Improving your freestyle demands that you embrace the unnatural.
If swimming technique felt like second nature, we’d all be gold medalists by now! Some swim drills can make you feel like you’re awkwardly floundering in the water, but with practice can really have an impact on how you swim. Add these tricky but purposeful drills to your swim repertoire and reap the stroke-enhancing benefits.
1. Shark drill
How to: Hold a kickboard between your thighs. Swim freestyle with no kick. At the finish of each stroke reach a bit further and tap the part of the kickboard that is sticking out of the water (your “fin”).
Purpose: Ensures that you finish each stroke past your hip, and also encourages the torso to rotate without the hips and legs, as well as a quick arm recovery.
Variation: Use a pull buoy instead of a kickboard.
2. Fist drill
How to: Ball your hands into fists and swim freestyle.
Purpose: To feel how the forearm and upper arm are a part of your “paddle,” and to help increase stroke turnover.
Variation: Hold a tennis (or similarly sized) ball in both hands to prevent cheating and boost the lack of resistance on the palm.
How to: Swim freestyle while holding your head out of the water and looking towards the end of the pool.
Purpose: This drill builds neck strength and body awareness for open water sighting. It also serves as a way to check if you cross the centerline when your hands enter the water.
Variation: Try to keep your head lifted out of the water while keeping the arms underwater during the recovery portion of the stroke for a version of the doggie paddle.
4. Three Wide
How to: Swim an entire set with two other people (of similar ability) in your lane. Push off every wall at the same time. Switch positions within the lane on a regular basis.
Purpose: To get used to swimming in very tight spaces. Learn how to get aggressive for your patch of water and reduce the fear of being touched, pushed, hit and kicked.
Variation: Push off at the same time for the first lap and then drop into a pace line (similar to cycling) to practice drafting.
How to: Stroke with the right arm only, keep the left arm at your side, and breathe only to the left side. Switch arms and breathing sides every 25 or 50.
Purpose: This uncoordinated movement helps to work on breath timing, stroke coordination and body rotation by forcing you into an awkward stroke pattern.
6. Vertical kicking
How to: Position yourself vertically in the deep end of the pool (must be at least 1 foot deeper than your height). Clasp your hands around your waist to prevent using them. Keep your head above the water by freestyle kicking.
Purpose: Improve freestyle kick technique and strength.
Variation: Slowly raise your fingers, hands, wrists and forearms above the water to observe the change in balance.
7. Open and shut
How to: Swim freestyle with one hand closed in a fist and the other hand palm open. Switch hands every 25 or 50 yards.
Purpose: Helps develop a feel for the water; work on balance and gain awareness of how important a flat palm is to propulsion.
Variation: Take this drill up a notch by holding a tennis ball in one hand and a paddle in the other hand. Swap hand objects every 50 yards.