By Nenad Rodic
posted 04/05

View complete swimming drills video gallery

Doing drills is often an easy way to concentrate on certain aspects of swimming strokes. On this page a few of the most common drills used in swimming will be reviewed. It is likely that you will encounter some or all of these drills in most masters swimming programs, although other coaches might call them by different names. I've divided drills into four categories: Back to top

If you do not have high speed internet, it will take up to 5 minutes to start any of the video clips. If you are not willing to wait that long, I hope that the text below is descriptive enough for you to visualize what a particular drill looks like.


No Board Kick (NBK) on one side is perhaps the most beneficial drill for the novice swimmer. It teaches proper body position on both the horizontal and vertical planes. The NBK drill is performed with one arm straight forward, aligned with the shoulder, and the other arm resting on the hip. The swimmer kicks on the side of the arm that points forward and tries to be as close to 90 degrees as possible (i.e, for kicking on right side, extend right arm forward, and rest left arm on left hip). The head should be in the water, looking straight to the bottom with turns for breaths every 10-12 kicks. The head can also be kept out of the water at all times, in which case breathing is not practiced but your body position is basically the same. It is important not to drop the elbow of the arm that is forward. The elbow always points to the sidewall; never to the bottom. Switch sides at least every 25 yd.

8-Beat Kick is a drill and not a timing pattern. It is a variation of no board kick and is performed in the same manner as (NBK), except instead of switching sides every 25 yards, you will switch sides every eight-12 kicks. The switch is accomplished by taking an arm pull with the forward arm, recovering the arm that was resting on the hip, and rolling the body to the opposite side.

Shark Fin Drill introduces motion to the arm. Beginning in the NBK position (on one side, with one arm forward and one arm on hip), the arm that is on the hip moves to the highest elbow position and then back down to the hip. Simply slide your hand along the side of your body until your thumb reaches your armpit. Keep your face in the water, only turning your head to breathe when your arm is resting on your hip. This drill is more difficult since you will sink slightly while your arm is out of the water.

Cork Screw is a complex drill where body rotation is exaggerated by rolling (on one side always) from freestyle to backstroke position. Begin with one freestyle arm-stroke followed immediately by a backstroke arm-stroke with the other arm (i.e., right arm freestyle, left arm backstroke, etc.).


One-Arm Stroke is a basic drill that almost any swimmer can do. The purpose of this drill is to allow the swimmer to concentrate on only one arm at a time. During the drill one arm is kept straight forward and in line with the shoulder, while strokes are performed with the other arm only. It is important to come to a horizontal position (chest parallel to the bottom of the pool) upon completion of each stroke. You should try to do six kicks for each stroke since in this drill one stroke replaces one cycle (two strokes in long axis strokes). Work on positioning the forearm during the catch, pulling with as much surface as possible. Finish with a good push at the end of the stroke, an effortless exit and a relaxed recovery with a high elbow.

Finger Drag, armpit touch, or thumb-slide are all variations of a very good drill for swimmers who have trouble relaxing during their recovery phase. Improper recovery (when the hand leads instead of the elbow) is the main cause of muscle fatigue and injury in swimming. This drill, meant to improve the elbow lead, is performed while swimming freestyle in regular timing. Concentrate on the recovery phase only. Drag your middle finger on the surface of the water from the point of exit to the point of entry. Make sure that your hand is never more than four inches away from your body. To insure this, you can touch your armpit every time your hand goes by it, or you can slide your thumb along your body from the release and exit towards your face. If you are not able to do this you either have a major problem with flexibility (refer to our stretching section) or body position (refer to stroke analysis and recommended drills). The swimmer performing this drill combines it with 3/4 catch-up drill.

Catch-Up is performed like the one-arm drill except that you switch arms with every single stroke and use a six beat kicking pattern. This means that one arm will stay forward until the completion of the stroke by the other arm. This drill works very well to improve the timing of the arms. However it can teach swimmers to pause too long in the stretch and glide phase and thus cause deceleration, so beware.

Fist swimming is my favorite drill. It is performed with fists instead of open hands. It forces you to use other propulsive surfaces such as the forearms. You should try to get the stroke count (number of strokes per lap), to be within one or two of your normal swimming stroke count.

Distance Per Stroke or the three-quarter catch up drill is a nice one as well. In this drill you try to lower the number of strokes per lap to a minimum, in other words increase your distance per stroke. While doing this you should maintain your normal timing (two, four or six beat kick pattern). Do not let yourself sink, decelerate, or roll too much. The lowest stroke count requires smooth strong swimming and an optimal speed. Your stroke should look great when you're performing this drill. If it looks funny you are doing it wrong. Back to top


The best way to improve your kick is to simply never use fins when solely kicking.

In terms of drills I would recommend doing vertical kick. Go to the deep end of the pool and assume a vertical position in the water. Start kicking and try to lift your arms out of the water. At first it might be difficult to even just get your hands out and keep them there. But, as your kick gets stronger and better you'll be able to lift your arms completely out of the water and keep them out for 20-30 seconds. Now, this is a very hard drill. Do it for 20-30 seconds at a time with one minute rest after each time.   When you view the clip pay attention to the feet position. They are relaxed and point inward to increase the propulsion surface.

Kicking with a board is a standard drill, which we've all done before. Make sure you are relaxed on the board and do not push it down. Hold the front edge of the board with both hands and keep your arms straight. If you're new to swimming you should practice breathing by fully exhaling underwater, otherwise keep your head out of the water and look straight forward. Relax your lower legs and try to feel the water moving against your feet.

Underwater kicking helps you develop both the streamlined position as well as your kick. Keep your arms straight, with one palm on the other, and your head between and on top of your upper arms. Kick underwater for as long as you can, come up to the surface, and continue kicking on your side. Do this off of each wall. Two versions of this drill are shown in the clip: flutter kick and the dolphin kick. Both are useful in their own ways, but for triathletes I recommend the freestyle version. Back to top


Catch up and 3/4 catch up are two timing drills that we've already covered.

Freestyle arms with a dolphin kick is a highly advanced and highly effective drill to adopt a long catch up stroke. Simply try to swim freestyle with your arms while kicking dolphin two times a stroke. The first kick comes during the entry and glide phase. The second kick takes place during the in-sweep/up-sweep phase. This is very difficult to do at first. When you do end up doing it though, you'll realize that the only way to do it right is with the catch up stroke. Back to top


By Nenad Rodic, founder of triathlonplace.com