Home Swim How to Use Swimming Drills to Improve Your Swim

How to Use Swimming Drills to Improve Your Swim

by Coach Chuck Meklensek

Drills, drills, and then more drills! One arm drills, kicking drills, body position drills.  There must be a hundred drills out there for improving your swimming. Most serve their purpose.  Mastering each of them can be difficult, though that is usually not the difficult part.  The true challenge is applying what you have gained from the drills to your full swimming stroke.

Out of those hundreds of drills, I like to implement just a few different ones when designing workouts.  These drills tend to focus on body position, the finish of the stroke, the recovery, then entry and timing.  All the drills can be used without any training equipment or with varying training aids such as fins and paddles.

Although this article won’t go into the specifics of each drill (this will come in future articles), it does, however, go into how you can implement the drills into your current training plan and workouts.

Drills are all about Efficiency

To begin, let me state something that I am sure everyone already knows. ― Drills are there to help improve your technique.  I would like to change that statement to the following: “Drills are used to increase efficiency”.  

You may think this means the same thing, where it in fact, it does not.  Having good technique does not necessarily make you an efficient swimmer. ― Of course good technique will help you swim easier and you will look pretty good in the water to your friends and training partners.  The difference is, that if you are efficient, you will have a speed component added to the mix.

Perform Drills at Slow Speeds

I am an advocate of performing drills a at slow speeds.  Though if you cannot also perform them at a quicker pace, you are only teaching yourself to swim slow.  To truly learn a specific skill, whether it be finishing your stroke, or recovering in a relaxed manner, or getting on your side for better hydrodynamics, you will need to have the ability to perform the drill at varying speeds.

There is no doubt that you will need to perform drills slow at first to get a good grasp of exactly what the focus points are and to get a good feel for what you are trying to accomplish.  Once you have done this, try doing the drill faster.  Give yourself four or five effort levels and go through all of them.  Walk before you run…though learn to run!

Just about every pool you go to, you can find someone in the pool that is doing some drills real slow….looking good, not making a splash….then when they start to swim, you see the same slow pace..  The problem with that is they only have one speed because they have not taught themselves how to do the movements at varying speeds, so the skill they learned is “performing movements slow”….as opposed to acquiring a new skill to create greater efficiency.

The Skill Acquisition Model

The Skill Acquisition Model of periodizing your swimming training plan incorporates drills and full-stroke swimming to improve your efficiency.  When figuring out what points in your stroke need to be improved upon, you need to map out a specific training plan to account for your technical needs.

For your training plan, focus on one aspect of your stroke per week.  Maybe even for two to three weeks.  It takes quite a bit of repetition to make a change ― repetition at varying speeds!  If the new movement is not properly acquired, then you will, in a year from now, find yourself trying to make the change again.  A great scenario would be to complete an entire year of training and have acquired 10-12 new and efficient movements.  Plan it out!

In the weekly plan, you should always have your first workout of the week be the “setup” workout.  This is where you spend a lot of time on learning the technique of the drill.  From there, you can implement that drill into your warm-up for the following workouts, or even as part of your main sets.

No Matter what drill you are performing, always follow it with full-stroke swimming.  It is important to apply your gained knowledge of the drill to your full stroke.  You can be as creative as you like;  a simple example of a set to gain a new skill could be:

3 x   [   4 x 50 Drill  10-15 seconds rest
         [   1 x 100 Swim  15-20 seconds rest

The speed component of a set like this could be implemented into each set of 50’s.  By increasing the speed of each 50, then also increasing the speed of each 100, you will be able to better acquire the skill you are working on.  Another variation would be to increase speed after every few strokes.  Just remember, that when going through the varying speeds, you must maintain your stroke integrity.  Do nott be afraid to push it a bit….just stay in control.

How to Measure Swim Efficiency

There are quite a few good tests out there to measure your efficiency; counting strokes is only a part of this.  One of the simplest tests to use is what I call the 200 Overall Test.  It is straightforward and can provide you with some great feedback as to where you are in regards to your efficiency.

Swim 200 meters (or yards) at a solid pace.  You should be able to maintain your speed throughout the full 200.  You will need to record three different pieces of information:

Stroke Length:  Record your stroke count for the entire 200. ― Get an exact count. 

Speed:  Record your Time.  Be exact and convert it to seconds. 

Effort:  Record your heart rate at the end of the 200.  (check out the Best Heart Rate Monitors)

Now add the three results together.  This total will be the benchmark for you efficiency.  Your goal will be to get the total down.  ― Here is an example:

160Strokes
180Seconds  (converted from 3 minutes)
155Beats per minute
495Total

Each of these components provides you with information regarding the state of your swimming.  Ideally, it would be great if you could get all three components lower every time.  But the reality is that getting one of them down improves your total…as long as the others do not go up.

If I could summarize this article into a few pertinent points, they would be:

  • Swimming efficiency is a factor of distance per stroke, speed and effort.
  • Know what the drill you are performing is doing for your stroke
  • Teach yourself to perform drills and full-stroke swimming at varying speeds

Measure your improvement regularly.

Good luck….and become efficient.

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