Suggested Swim, Bike, And Run Technique Drills For Off-Season Training

To find out the best way to spend your off-season pick up the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

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Swim Technique Drills

Chest Press

Swim face down with your arms at your sides and propel yourself by kicking only.  Exhale into the water and turn your head to the side to inhale.  Concentrate on keeping your chest deep and your hips and legs high toward the surface.  This drill improves body position and kicking technique.

Side Kicking

Swim on one side with the lower arm extended straight forward and the upper arm resting on your upper side.  Rest your head against your shoulder and look down so that your head is totally submerged.  Propel yourself by kicking only.  Exhale into the water and rotate your head slightly upward to inhale.  Concentrate on keeping your hips and legs high.  Swim one length and then switch sides.  This drill promotes proper technique at maximum rotation.

Layout Freestyle

Start by kicking on your side as in the Side Kicking drill.  After three to five seconds, rotate onto your belly and catch up to your forward arm with the other arm, so that your two arms are now extended in front of you.  Immediately perform a complete pull with the original leading arm and simultaneously rotate onto your other side.  Kick for three to five seconds and then catch up and rotate once more.  After swimming two to four lengths in this way, reduce the amount of time you spend on each side to just two seconds.  This drill improves body position and rotation.

Catch-up Freestyle

Begin by kicking face down with both arms extended in front of you.  After three or four seconds, perform a complete pull with one arm and rotate fully to that side.  Immediately rotate back onto your belly and catch up to the forward arm with the arm that just pulled.  Kick for three or four seconds and then pull with the other arm and rotate.  Swim one to two lengths in this manner and then reduce the amount of time you kick on your belly to just one second between pulls.  Swim one to two lengths more and then pull twice with each arm before switching sides.  This drill promotes better rotation and arm stroke mechanics.

Cheating Catch-up

Do the Catch-up Freestyle drill as prescribed above, but instead of waiting until your recovering hand is even with your forward hand before you begin to pull with the latter, start to pull when your recovery hand is about even with the elbow of your forward arm.  Essentially, the Cheating Catch-up Drill is a cross between the Catch-up drill and normal freestyle swimming.  This drill helps you transfer the improvements you make with the Catch-up Drill to your freestyle swim stroke.

Count-Stroke Drill

Simply count the number of strokes you take while swimming one complete length of the pool with normal freestyle technique, and then try to lower the number of strokes taken in each of two or three subsequent lengths.  You will achieve this by taking longer, more powerful pulls, rotating more, and allowing yourself to glide a little bit.  Feel free to exaggerate these elements in order to decrease the stroke count.  This drill helps to improve overall stroke efficiency.

Fingertip Drag Drill

Swim a normal freestyle stroke, except consciously drag your fingertips across the surface of the water during the recovery phase.  This modification helps you relax and use as little energy as possible during the recovery phase of the arm cycle.  The Fingertip Drag drill can be performed in conjunction with the Thumb Scrape drill, in which you purposely scrape your thumb against your thigh during the release phase of the arm cycle (as your hand exits the water).  This modification promotes complete arm extension and proper hand position in the release.

Fist Drill

Swim with your fists clenched.  This drill teaches you to rotate your shoulder and bend your elbow in the catch portion of the arm cycle in order to create a powerful “paddle” for the pull.  If you do this correctly, you will swim with only slightly less power than you do with open hands.

Bilateral Breathing Drill

If, like most triathletes, you are only able to inhale with your head turned to one side (usually the right side for right-handed swimmers and the left side for left-handed swimmers), make this drill a regular part of your drill set repertoire until you are able to breathe as comfortably on your weak side as you are on your dominant side.  Just swim your normal freestyle stroke while breathing on every third stroke (right-left-right) instead of every second or fourth stroke (right-only or left-only).  You will be terribly clumsy on your weak side at first, but stick with it and you’ll steadily improve.

Sighting Drill

Sighting is an important skill when you swim in open water without lane lines to guide you.  It consists in modifying your swim stroke to look ahead and spot a “landmark” to aim towards.  In a normal freestyle stroke you turn your head directly to one side or the other to inhale and then turn your head back to a neutral position with your eyes looking toward the bottom.  When you sight, you instead turn your head to look forward and spot a landmark, and inhale before submerging your face underwater to exhale, without interrupting your arm movements.  When practicing your sighting, swim normally and sight every 4 to 6 strokes.

Cycling Drills

Single-Leg Pedaling

On a wind trainer or a stationary bike, pedal in a low gear (low resistance level) with a single leg while keeping your other leg out of the way (e.g. on a chair).  Go for one minute and then switch legs.  Repeat the drill a few times more.

Spinning Out

Gradually increase your pedaling cadence over the course of several minutes, in a very low gear, until you reach your maximum pedaling speed.  Maintain it for 30 to 60 seconds.  Try to keep your butt from bouncing in the saddle.


On a flat road or slight incline, shift into your highest gear and pedal as hard as you can, keeping your butt on the seat and your upper body relaxed.  Keep it up for 30 seconds.

Running Drills

High Knees

Run with a fast cadence and highly exaggerated knee lift, bringing your thighs up parallel to the ground with each stride.  Continue for 30 seconds.

Fast Feet

This drill is the same as High Knees except you do it as fast as you can, and keep it up for only 15 to 20 seconds.

Butt Kicks

Run in place or slowly forward while keeping your thighs perpendicular to the ground and trying to kick yourself in the butt with your heels.  Continue for 30 seconds.

Leap Running

Run with the longest, leaping strides you can achieve (like the first two jumps in a track and field triple jump).  Continue for 30 seconds.

Goose Step

Walk forward by kicking your legs as high as possible in front of you with minimal knee bend.  Extend your arms straight ahead of you, zombie-style, and try to touch your toe to your palm with each step.

To find out the best way to spend your off-season including a 12-week training plan to start your next season stronger than ever, pick up the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine. 

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