ATW Why Perform Swim Drills?

By Pro Ironman Triathlete Natalie Barnard

Natalie BarnardIt is agreed that, especially towards entry level, in order to improve your endurance, speed, and efficiency that you just need to increase the volumes that you swim.

While this is true, there are arguments that, particularly with those at entry level who have a poor and inefficient technique, that there is a limit on how much you can and will improve your times. Drag is a major downfall for us swimmers. Sadly, there is nothing that can be done to erase this. However we can aim to reduce the amount of drag force by improving our positioning in the water as well as our techniques.

If you were to analyse most boats, especially speedboats and fish, their shape and geometry is suitable to a streamlined, energy efficient, stealth-like position. This streamlined design helps with reducing fatigue over long periods and thus reserves the energy tank more. This is exactly what we are aiming to achieve with swimming, especially over long distances and certain speeds.

As much as a ‘good’ technique may seem the key, sometimes it isn’t. Don’t mistake a good technique for an efficient one. Efficiency through the water is what we all are aiming to achieve, and this can be aided and improved upon by the use of drills.

Drills are used by all levels of swimmers. Even as a National level swimmer and usually top 3 out of my Ironman events, I perform drills within each and every swim session. Not that I forget these drills, but as a coach once said to me;

Don’t practice ‘til you get it right, practice ‘til you can’t get it wrong!

Not only this swimming drills help to break up the monotony of swimming length after length as well as forcing you to really focus on what you are doing, not how much.

Drills are performed in an array of sports, such as tennis, football, and athletics. Drills break down the skill and enable you to focus on each element separately. Below are some drills that I have demonstrated exclusively for ATW:

1)     Catch Up

2)     Touch Armpit (or Chicken Wings)

3)     Doggy Paddle

4)     Finger Trail

5)     Kicking

6)     Side kicking

7)     Frontal Sculling

8)     Midline Sculling

Drills need to be performed slower than usual swimming speed, this enables you to get a better ‘feel’ for the stroke, the motions; position of the hands, head, hips, feet. Once the ‘feel’ for each drill has been recognised and near perfected, you can then focus on increasing the speed at which they’re performed, so that when the full stroke is initiated you gain a sense of better efficiency.

The Skill Acquisition Model    ..a gradual developmental process that requires our cognitive (thinking) processes to work with our physical abilities to learn how to perform movements that we were previously unfamiliar with.... this includes an understanding of the learning process, analysis of how well it is performed and identification of how the performance of this skill can be improved.”

This model can help with the planning and periodising of your swimming training plan to incorporate relative drills and full-stroke swimming to improve your efficiency.  When targeting what elements within your stroke need to be improved upon, you need to map out a specific training plan to account for your technical needs. It takes quite a bit of repetition to make a change, be patient and consistent! Repetition at varying speeds will also be key when bringing all the skills together to perform the full stroke again.

Using a coach or swim video analysis is a very useful feedback tool if you wish to improve upon your stroke and overall swimming. Feedback and video playback in real-time will greatly increase the rate at which you can grasp the drills and understand the correct positioning and ‘feel’ for each one.

So there you have it; the importance of swimming drills. Try some within your next swim session and see what you learn from breaking down your stroke, you may be surprised!


Choose from the list below for details and video for each drill: