It’s no secret that swimming is a technique intensive sport. Whether your goal is to develop a healthy and injury-free fitness routine or to perform faster in races, good form is a fundamental prerequisite. Here are three key drills to help you become more efficient in the water.
Rotating, or side-to-side kick
Freestyle and backstroke are both “side-to-side strokes” in that the swimmer rotates from side to side along the spine of the body. The rotating kick doubles as a drill in that it helps develop body roll along this axis.
This kick is done without a board; and fins are encouraged. Start off lying on your right side with your right arm extended above your head and your left arm at your side. Kick about six times; then initiate a stroke with the right arm and rotate to the other side.
With this drill, you are effectively freezing your body position after each stroke—one arm in extended entry position, the other arm in extended follow-through position—while continuing to kick. As you take a stroke to rotate to the other side, focus on gradually accelerating from the beginning to end of that stroke. Finish with a nice snap of the hips as you roll the body to the side.
When you are comfortable with the basic rotating kick; then add a sculling motion with the arm extended above your head. Scull by medially and laterally rotating the forearm. Sculpt the water with your hand. After six kicks, take a full stroke and roll onto the other side.
Have you ever noticed how the faster boats are the longer boats? Think a rowing team’s racing shell versus a rowboat. The same physics that apply to building a fast racing boat apply to the human body moving through the water. The catch-up drill will help you focus on maintaining a long body in the water.
To do the drill, start from a streamlined position with both arms extended above your head. As you take a stroke with one arm, maintain the other arm in its initial extended position. Wait until the stroking arm finishes the full stroke and “catches up” with your extended arm before taking a stroke with that arm. Remember to roll with the hips during each stroke (just like you practiced with the rotating kick).
This drill effectively slows down your swimming, and allows you to focus on stroking with one arm at a time. But more importantly, it shifts your center of gravity forward to give you a more balanced body position, making it easier to keep the hips at the surface. Plus, the longer body position provides a sleeker profile in the water—more like a racing shell than a barge.
For swimmers who have a tendency to rush through the initial entry/extension phase of the stroke, aim for a “three-quarters catch-up” while swimming at your aerobic base pace to ingrain this longer body position into your new habits.
Instead of swimming with paddles, the fists drill is more like swimming with anti-paddles. Just as the name implies, close up your hands into fists and swim.
If you feel like you aren’t getting very far, remember to keep your elbow high during the pull phase of the stroke. Let your arm seek out the optimal position that grips the water and provides the most power.
If you have a tendency to drop your elbow and let your arm slip through the water, this drill will provide the feedback you need to develop a better “feel” for proper arm positioning during your stroke.
Good form equals free speed
Attention to good form is a year round project. But the beginning of each new season brings a unique opportunity to leave bad habits behind and start fresh. Incorporate drills into your aerobic base building phase at the beginning of the year, and continue to revisit those drills as you warm up and cool down during higher intensity workouts later in the year. If you make form work an integral part of your training, you will be rewarded with fewer injuries and faster times.
Article originally appeared on the TrainingPeaks blog.