You Know the Drill

Swim your way to a PR with the right techniques.

To achieve the best results with the least possible effort, working on good technique is more critical for the swim compared to cycling and running in triathlon.

What are drills?

Drills are the best way to improve your technique. It’s mindful and deliberate practice that enables you to focus on the right position and movement, and isolates the aspects of your stroke that need correction.  They can be done by any swimmer regardless of skill level.

“But they’re boring! Why must I do these?”

Doing drills may feel repetitive and mind-numbing, but it beats swimming hundreds of hard laps mindlessly just to log in some mileage. Drill work is a virtually painless, skill-centric, targeted way to fast-track your goal of becoming a better swimmer, in terms of both efficiency and speed.

How do I get the most from drills?

Remember that consistency is key, and significant change isn’t overnight. Keep sight of your goals: to keep doing these movements until it becomes instinctive, and to prevent the breakdown of good form as fatigue sets in. The drills are to be done with a slow, easy effort, with nothing else in mind but to do them as correctly as possible. Dedicate at least 500 meters of your workout focusing on form (post warm-up is ideal) and nail that PR in your next race.


Here are some of the most common problems triathletes encounter with their swim stroke, and how to fix it:

Problem #1: Shallow/restricted breathing, causing early fatigue 

SwimDrill 1

Drill: The Darth Vader (yes, breathe like him)

Purpose: to practice deeper, more natural breathing, and to make “breathing in the water” as natural as how you breathe on land

How to do it: Before starting a lap, while at an upright position, bob head up to do a quick inhale, then fully submerge for 3 to 5 slow counts while slowly exhaling, emptying all the air from your lungs. Do this 5 times, then swim a set of 100-200m at an easy effort while focusing on maintaining the same breathing rhythm throughout the set. Repeat a few more times until it starts to feel comfortable.


Problem #2: Arms crossing over the centerline


Drill: Black line in the middle

Purpose: to keep your hand entry/leading arm going straight and not crossing over

How to do it: In a lap pool, swim parallel to the black line, with your head and your spine directly above it. Do slow easy laps focusing on the leading arm going straight and not intersecting the black line below. As you fully extend your leading arm with hand reaching out, your middle finger should point straight forward, still aligned with your shoulder.


Problem #3: sinking hips/lower body 


Drill: The Spear-down

Purpose: to shift your weight forward and to get your body into a downhill position, reducing drag.

How to do it: After the pull, start your recovery phase with an elbow lift, and keep your fingers pointing down but just above the water. Lead with your elbows as you move your arm forward to the next hand entry point, just past your head. Imagine your hand as a spear, piercing the water with a downhill entry. By the time your leading arm is fully extended, your hand should be about 6 to 8 inches below the surface. Also be mindful of keeping your head down, nose pointing to the floor. Looking forward even at the slightest possible angle will bring your hips lower than your torso, and will cause some drag.


Problem #4: minimal propulsion from the kick


Drill: Streamline on your back (do this with fins)

Purpose: to practice correct leg movement and engage the right muscles to maximize propulsion

How to do it: Push off the wall on your back, with one hand on top of the other and your arms fully extended, squeezing your ears tight.  Back must be slightly arched and head facing directly upward. Your core should be engaged to keep your torso steady.  On the kick, power should come from your quads while the instep (the top of your feet) should be pushing water upward. Focus on doing a compact kick by bending your knees minimally, with toes pointed but ankles relaxed. Keep legs and feet just under the surface.

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