Super useful Drills for Freestyle Swimming

Thought I’d post about the swim drills I’ve been taught at the UT class and Ironchicks training – I know I’ve talked about these but thought it might be useful to post the descriptions so if readers are interested they can try them out. These drills are really good and help with perfecting and fine tuning your freestyle stroke, assuming you can swim.

Both the UT indoor lap pool that is open to the public and the YMCA East pool where the Ichix train is 25 yards long. Oh how I miss Purdue’s Oly size pool of 50m where I learned to swim! I can’t believe I used to think naively that it was the standard size and no less than 40 laps was a good workout. Needless to say the # of those workouts I ever did I can count on my fingertips. Still, it was fun and my roomie, Subhangi & I used to swim a lot back in grad school.

Back to the drills. Since the pool length I swim now is 25 yards, the swim distance I mention will be in multiples of 25, indicating the # of laps.

1) Fingertips: Push off the wall kicking with arms stretched out straight, each arm right next to the ears, head pushed down (this helps to bring your hips/butt up if it tends to sag, which will weaken your kick). Take a breath in and begin your stroke – pushing the water down with your palm, going down in a straight line towards the bottom of the pool. This will give your stroke power and propel you forward. After your hand is about 45 degrees to your body, bring it underneath your ribs (your hand will cut an ‘S’ shape under the water), bring elbow up. Now here’s the drill. You DO NOT take your hand completely out of the water as you would in the regular freestyle, but let your fingertips slide upon the edge of the water. What does this do? In order for your fingertips to be touching the surface of the water and no deeper, your elbows will have to be  completely above shoulder-level. It’s almost like a brake dance move!  This drill feels easy but you’ll feel it in your biceps and shoulder blades. Distance: 200.

2) Side swimming: This drill is to help your kick and to get used to rotating the body, because you’re swimming sideways but have to bring your head out of the water to breathe. It was hard for me at the beginning. Now I find it almost relaxing. It was hard because my hips would sag in the water and I wasn’t able to move without the arms but the form has gotten a lot better with practice. In this drill you extend your one arm straight ahead, the other resting upon your thigh. Your body faces the wall, your face looks down at the bottom of the pool. Kick off against the wall and swim sideways kicking only, with one arm extended, the other resting on the side. Repeat on the other side on the way back. Distance: 100.

3) Catch-up: this drill is to improve the stroke again like the fingertips. Push off the wall kicking with arms stretched out straight, each arm right next to the ears, head pushed down, palms almost on top of each other. Begin the stroke, breathing in but do not move the extended arm until the arm with which you begin the stroke comes back and clasps the other hand. Repeat. Typically in freestyle, you do not wait until the other arm is back out extended ahead to begin the next stroke but this one helps to improve your stroke while propelling you forward while you kick. Distance: 200

4) Swimming with pull-buoys between your legs – do not kick! It’s ‘cheating’ per the Ironchicks swim coach Holly. I don’t quite fancy her coaching style (not much positive reinforcement or a personal touch, just a bunch of do’s and don’ts but her drills are great). So with the pull-buoys just propel forward using your stroke. The funny thing about it is you feel like you’re going to flip over, which is when you need to use your hands powerfully to stay in position. Helps to do the ‘S’ for sure! Distance: 200.

5) Regular Freestyle swimming: Form is important here to swim easily, for a reasonable distance without gasping for breath but powerfully enough to cover good distance. I consider getting the form right and breathing right akin to easing up on the run after the warm-up when it begins to feel easy and confident. Kick off the wall, head down, hips up, arms extended touching the ears, index fingers touching each other, toes pointing. Kick from the hips. Rotate your body when you bring your head up the breathe. Your head should pivot to the side and ear resting upon the water as it would upon a pillow, take a breath and push your head back down again. With the arms, you stretch them out straight every time you splice the water before bringing it under you. Without the extension you’re crawling more than free-style. And your palms should splice the water, i.e. come down from above and cut through and not hit the water with full surface area of the palm. That will draw down the power of the stroke. Trust me, I started from the latter and feel significant improvement in my power with the right hand movement. This is what Stuart, the UT swim coach taught me and it took me several weeks of trying to do exactly as he said to feel the difference.

Note Ironchicks or any tri-training does not teach you to swim well – just to swim well enough to do the triathlon – e.g. Rogue has a Swim 101 class which helps with stroke (for a princely sum of $150 for 5 classes while my UT class was $48 for 6 classes). Also, swimming in a tri has nothing to do with a beautiful stroke, no judge is watching you to see how your palms splice the water, or whether your hips are sagging. But swimming right will get you to swim faster, no doubt about it. These swim drills are usually practiced by seasoned, competitive swimmers just like running drills help with running form and avoid injury.

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