Swim Drills

Swimming drills are exercises done to help your swim technique. The drills we focus on are modified versions of the freestyle stroke.  The drills we will use will help you focus on a specific part of freestyle technique such as breathing, kicking, balance or arm positioning.
Finger Drag + Thumb Drill

With each arm recovery, drag your fingertips through the water close to your body. This helps you really rotate your torso to get your elbow high enough to keep your fingertips in the water. Then as you finish your stroke, brush your thumb low on your thigh - focusing on the extension of the tricep.

Catch Up Drill

Push off the wall with both arms extended in front of you touching each other. Start with the right arm and take a full stroke, coming to rest in the forward position, before the left arm starts its pull. Repeat this all the way to the other side of the pool. Keep a strong kick going and focus on the pull portion of the stroke.

Penguin Drill

This drill aims to correct cross over. Swim the length of the pool trying to put your hands wider than the shoulder on entry.

Kick (Regular)

Arms on a kickboard as your feet to propel you, arms extended, face down. Breathe as you would during a freestyle stroke by turning your head to catch some air. Focus on “pushing” your chest down while keeping your legs & hips up toward the surface as you practice balance & kicking technique.

Streamline Kick

Push off the wall with hands by your side, pressing head and chest into water, helping the legs come up, arms remain extended. Kick steady for the length of the pool, rotating your body to the side to get a breath when needed.

Single Arm Drill

Push off the wall with both arms extended in front of you with your hands touching, eyes on the bottom of the pool. Now, swim down the pool, using only your right arm - once you get to the other end, try the same thing on the other side. Keep a strong kick going and focus on the pull portion of the stroke.

Fist Drill

Swim freestyle with your hands closed in a fist, or with a tennis ball in your hands. This encourages a better 'feel' for the water. You can also do this with a tennis ball or whiffle ball in your hands and feel the connection with your forearm. Because you’re decreasing the surface area of your hands, the rest of your arms will have to step up and pull more water.
When you return to regular freestyle, your hands will feel really big! It’s important to keep the same mechanics as the drill to get the most benefit. Fancy fingers is a variation where you add 1 finger at a time to build feel of the water. This should be your go-to drill and can be done at every session!

Side Kick

kick on your right side, with left shoulder pointed to the sky. Head is relaxed, underwater, look at the side of the pool. Advanced: look at the bottom, but be sure to maintain vertical shoulders when on your side with shoulders perpendicular to bottom of the pool. Right arm extended, left hand rests on left thigh. Toes pointed, ankles relaxed. Keep width of kick within “tube” created by your body relatively narrow. Take a small sculling motion with right hand and roll head easily to breathe. Exhale slowly and smoothly.

Vertical Kick

Push away from the wall and keep yourself in a vertical position. Hands at shoulders. Use a flutter kick to keep your head above the surface. Kick for short intervals. Beginners can keep hands under water, moving in a sculling motion.

Swim Session Intensity

Session CategorySession Goal
Aerobic Endurance continuing at low intensity for an extended time 
Speed the ability to make efficient movements with the arms (not overall swim speed) 
Strength the ability to overcome the resistance of the water 
Muscular Endurance ability to continue at race pace/moderate intensity for an extended time  
Power (VO2Max) ability to sprint at high power for a short time 
Tactics drills to improve your swimming technique 
Technique drills to improve your swimming technique 
Active Recovery easy, low intensity sets to help recover the body from harder sessions  
Testing CSS test or 1K TT performed once every 6-8 weeks  

Aerobic Endurance, Strength, and Speed are the foundation for your swim fitness.  These must be well established before we work on power or muscular endurance. That’s why we spend considerable time in our offseason and base period working on the basics along with technique.  You’ll see power and muscular endurance sessions, along with tactical sessions pop up as you get closer to race day and both testing and active recovery will be sprinkled throughout.  

Swim session intensity can be measured qualitatively and quantitatively and coaches use a variety of descriptors to indicate the desired intensity.  Sometimes intensity may be indicated in the workout title (along with workout goal), such as Easy (Aerobic endurance) Race Pace (muscular endurance) or Technique.  Or you may see a zone, RPE or the word “CSS” in your workout description.  This chart can help you better understand the intensity of your swim workouts.

Swim Session Goals

To get the most out of your training, it is critical to understand (and follow) the purpose of each session. Each of your workouts will fall into a category.  The categories are:
ZonesDescriptionRPERest IntervalPace
1– Easy  Easy 1-2 as needed Technique or recovery 
2– Light Aerobic Steady 3-4 10-30 sec CSS + 10 sec - 140.6 pace  
3– Moderate Aerobic Mod Hard 5-6 10-30 sec CSS + 5 sec. - 70.3 pace 
4– Threshold Hard 7-8 30-60 sec CSS or Threshold - sprint tri pace 
5– Above Threshold Very Hard 9-10 30-60 sec Fast as possible 

For many triathletes, swimming can be the most challenging discipline to get faster. These same athletes have a tendency to swim nearly the same pace for all training. Despite hours in the pool, they only see small gains in speed. CSS (critical swim speed) training is a simple way to help an endurance athlete understand pacing, while also improving swim fitness and endurance.  This also serves as a method to test our swim fitness throughout the season. The CSS Swim Calculator can be found here.