and most used stroke in swimming. Because swimmers will do the majority of their workouts swimming freestyle it is essential that they perform the stroke correctly. Incorrect posture or placement during freestyle can lead to serious injuries and will slow a swimmer down.

The fingertip drag drill is one of the more straightforward and simple drills to master. While swimming freestyle, keep your fingertips grazing the surface of the water as you take your stroke. The underwater pull will be in the normal fashion, but as you are breaking your arm from underneath the water you should keep you fingertips down on top of the water and position your elbow high in the air. This should slow down your stroke rate slightly, but for the most part will look similar to a normal freestyle stroke.

By forcing yourself to keep the tips of your fingers on the surface of the water during the peak of your stroke recovery, you are helping yourself to master the correct high elbow and body position of the freestyle stroke. Often, particularly in younger athletes, swimmers will throw their hands high up towards the ceiling when they swim freestyle. The fingertip drag drill forces swimmers to keep their elbow in the correct position. A swimmer's hand should never reach higher than their elbow. This drill also helps swimmers refrain from "slapping" the water with their hands thus catching a lot of bubbles under the palm of their hand. For the best results in freestyle, the fingertips should enter the water almost splash free and be relaxed throughout the entire recovery cycle.

Note from Swimator Blog: Often we hear coaches telling their swimmers during this drill to put their fingers into their arm pit. This is just silly. Nobody swims by putting fingers in the arm pit. This position is very unnatural and the swimmers have to twist their hand to even reach the arm pit. Instead, drag your relaxed fingertips through the water next to your body. If you'd extend your thumb towards your body, it still wouldn't touch it, there should be about 10 cm gap between your extended thumb and your shoulder when they pass each other. Another important aspect of the fingertip drill is to make sure that you lead with your elbow and not your hand. So your elbow leaves the water first pulling the relaxed fingertips with it. At the peak of the stroke recovery your hand with your fingers should just be dangling down pulled by gravity towards the water.
Keep one arm by the body and one arm swimming
(not straight though)

One Arm Backstroke Drill

What many swimmers do not realize is that backstroke and freestyle share many of the same drills and mechanisms when you swim them. Both are longitudinal strokes, working on the same axis. For this reasons, your body position and movement from side to side should be almost the same for both freestyle and backstroke. One of the biggest issues with backstroke for swimmers is timing.

The one arm backstroke drill helps swimmers master the somewhat tricky timing of the stroke. You can perform three strokes on your back with your right arm while your left arm is relaxed at your side and underwater. You want to be almost on your side in the water when you are taking the three strokes. Though the stroke is called backstroke, it is important that you understand that you should almost never be completely flat on you back in the water. This drill helps to demonstrate the side to side movement successful backstroke produces. After you take three one armed strokes with your right arm, you then immediately do three normal backstroke strokes using both arms. Next, you put your right arm relaxed at your side and do three back strokes with your left arm. You should repeat this three step process over and over.

The one arm backstroke drill will force you to concentrate on your body position while you pull under water and will help you slow down your stroke movement. By doing a one arm pull, you can feel the strength of you pull and focus on ways to achieve optimal catch in the water with you hand and more importantly forearm. This drill will also help you to learn to dip your shoulder to the side at the correct time.

Note from Swimator Blog: There are many variations of this drill to keep the drill interesting, one variation uses the stroke count where you could swim one with left arm, two with right arm, three with left arm, two with right arm, one with left arm etc. I am sure you can come up with your own fun way to vary this drill. Also, do not forget that your backstroke hip rotation is the product of your hips guiding the way. Your shoulders are not what rotates you from side to side. So always lead your rotation first with your hip and then the rest of your body will follow.
streamline during the breaststroke double kick drill

Double Kick Breaststroke

Breaststroke is often one of the most difficult strokes for swimmers to master properly. Correct timing and body position are essential aspects of mastering breaststroke. One of the most common mistakes that swimmers make with breaststroke is timing when to take a breath and when to kick.

During the double kick breaststroke drill you should perform the breaststroke the way you normally would, however, do two breaststroke kicks one after the other. During these two kicks, your arms should be tight in the streamline position and your head should be down facing the ground. By doing two kicks in a row, you are forced to draw out your breathing process in the stroke. This is great aerobic training and is a good way to get you to breathe at the appropriate time during your stroke. Furthermore, the breaststroke kick is one of the most powerful kicks in the water. By performing two kicks, you are forced to concentrate on finishing the entire kick and getting the most power you can out of it. Don't forget to squeeze your ankles all the way together with each kick. This drill is a wonderful way to help you recognize the power of your kick and master the timing of your breathing for the stroke.

Note from Swimator Blog: When you do the two kicks, make sure your body is fully submerged and you are parallel with the swimming pool bottom holding your streamline. Try to refrain from too much up and down motion during the kick. Also, play with the positioning of your kick, so you find the most efficient kick with the least resistance.
Keep arms shoulder width apart for butterfly pulse drill

Pulse for Butterfly

Butterfly is also one of the more difficult strokes to truly master. There are several positioning and timing tricks that can be hard to get a hold of for beginner or intermediate swimmers. As with breaststroke, one of the most important aspects of swimming butterfly is mastering timing and body position.

The pulsing drill is a little bit trickier than some of the other drills I've described here. First, start by floating on your stomach with your arms out in front of you in a "superman" position. This means that arms should not be tight together in a streamline position, but instead with hands about shoulder length apart. Your face should be looking down in the water and your ankles should be squeezed together, but not tense. The pulsing drill works just as it sounds — you will pulse up and down using your core and sternum to move yourself forward. Press your chest down towards the bottom of the pool while keeping your hands at the same water depth as before. When you do this your butt should go up some in the air and your arms should come further apart from one another. Then press your hips down towards the bottom of the pool, this causes your chest to come up some and your arms to move together again. It is at this time that you should peak your head up for a breath.

Essentially, you will be doing a butterfly kick and body movement without doing the arm pulls. The slight up and down movement of your body should very slowly propel you forward. This pulsing drill also simulates the body movement that you should perform while swimming breaststroke. You can do this exact same drill to master the body motion and breathing pattern for breaststroke as well. The butterfly pulsing drill is one of the most important lessons to learn for the latitudinal strokes (breaststroke and butterfly).

Note from Swimator Blog: When doing the pulse drill, you do not need to breathe with every pulse. This drill is best performed with the swimmer's snorkel Don't let the breathing confuse you. Instead, worry about the right rhythm of pulses. Also, do not worry about going forward too much. When you get it right, you will move forward inch by inch. With that in mind, do not kick with your legs. Let your legs just follow the wave of your body initiated by your sternum and hips. Lastly, during the chest press down motion, don't think that you head has to go with it. Keep the back of your head right at the surface and push the chest down, so in other words, make sure your neck is relaxed :).

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who was a competitive swimmer for 13 years while also being a swim coach on a side.

Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.


Inground Swimming Pools said...

I found this extremely useful, thanks for sharing.