The quickest and most efficient way to improve your swim is through your technique, not putting in hours and hours of lengths. The following drills will help improve swimming for triathletes. Do them as part of your warm-up and cool down. Focus on technique, not speed – don’t rush them, the goal is perfect technique not a fast pace.
There are a ton of different drills but these are some of my favourites, and are a few of the drills that I have found to be the most effective in the shortest time.
For technique sets keep the distance low and the rest periods long, e.g. 4 x 25m drill with 15 seconds rest between each 25m swim. The focus is on technique so be sure to take plenty of rest.
If you can, before you start working on these drills, video your technique and count your strokes per length so you can monitor your improvement as you apply the lessons below.
The thumb-thigh drill is an excellent way to make sure you have a full underwater pull-through. Too often, triathletes suffer from a shortened stroke. A complete pull-through is key for propelling yourself forward and maintaining maximum distance per stroke.
As people tire they shorten their pull-through and stop extending their arm behind at the end of the underwater pull-through, instead lifting the elbow out of the water and beginning the recovery too early.
During the thumb-thigh drill you touch your thumb to your thigh at the end of the underwater pull. This teaches you to complete the pull and follow through fully to the thigh. If you’re doing it correctly you should be all too aware of your triceps!
Video (shout out to the Team in Training coach for a great video!)
The catch-up drill allows you to focus on one arm at a time and ensure you are stretching forward at the end of the recovery. One of the more common errors is not reaching at the front of the stroke, resulting in reduced distance per stroke and a higher stroke turnover. The stretch in front will help you catch the water at the beginning of your stroke.
Start with one stroke, pull and recover to the start of the stroke, touch your other hand before starting your pull with the other hand. Consciously reach forward with your hand when touching the opposite hand. No early pulls and false starts with this one please!
Your goal should be to make each stroke as long and efficient as possible, maximizing distance per stroke.
3. Fist drill
The fist drill involves swimming with a closed fist. No you’re not punching the water out of frustration, rather learning to master and appreciate the catch at the front of the stroke, and the role your forearms play.
Just like a pushup, freestyle swimming uses not only the hand but your entire arm. Triathletes tend to underappreciate the finer points of swimming technique. This drill will ensure you at least use your arms to maximum effect.
The drill is simple yet mighty! Swim with your fists closed throughout the stroke. You will feel like you are going nowhere initially. Gradually focus on your forearms and you Revert to open hand swimming and notice the difference in both your palm and your forearm. Resist the temptation to cheat!
Apply these swimming for triathlon drills, and watch your efficiency and stroke count improve drastically. Remember, focus on perfect technique, and take plenty of rest during drill sets.