Swimming Drills

Distance Per Stroke (DPS)

Swimming all strokes getting maximum distance per stroke. With free and back, emphasize a long body line, hip and shoulder rotation, minimizing resistance. Steady the rhythm, and swim in the front quadrant of all strokes.

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Fist Swimming

Swimming with hands completely in a fist. No “karate-chop” hands allowed! Concentrate on body position, using your forearm in the catch and optimum elbow bend through the stroke. When you return to swimming with an open palm, your hands will feel as large as kickboards! Have fun and think Distance Per Stroke!


Sculling is performed by sweeping your hands through the water, holding your elbows still. Your hands are acting like propeller blades, and subtle changes in hand pitch and speed will change your body position and speed. There is no recovery motion. When you are treading water, you are sculling your hands through the water to hold yourself up and counteract gravity. To propel yourself down the pool, simply change your hand and forearm angle to be perpendicular to the pool bottom and parallel with the pool walls. Keep your elbows high at the surface of the water, and sweep your hands underneath (this is known as the “windshield wiper” drill). Note that your swimming strokes are a combination of sculling motions that allow you to hold the water as your large body core muscles act as the engine.

Dog Paddle

Optional to use pull buoy or kick during dog paddle drill. Just like when you were a kid, keep your arms in the water at all times and head out of water(chin just below water line), with eyes forward and head still, alternating each arm, stroke forward-fingers pointing to opposite wall then down, keeping elbow high. Focus on the catch, then mid-pull of your stroke, bringing your forearm vertical with elbow near the surface.  Now, push your hand (palm towards the wall behind you) all the way back to your thigh, then recover (underwater) back to starting position.


Kicking without a kickboard will allow you to perform your kick in the same body position of the stroke. Kicking with a kickboard will allow you to get to know your lane mates.

For freestyle, kick on your side with your bottom arm (the one closer to the bottom of the pool) extended straight out of your shoulder line before your head. Keep your palm facing down and your extended hand about 8 inches under water. The top arm (the one on the surface of the water) should be relaxed at your side with your hand on your hip and out of the water. Maintain a head position as though you were swimming freestyle, with your head in line with your spine. Press your arm pit toward the pool bottom to get your hip at the surface of the water. Extended arm should feel weightless.

For backstroke, kick on your side as described above with your head facing up in the position for backstroke. You may also kick in a streamlined position with both hands over your head.

Breaststrokers, kick only with a soft kickboard that will allow you to maintain a good body position for breaststroke. Without a board, keep your hands extended, at your side. Try to maintain the same “dolphining” undulation when you kick as you should have when swimming the full stroke. You may also do breaststroke kick on your back. Butterflyers, go for it either on your side, on your back, or in butterfly position. Kick from the hips and torso. This is a great “ab” workout.


While swimming 50’s repeats, calculate your “score” for each 50 by counting your strokes in both directions (one arm equals one stroke) and adding it to your time. For example: If you swim 50 freestyle with 20 strokes per 25 in a time of :40, you would have a score of 80 (20 + 20 + 40). Descend your score by taking less strokes and/or completing the 50 in less seconds with each successive 50.

Freestyle & Backstroke

Freestyle and backstroke are referred to the long-axis strokes, as you are rotating on the long-axis of your body (head-to-toe) while swimming. Hence, many of the same drills can be used for both strokes and/or combined into one drill. Backstrokers, IM’ers, and all “novelty stroke” specialists are encouraged to mix backstroke into freestyle sets. Backstroke and freestyle mix sets can make great low heart rate aerobic training sets.

Long-Axis Combo Drill

This drill allows you to feel the similar rotation of backstroke and freestyle. Alternate four strokes of backstroke with four strokes of freestyle. Drive rotation of your stroke with your hips. Keep light easy rhythm: don’t muscle the water.

4/6/8 Count Drill

This can be done for both Freestyle and Backstroke. Kick on your side for a count of 4, 6 or 8 kicks (or counts). Take one full arm stroke to rotate to your other side for another 4, 6, or 8 kicks, and continue through the swim. While on your side, focus on correct body position. When executing the switch, begin by lifting the elbow of the arm on the water surface (top arm) and recovering it over the line of your body. The extended arm (bottom arm) stays extended to maintain a streamlined body position, until the elbow of the recovery arm has passed over your head. Then execute a quick switch to your opposite side. Use core body muscles to rotate, while maintaining a hold of the water with your bottom arm.

Catch-Up Drill

When swimming Full Catch-up freestyle, pull with one arm at a time and touch your hands in a streamlined position out front between each alternating arm stroke. Keep your extended hands about 8” under the surface of the water for improved body position. Concentrate on swimming in the front quadrant keeping a long, streamlined body line.

You can progress to simply exchanging hands in the “passing zone” extended in front. We call this the “Ear Catch-Up” Drill, wherein you begin your pull as your opposite arm passes by your ear near the completion of the recovery.

Fingertip Drag Drill

This drill is swimming normal Freestyle while dragging your fingertips along the surface of the water on the recovery. Focus on a high elbow recovery, which ensures proper hand and elbow position at your hand entry. You should also check your body position during this drill, focusing on good side-to-side rotation.

An alternate version of this drill involves dragging the entire hand, wrist-deep, through the water. This helps build strength and speed of the arm recovery motion.

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Gallop Drill

This is the same as the 6-Count Drill above, but you take three strokes as you switch from side to side. Focus on long strokes and quick hips in these three strokes, completely rotating from one side to the other. Maintain great body position while kicking on your side!

Single Arm (R/L) Drill

Single arm freestyle swimming can be done in one of two ways.

Preferred: With the opposite (nonworking arm) at your side. Breathe to the side of the nonworking arm. The secret to success with this drill is to complete your breath before stroking. Concentrate on the catch, initiating body rotation with the core body muscles. Take this drill slowly: technique is more important than speed.

Old-School: With the opposite (nonworking arm) extended in front. Breathe to the side of the working arm. Focus on high elbow recovery, hand entry, and hand acceleration.

Rhythm Drill

Single Arm freestyle with opposite arm at your side (see description above), executing 2 right arms and then 2 left arms. This takes some practice, but may very well become your favorite freestyle drill once you master it. Focus on rhythm and timing from the hips. Remember to take your breath with an arm extended out front (on the opposite side of the extended arm). If you swim this drill easily and well, your technique is close to perfect.

Sighting Drill

Swim normal freestyle. On every 5th stroke, raise your head straight forward and “sight” on an object off in the distance. You can place a target object or sight something already in place, i.e.: a tree. After sighting the object, lower your head back into normal position. Practice maintaining a balanced stroke rhythm and rotation while clearly seeing the target object.

Blind Swimming

Swim normal freestyle with your eyes completely closed. On every 5th stroke, raise your head straight forward and “sight” on an object off in the distance. Make sure you are maintaining a straight path down the pool. You can do this drill swimming side-by-side with your lane mates to reinforce swimming in a straight path.

Single Arm Backstroke (R,L) Drill

Single arm backstroke is done with the opposite (nonworking) arm at your side. Allow opposite arm to be completely relaxed, do a half-recovery if it feels natural. Concentrate on full hip/shoulder rotation and great body position.

Rhythm Backstroke Drill

Single arm backstroke alternating 2 right arms and 2 left arms. Do a half recovery with the non-stroking arm. Focus on rhythm (early hips) and body position.

Hesitation Backstroke Drill

Swim normal backstroke, except as your arm begins the recovery, pause and hold the recovery arm at a 30-degree angle out of the water. You should already be rotated to your other side, and your opposite arm should be in the perfect “catch” position (hand 8-inches underwater, palm turned out and downward slightly, elbow high) if your timing is right. Make sure you are still holding your hips up near the surface of the water in this position. After holding for 3 seconds, complete the stroke and pause on the other side.

Catch-Up Backstroke Drill

As with the Freestyle version, pull with one arm at a time all the way through the stroke. The non-moving arm should be extended out front in a good streamline position. You should not actually touch hands when switching strokes from one side to the other, but allow your arm to complete its recovery through the hand entry before pulling with the opposite arm. Again, this drill is great for working on body position (hips up, full side-to-side rotation).

Gallop Backstroke Drill

This drill for backstroke is a little different than the Freestyle version; it focuses on arm speed. Kick on your side for a count of 6-8 seconds, holding the recovery hand not at your hip but about 6 inches up (30 degrees) out of the water. Lower the recovery hand back into the water by your hip and then explode with 3 quick, powerful strokes. Snap your hip rotation and maintain good body position. After 3 strokes, repeat.