Swimming Drills

Front Scull:

Front scull drill

Body position is head up, with both arms extended. Bend your wrists and elbows slightly, so that your elbows are higher than your wrists, and wrists higher than your hands. Gently scull your hands to the left and right, changing the pitch of your hands. Use a pull buoy, and a small flutter kick to keep your feet at the surface of the water.


Mid Scull:

Mid Scull drill

Body position is head up, with arms directly under your shoulders and fingertips pointing to the bottom of the pool. Lightly scull the hands left to right to try to produce forward motion, changing just the pitch of your hands. Use a pull buoy, and a small flutter kick to keep your feet at the surface of the water.


Rear Scull:

Body position is head up, with a light kick. Starting in the same position as mid scull, push both hands towards your hips by extending your triceps. Finish with your thumbs touching mid-thigh. Return hands to the starting position and repeat. A great drill for practicing ‘finishing off’ your stroke - and for increasing the strength of your triceps muscles!

Doggy Paddle:

Swim head up, reaching out in front of you under the water, one arm at a time, then pulling back – just like when you were a child doing doggy paddle! The key here is to really try to keep your elbow high (close to the surface of the water) as you go to catch – so that you feel like you are ‘reaching over a barrel’ to pick something up. Kicking should be light and relaxed. Use fins if desired.



Fist Drill

Swim normally, but instead of having an open palm, make a fist with both hands and keep it like that through the whole stroke. It will feel VERY strange – at first it will feel like you have nothing to pull against! That is OK –the purpose of this drill is to help you realise that you can use your whole forearm as a paddle – but again, you will have to keep your elbow high as you catch (under the water) and feel as though you are ‘reaching over a barrel.’



A great drill for developing body balance and rotation. Great swimmers are constantly balanced on one side or the other, or moving between the two. They NEVER swim flat in the water. Think of your arms as levers to help you rotate from one side balance to the other side, and you won’t go far wrong. The 6-3-6 drill is great at developing this.

6-3-6 Drill Demonstration

 Push off the wall as normal, then pull through so that one arm is relaxed against your side. Leave the other one out in front of you as you take six kicks (three with each leg) balanced on your side, so your tummy button is pointing at the wall, not the floor of the pool. Your face should be looking down at the bottom of the pool, but your tummy pointing at the wall.

After six kicks, perform three strokes (and breathe while you are doing them!) so that you end up balanced on your other side, tummy button pointing at the other wall, face looking at the floor of the pool.

The key to this drill is to feel as though you are trying to balance on your armpit – you’ll need to consciously ‘press down’ that armpit into the water.

Kicking should be light and relaxed. Fins will really help you keep momentum.


Just like 6-3-6, but the sequence is 6 kicks, 5 strokes, 6 kicks. It’s a little easier to perform if you are a weaker swimmer, because you can keep up a bit more momentum with the extra stokes.


Just like 6-3-6, but the sequence is 6 kicks, 1 stroke, 6 kicks. It’s a little harder  to perform if you are a weaker kicker, because you have a lot less momentum. If you’re struggling here, you can perform the drill with fins, or head back to the 6-3-6 drill for another couple of weeks.


The Waltz Drill Progression

So called because the coach that introduced Rob to it performs a very amusing dance to Waltz music as a way of explaining the ‘triplet’ rhythm involved in swimming. Check out the video!

The Waltz Drill

The key to this drill is that it will help you understand that swimming is not about your arms, or how you pull – it is all about getting your body to rotate, driven by your legs, and using your arms as an extension of your body to pull against the water. Most swimmers who grew up swimming as kids do this instinctively.

Most triathletes who are ‘learning to swim’  as adults don’t do this. They think that swimming is all about moving your arms through the water. Hopefully learning this sequence of drills will change the way you think about swimming forever!

Waltz drill:  0-arms:

Kick your way down the pool with both hands by your sides. However, the key to this drill is that you need to be rotating your body so that each shoulder breaks the surface every third kick. There will be a lot of rotation through your core.

Fins will make this drill easier in the early stages.


Waltz drill: 1-arm:

0-arm to 1 arm to Full Stroke Progession

Swim with one arm by your side, but again, the key is that the shoulder of the non moving arm should break the surface every third stroke. This is an excellent drill to practice breathing bilaterally – if you have the bad habit of levering down on your front arm as you go to breathe, this drill will really show it up!


The best way to swim the Waltz drill progression is to swim 25m of 0-arms, 25m left arm, 25m right arm, and 25m of full stroke. Then repeat!


Side Zipper:

Trace your thumb of your recovering arm from your hip up to your armpit, before placing it into the water normally. Excellent for getting you to swim on your side and learning to balance on that side.


Catch up:

An excellent drill for getting you to focus on the front end of your stroke. Essentially, swim normally, except you touch your hands together at the front of the stroke, after every stroke. It allows you a little pause, to focus on what you’re about to do – which is (hopefully!) to ‘reach over the barrel’ and keep your elbow high under the water as you catch and then pull the water.


Band swimming:

Catch Up Drill

Swimming with a band - it is possible!

Swimming with a think elastic band around you ankles, stopping you from kicking very much – if at all! The benefit of this drill is that it makes balancing VERY difficult – if not nearly impossible! I suggest attempting this drill for the first time in the shallow end, as you’re probably not going to get more than ten meters down the pool. In fact, if you can get access to the really shallow kids pool when there’s no one else in there, then even better. A few sessions in there will really help your confidence and help you improve quickly to the point where you should be able to complete 25m within a couple of weeks.

Often, strong swimmers will train with a band, a pull buoy and paddles as a way of getting a ‘strength’ workout. It takes away from your ability to kick, the pull bouy helps you float a bit, and the paddles give the arms something more to pull against – increasing the resistance. It’s like a weights workout in the water, similar to the way a cyclist will train for intervals pushing a big gear at a low cadence – to increase the amount of force that the muscle has to produce.