Great Swim Drills

Swimmers about to start an Ironman
January 25, 2017

Mike Ricci


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In my first triathlon, I wallowed my way through an 800m swim in nearly 28 minutes – that was more than 3 minutes per 100! I tried freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and even the dead man float in order to get through that swim. I was so ambitious and competitive that I, of course, recognized I had to improve my swim if I wanted to be competitive in triathlon. So, I took it upon myself to improve through swim clinics, video analysis, and, most importantly, lap after lap of drill after drill. I've come a long way since that first race, and I now have the privilege of helping athletes advance their skills so they can compete at the level where they want to be!

In fact, no matter what level of triathlete you are, drills should be a healthy part of your routine. In any workout that I coach, I give at least one drill set in each workout. My recommendation to you is that you add in at least 300 to 500 yards of swim drills in EVERY workout you swim.

How do you know which drills to use? If your arms cross over your body underneath the water when you pull, then your drills would be different than if you are dropping your elbow during the catch phrase. Having a coach assess your swim stroke is an obvious helpful assist in determining where your deficiencies are, but if you don't have anyone available to look at your swim stroke, knowing these three things, and how they matter to your swim mechanics, will help you get started with determining which drills you should use.

#1: Body Position: Keeping your hips and legs up is crucial to moving through the water more efficiently. Step 1 is keeping your chin down so you are looking down at the bottom of the pool. Step 2 is kicking just enough to keep your hips, legs, and feet at the surface of the water.

#2: The Length of your Stroke Upon Entry: The entry of your stroke is what sets up your underwater portion of your stroke. Once your hand leaves the water during the finish of your swim stroke, your goal is to have a high over arm recovery and reach as far as you can, and have a lengthy stroke. The longer your stroke, means the fewer strokes you'll need to cover the distance when you are swimming across the pool, or when you are racing. Once again, getting your underwater stroke set up to be powerful and efficient is all about setting up the stroke with your long, proper entry.

#3: The Entry and Underwater Pull: Enter the water with your arm at about a 45-degree angle and set up your underwater stroke with a high elbow and your palm moving toward the back of the pool. You may think this is contradictory to the long stroke from above, but once you find the max length of your stroke, you can then back up your entry about 6 inches. This should allow your arm to enter the water at a 45-degree angle. Once you can do this, you are in a great position to have a strong, powerful swim stroke. Keeping your elbow high through the pull phase is hard, but you'll really see a difference in your swim stroke. The way I always think about the swim stroke is that your arm enters in the order of fingertips, hand, wrist, forearm, elbow; in that order and as one long paddle. Take that as your visual when you are thinking about your entry.

Following are several drills I've selected from Go Swim TV that you can use to help specific areas of your stroke. Each drill is noted with a weakness you can improve by practicing the drill.


Great freestyle is a combination of multiple components, and these drills will give you an idea of where you may be lacking. For more advanced swimmers, these drills become much more effective if you use fins.

Use these two drills to learn how to line up your entry correctly:

1. The 11 Stroke—position-11-for-two.html


2. Freestyle – Mega Catch Up—mega-catch-up-drill.html

Drill to help your catch:

3. Ball Catch—ball-catch.html

Advanced drill to help your pull:

4. One Arm—single-arm-trailing.html

Drill to help your finish:

5. Fist/Open Finish:—fist-open-finish.html

One last video, with one drill, High Swinger, that I especially like from Dave Scott:

6. High Swinger Drill to lengthen the stroke:


Over time, by using these drills, you should be able to correct and improve your swim stroke, and you know what that means a faster swim time on race day!

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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