Learning correct swim drills for triathletes is essential to race fast and reduce effort level required. High mileage without good technique is a recipe for disaster. It means either you just won’t improve very much (as you will just be getting stronger at the wrong thing) OR you will get swimmer’s shoulder and rotator cuff tendonitis due to loading the tendons poorly.
Swimming is a highly technical sport and if you are only going to get a few coaching sessions- this is the discipline to do it in.
Even if you were a good swimmer in high school- it may have been some years since you have swum regularly and competitively, there will be improvements in your technique that can be made.
Why should I learn swim drills for triathletes?
Remember also that Olympic swimmers do swim drills almost every training session- and they already know how to swim well- so there is NO shame in doing drills.
In fact, doing swim drills is the smart thing to do- and will get you quicker gains in much less time!
Swim drills for triathletes will help you lay down good muscle memory, improve your technique and swim efficiency by breaking down each aspect of the stroke, so you do not waste energy.
This is the fastest way to improve your times and your efficiency. It will also help prevent injury.
Remember in the triathlon swim- you have to conserve enough energy for bike and run afterwards.
Ensuring that you do not waste your energy or raise your heart rate by thrashing about excessively is crucial.
To get really good at swimming, practicing swim drills for triathletes is really important
I remember that I used to hate drills when I did swim training as a kid. They seemed like such a waste of time. Of course, I did not understand why they were important. But inevitably on race day- I was fast, sleek and it seemed effortless.
I do them a LOT now and I find I can get away with less mileage if my technique is great.
So here are the best ones- aim to do at least 3 drills each time you go swim training.
Best swim drills for triathletes:
1) Kicking drills
Grab a kick board and do 3-5 x 100m kicking starting on your back with your hands overhead. This one is really cool- because it is a pull buoy and kickboard in one! Less gear to carry AND it is not that ghastly white color that we used to have as kids!
Watch the legendary Dave Scott teach you some awesome drills to improve your swimming
(There are 5 drills JUST in this video):
If this is tough, just do short sets like 25m reps but keep going.
If it is tough, it simply means you must practice it more. Train your weakness, not your strengths :)
Then progress to dolphin kick on your back. Two legs at once.
Then front flutter with two hands, and one hand.
The side flutter.
These are all amazing drills which may seem pointless (and hard) but they are essential to fast track your success.
Select one or two of these drills to do EVERY session.
Focus on improving body position, hips high, feet not dragging.
Also focus on breathing correctly. Fully exhale all the air, then when you pop your head up to breathe- stay nice and relaxed on the inhalation. No gasping for air. Keep the neck and face relaxed too.
It is amazing the number of triathletes who hold their breath when their face is in the water then have to quickly exhale and inhale when they turn their head. This is exhausting and it won’t be long before you can’t catch your breath and start gulping water, especially in a race situation. Here is how to improve your breathing in the swim.
This are quite difficult drills initially but will do wonders for your kicking ability, your body position and breath control.
Think about your kicks starting from the gluts, not like a lot of rookies do –kicking from just below the knee.
The depth of the kicks should not be too deep- Just 4-5 inches is enough. Also keep your feet and ankles relaxed, not stiff.
2) Fingertip drag
Most swimmers know this drill. It is very important to teach you good arm position on the recovery stroke.
It also helps teach you good body rotation.
Do 8 x 50m repeats (alternate with kicking drills)
Lead with your elbow coming out of the water and high towards the ceiling. Keep your forearm and hand totally relaxed and drag your fingertips along the water with a high elbow. Reach out in front of your shoulder for correct water entry. Do NOT enter across the midline.
The most powerful way to swim is to grab as much water as you can and pull your body over it. To do this, visualize pulling back with your hand AND forearm. If you use your forearm as well- you have a much bigger surface area of water that you can pull and you will swim much faster.
This swim drill for triathletes, teaches you to maximize use of our forearm and arm.
Have your fist closed tight like a punching grip. Swim one lap with closed fists then the next lap with open hand and try to maintain the same body position and arm movement.
If you have not done this before, you may be surprised how much power you do generate from the hands!
4) Catch up drill
As you start swimming, leave your front hand out in front until your other one comes through to the same position.
Then stroke with that one, leave the other one there. 2 x 200m.
This drill is great as teaching you the glide, body position, and good arm technique. Here is the Finis Snorkel he was referring to in the video.
5) Kicking on your side with one arm out in front
Kicking drills are really important swim drills for triathletes. These variations were demonstrated in the above video by Dave Scott.
Start kicking on your side with the lower arm out in front and the top arm resting by your side. Start with your face out of the water all the time.
As you get used to this, try putting your face in the water between breaths – look at the bottom and blow out continuously into the water.
Do 10-20 kicks, then a stroke and change to your other side. Do 3-5 x 100m repeats.
Bottom arm out in front, top arm by your side, do 10-20 kicks, do one stroke and switch back to the original side.
What do amazing swimmers do?
Michael Phelps (18 Olympic gold medals) does 45 miles of swimming a week!
Look straight down at the bottom of the pool- not forward to reduce strain in neck and to reduce drag.
As you improve as a swimmer, improved efficiency means the amount of strokes it will take you to get the end of a length should get less. Here are some great tips from Masters Swimming Hub discussing good arm action, kicking and breathing.
Most beginners take over 30-40 strokes to get to the end of a 25m pool. (Each hand entry is a stroke).
Over time, try to get your stroke count to below 20. All the above drills are important in helping you to reach this efficiency.
Phelps can swim a 25m pool in 7 strokes!!
Phelps believes if you are a good kicker- you are likely to be a good swimmer.
Many triathletes are not good kickers, and many ignore it as they are “preserving their legs” for the cycle and the run.
This is false economy because if you can swim better, faster with a lower heart rate, you will not be so exhausted in T1.
Do not ignore the kicking drills- instead focus on getting better at them. Your swimming will dramatically improve.
Once all the components are there, your swimming will improve dramatically.
Remember if you just keep swimming and reinforcing the wrong technique, you are unlikely to see much progress.
Many people don’t do swimming drills because they are hard!
They are only hard if you have a particular weakness there ☺
If kicking is your weakness- practice it every time. It will only take a few weeks to see a rapid improvement.
If you have short, weak stroke, focus on lengthening the stroke and learning the glide.
Even Olympic swimmers work on swim drills daily to improve and maintain their stroke technique.
Include swim drills in every swimming session you do!
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