Swimming Tips & Drills

A first place race at the pool begins before swimmers take their marks. Making swimming drills and tips a regular part of your aquatic training will ensure you achieve your personal best.

Including a variety of swim drills into your regular training sessions will improve your speed, maximize your endurance, and fine-tune your technique. Whether you're an intermediate or expert swim competitor, or just into water fitness, you should incorporate a variety of swimming drills into your swim routine, including warmups and cool-downs, too.

What are swim drills?

Swim drills are specific movements that involve isolating a part of a stroke in order to improve your efficiency and technical skills. This segment will cover swimming tips and drills for:


What is it, and why is pacing important?

Swimming efficiently involves a combination of speed and endurance. Think about increasing speed at both ends of the race, with a steady supply of endurance in between. This is pacing.

What makes swimming different from other workouts? Basically, it's gentler on the body. There is no direct pressure to the joints and ligaments and so-forth while you swim, as there is with running or biking, for instance. So oftentimes pain is not as easily recognized as a gauge for over-exertion. So you could be wearing yourself out swimming, and not realize it! This can lead to injury. This is why pacing is especially important to you as a swimmer.

World class swim coaches say that that way to avoid injury in the water, is to have a plan before you ever get in the water.

Tip: every swim workout should have a specific purpose.

The specific goals of pacing should be to:

Keeping a natural, steady pace can make or break your swim race. And doing pace work isn't the same for everyone! Factors to consider are: age, swim style, and how often you train.

There are a couple types of swimming drills and tips to help with pacing, and they include endurance sets, which prepare swimmers for a longer race (saving the fastest repeat set for the end), and speed sets, to reinforce your efficiency and push you beyond your normal comfort zone.


Strength training should be done in combination with speed and endurance conditioning. More and more swim trainers are using training bands. Resistance training is gentle, yet effective. Both men and women can target pretty much any muscle group. And it's so easy to customize your workouts using resistance bands.

Here are a few swimming drills and tips to get your upper body into top shape.

Pull-ups: This drill works on the upper back muscles commonly used for swimming.

How it's done: Anchor a standard latex band with a handle to something sturdy. Keeping hips parallel to your feet, and leaning back in a "water skiing" position, palms down, pull the band back past your torso, reaching to the armpits. Keep your hips solid, and your back neutral. Do this for 1-2 seconds, repeating 8-12 times.

Push-up walk: This is also great for upper body strength.

How it's done: Using a mini-band this time, place your wrists inside the band, and get onto your hands and knees. Next, move into a "push- up" position, extending the legs straight back. Now, begin to walk the hands and feet sideways, and back again, repeating the movement several times, while keeping your core neutral. This is surprisingly difficult, but it really strengthens the upper body!

Next, the X-Walk, using a jump stretch band. This is great for the back, and core.

How it's done: Stepping inside the band, and with the band around your ankles, bring the band up with your hands, cross it over and make an "X" with it. The band should form an X between your feet and wrists, with your wrists inside the band, palms facing forward while locking your shoulder blades. Now walk sideways, back and forth, while maintaining the X.

Tip: Bands come in all resistances, so be sure and use a band that offers enough resistance while being able to maintain your form.

These are just a few swimming drills and tips involving resistance using training bands to improve your strength. If you prefer weight training to resistance, there are some great drills out there for working the triceps and upper back. Do a search, and check them out. For now, we'll jump in the water and talk about another important area of swim training, and that's speed and endurance.

Speed and Endurance

A well-rounded swim fitness program should include drills that promote efficiency.

The following tips and drills by renowned swim coach Matt Luebbers at www.about.com are designed to help swimmers achieve a faster, stronger freestyle and is great for swimmers of all levels of ability.

Catch-up drill: By isolating one arm, this drill helps develop a long, smooth stroke and body position.

How it's done: Extend and stabilize one arm aimed forward, while performing the stroke with the other arm. When the working arm catches up with the stationary arm, switch arms, alternating the stroke. You can modify this drill by creating variations on the arm extension.

10 and 10 drill: This movement develops a swimmer's body roll and alignment.

How it's done: In freestyle position, extend one arm out in front while the other is back, resting against the body. The ear is against the shoulder, chin is aligned with the chest, and the eyes look sideways. Kick 10 times, take a breath, and switch. Alternate this movement several times throughout the drill.

One-arm drill: This movement strengthens arms by letting swimmers focus on one arm at a time.

How it's done: This is pretty simple; one arm performs the stroke while the other is resting, then switch, alternating several times.

Fist drill: Promotes efficiency by giving swimmers a "feel" for the water.

How it's done: In a freestyle position, make a fist with your hand and press it against the water with the inside of the forearm. Think of the lower arm as an extension of the hand. Partway down the pool, open your fist, and feel the pressure against the hand and the forearm.


Expert trainers recommend that serious swimmers spend up to 20 percent of their workout time performing regular drills that refine their stroke.

The following swimming drills and tips are offered by world class surfer Laird Hamilton, courtesy www.youtube.com.

Three specific technique drills will improve your swim stroke. They are: Slow arm recovery with hesitation, quick catch, and high swingers.

Slow arm recovery with hesitation

How it's done: While performing the crawl, pause one arm when your hand is opposite your shoulder, and the lead arm is out in front. And repeat, alternating arms. The pattern is pull, hesitate, pull hesitate, etc.

Quick catch: This drill promotes fluency and efficiency in the water by emphasizing the front end of the stroke. It involves quick stroke movements, forcing swimmers to maintain their stroke rhythm without losing momentum.

How it's done: "Popping" the shoulder and elbow up high, the stroke should feel like you're putting your hand in and going over the top of a barrel. The stroke emphasizes a slight "flexion" in the wrist and elbow, keeping the forearm just under the shoulder line.

High swingers

While performing the crawl, the swimmer releases the stroke very high before the arm comes back down. By releasing the stroke very high, and keeping it going, it should almost feels like a straight arm coming over the top of the water. By rotating the shoulders, the entire torso should feel engaged in the pull, reducing front resistance.

Got kick?

You'll get it out of these drills. A few kick drills include the back flutter, the dolphin kick, the front flutter kick with the board, and the side flutter.

Back flutter

Holding the kick board, lay on your back and extend your arms over your head. Kick up toward the surface, keeping your toes in the water. Make the water "boil", which involves a subtle, fluttery kick.

Dolphin kick on back

Still holding the board, work both legs simultaneously. Using the stomach muscles, allow the torso to flex and extend.

Front flutter kick

Flip onto your stomach. Still holding onto the board, drop one arm to your side, put your face below the surface, and practice a gentle, subtle, flutter kick. Heals come to the surface, knees are bent.

Side flutter alternating sides

Letting go of the board and with your face below the surface, extend one arm out in front, drop one arm at your side, and kick, switching sides as you go.


These drills, courtesy www.youtube.com, improve freestyle efficiency by improving high elbow recovery.

Three main drills include: Finger drag, zipper, and shark fin. They're pretty simple, and here's how they're done.

Finger tip drag drill: Keep your fingertips in the water while you're performing the freestyle crawl.

Zipper drill: "Scratch" the side of your body as your arm comes up the torso to the armpit, and extends forward.

Shark fin: Pause your arm as your hand reaches to your armpit, then extend your arm forward. You can modify the drill to work just one side, bringing your arm back down after your fingers reach the armpit. Or you can work both arms alternately.

Mental Training

From The ABCs of Mental Training; V is for Visualization by Aimee C. Kimball, PhD, at www.usaswimming.org.

Lastly, let's talk about mental training. Without it, all the drills and technique in the world are not going to prevent a competitive swimmer from choking under pressure. If competition anxiety has you hitting the wall before you even get in the water, you're not alone. Even world class athletes experience performance anxiety from time to time.

So what exactly is mental training?

According to Aimee C. Kimball, Director of Mental Training at the University of Pittsburgh's Medical Center for Sports Medicine, it's using the power of the mind to increase your performance potential by visualizing your movements, and imagining the outcome of the race. One way to do that is to mentally rehearse the race. Visualize yourself swimming your best. See yourself winning. Make the most of your imagination!

Serious athletes use the power of visualization because it works!

To make the most of imagery, it is important to do it correctly. Use all your senses when you imagine winning. See yourself swimming your best. Feel your body swimming your best - smell the water, and even taste the water. Hear the crowd cheering. Imagine it all!

Do it for the love of swimming

Tip: The outcome of your imagery should always be positive.

Remember why you're in the sport of swimming in the first place. Come up with a few affirming statements about yourself as a swimmer, and always keep them in mind. Focus on the positive reasons that you swim, and use pressure and anxiety to swim your best. After all, you have high standards for yourself.

Above all, enjoy the process of training - not just the outcome. Even world class swimmers have to remember that they're not just in the water to win. They swim because they love it!


We've gathered a few swimming drills and tips from experts for getting you into prime shape to race. Swimming differs from other competitive sports, in that there's less immediate stress to the ligaments and joints, making it a little trickier to identify your limits which could lead to over-exertion and injury. Pacing is very important to your endurance levels. Swimming technique is important to your speed and efficiency. Swim drills are designed to isolate a part of the stroke in order to improve your technique.

To truly benefit from these swimming drills and tips, you should make them a part of your regular swim workouts; including warm-ups and cool-downs. With the right swim training, coupled with the right mental preparation, you'll be confidant and swimming your personal best. Some day you might just find yourself diving into the world champions.

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