Want to be faster in the pool? It all about form and consistency (practice makes perfect, after all). While we may never be as quick as gold medal sprinters Caeleb Dressel or Simone Manuel, there are some simple steps to becoming a speedier swimmer. Namely? Swimming drills that work to target very specific elements of your stroke and form,which can ultimately help increase your pace.
“Drills are great for technique, and can also be used as a tool to get certain parts of the stroke and body stronger,” says eight-time Olympian Jason Lezak, who’s currently the General Manager of International Swim Leagues’s Cali Condors based in San Francisco, CA. “They’re great for beginners trying to improve their stroke, as well as for advanced swimmers trying to make little adjustments or maintain their form.”
We had Lezak and Laurel Wassner, a pro triathlete, Ironman champion and former NCAA Division 1 swimmer, offer up their favorite freestyle swimming drills that dial in both form and speed. Lezak suggests adding these to your swimming workouts every time you hit the pool.
(Want to work on non-freestyle form? Check out these tips on perfecting your backstroke or breaststroke.).
9 Swimming Drills to Improve Your Speed And Form
Here are nine basic swimming drills that can help you improve your freestyle swimming. As you get started, remember to be patient: “Some swimmers will be able to make changes very quickly, while others may take a little longer,” Lezak says. “Either way, improving technique with swim drills can make you more efficient in the water, leading to faster swimming.”
1. Rotation Kick Drill
Focus: Hip stability and balance in the water. “This is a kicking drill that targets rotation in the hips while keeping the core tight to maintain a straight line,” Lezak says.
How to do it: With both hands at your sides, start swimming using the flutter kick, while slowly rotating from side to side. “It is very important to keep a steady kick from the hips throughout especially while breathing,” Lezak says. “While taking a breath you need to keep the head in line with your body. Try to keep one goggle in the water [when you turn your head to breathe].”
2. One-Arm Rotation Kicking Drill
Focus: Improving technique and stroke accuracy by isolating one arm.
How to do it: Keep one hand extended forward, on the surface of the water, and one hand at your side. Stay on your stomach while taking six flutter kicks, and then rotate to your side to take a breath.
Maintain a steady, strong kick while you breathe. “You want to make sure you’re taking advantage of your full length by keeping your hand out in front, shoulder-width apart as you rotate,” Lezak says.
3. One-Arm Swim Drill
Focus: Boosting the power of your stroke by utilizing your whole body.
How to do it: Keep one arm by your side while taking freestyle strokes with the other arm, breathing to the side opposite of the extended arm. (Alternate arms after each lap.)
“I like to think about connecting your hand, head, and hip to get the body involved,” Lezak says. “If you can learn to do all together you will generate much more power.”
4. Six-Kick Switch Drill
Focus: Keeping your body aligned, which in turn will make you more aerodynamic and boost your speed.
How to do it: “Do six kicks on your side with one arm reaching forward and one arm at your side, before taking a stroke to your next side,” Lezak explains. “This drill is very similar to regular freestyle, but when you take a pull from this position, you’ll be fully extended in a nice tight line.”
5. Fingertip Drag Drill
Focus: Body position and elbow position.
How to do it: As you swim freestyle, drag your fingertips across the water during the recovery phase of your stroke (while you’re bringing your arm up in front of you).
“The exaggerated motion of the fingertip drag keeps your elbow high and engages the lats, making correct placement deliberate,” Wassner says.
6. Fist Drill
Focus: Improving the “catch” phase of your stroke (the beginning of your pull when your hand enters the water).
How to do it: Swim regular freestyle stroke with a tight closed fist. “To catch water properly, you need to make sure your elbow stays up,” Lezak says. “You should feel the pulling pressure on your forearm.”
7. Both Sides Breathing Drill
Focus: Getting comfortable with alternate breathing so you can balance out your stroke.
How to do it: Do four freestyle strokes, then breathe to the right on the fifth stroke; four more strokes, and then breathe to the left on the fifth stroke. Continue this pattern for the length of the pool.
If you need to breathe more frequently, you can also do two strokes, and then breathe on the third.
8. Head Up Swimming Drill
Focus: Increasing the power of your kicks and maintaining a higher tempo to your stroke.
How to do it: Swim freestyle with your head above the water, making sure to keep your hips stable by minimizing the movement of your lower body. Your strokes should be quick and strong. Try doing five strokes with your head up, then swim regular freestyle for five strokes, and repeat the drill.
By keeping your head above water as you swim faster, you’ll be forced to kick harder and keep your core engaged as you keep your body aligned. “For more of a challenge, try this drill while swimming with fins,” suggests Wassner.
9. Freestyle With Dolphin Kicks Drill
Focus: Improving coordination between your lower and upper body.
How to do it: Swim freestyle, but switch out your usual flutter kick for a dolphin kick (used in butterfly). Keep your legs together and your toes pointed. Take one dolphin kick for each stroke, making sure to emphasize the forward drive of your catch.
Combining a powerful dolphin kick with freestyle strokes helps to improve body coordination, Wassner explains. It also engages your core and helps keeps your stroke rate strong, even when you tire.