Should You Be Doing More Of That Drill You Hate?

You've probably got a favourite swimming drill, it feels natural and smooth to perform and you identify with the reason for doing it.

But equally we all have drills that we dislike that feel awkward and difficult, drills that some other swimmers can perform with ease but never click for us. Whenever you have this experience don't see it as a negative thing, look on it as a positive. All that is happening is that the drill is highlighting a weak area of your stroke technique and something you need to work on.

Here is a list of our primary drills and why you might struggle with each:

Sink Down Exercise
If you struggle to sink while exhaling then you're definitely someone who likes to hold their breath underwater. Learning to let go of the air in a smooth relaxed way is key to ridding your system of CO2 as you swim and helps bring your legs up higher behind you. Work on relaxing and letting go of the air to help you sink, it may surprise you just how much air is in there!

Kick On Side / 6-1-6 / 6-3-6
The most common reason for disliking this drill is if you have poor posture, with your lead arm crossing the centre line in front of your head as you swim. Think about drawing your shoulder blades together and back during the drill to bring that lead arm straight and so become much more comfortable on your side. This improved posture also helps develop better rotation in the stroke.

Swimmers who drop their lead arm when breathing (Bambinos) may also find this drill difficult. As you rotate your head to the side to breathe during the drill, focus on keeping the lead arm held in front of you to give you support. Don't let it collapse downwards.

Scull #1
Sculling requires "feel for the water", meaning your ability to connect with the water at the front of the stroke. To improve your sculling make sure your elbow is higher than your wrist, and your wrist is higher than your fingertips as you perform the drill (the hands may feel lower in the water than you expect to achieve that). Move your hands in and out, angled so that you feel the water's pressure on your palm at all times - it's a bit like mixing hot and cold water in the bath! See sculling in action here.

Doggy Paddle
If you have poor rotation in the stroke you will find Doggy Paddle difficult, or just as commonly you could be pressing down on the water in front of your head with a straight arm. As you perform the drill think about "reaching and rolling", rotating your hips on every stroke and pulling through underwater to around your belly button. Also work on bending your elbow in front of your head so that you can press the water backwards (with your hand facing the wall behind you) instead of downwards. Keep that lead hand constantly in motion either extending, catching the water or pressing backwards. As in your full freestyle the movements should be smooth and fluid - never pausing!

This is quite a tricky drill that is all about developing your rhythm and timing. If you have any dead-spots or pauses in the stroke this drill will feel very difficult, as it will if you press the water downwards with a straight arm during the catch. Try working on improving your Doggy Paddle and then return to Unco to feel the improvement. More information on the Unco drill is here.

Another advanced level drill that highlights any weaknesses in your rhythm and timing. If you struggle with waterpolo remember it's a high-effort exercise (nearly sprinting!) and you need to keep a really strong rhythm going. Less advanced swimmer can use a larger pull-buoy during the drill focusing on maintaining a strong tempo, getting into the stroke quickly at the front.

The irony here is that it is the drills we find hard that we need to persist with and work on improving. The drills you find easy and enjoy are useful for stroke maintenance but not so important to move you forwards.

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

Is there somewhere on the site that explains how to do all of these drills?

Anonymous said...

How about Underwater Hockey? This is the best training to make you a faster swimmer!

Adam Young said...

Hi Anonymous1,

There's links to scull#1 and unco in the post but the other drills are all in our DVDs.

Hi Anonymous2,

LOL, we'll have to trust you on that one!


Rudolf said...

Answering something towards Adam from your last post / my comment there:

Nope, i follow SM already since years, and i think the thing that stuck (and still does) most about all your advice has been "do bilateral, do bilateral".
In fact, out of my now 7000m daily morning workout i only have a fast 400m that i do 1 side breathing only (but even there i change the side each lane), all the rest is either 3 or 5 or, on a good day 5-7-9, routine.
That can not be my problem.

Video tacking is not permitted at the Dalhousie University pool here in Halifax NS, but during the summer months I'll be at another pool where that is possible and i do really want to start making underwater video studies.

I do suspect that it is about the catch, working on my left hand now not to let it sink, also start to totally stretch my arm out, spread the fingers on my left hand better for the glide and catch phase.

The "keep your elbows up" thing i kind of believe i have it sorted out, as i do a lot of drills with snorkel and fins or pull buoys to pay special focus on just that - but when it comes to take that over to fee style without any toys at all i still suck...

David Carrington said...

Hi Paul - thanks for creating your website, book etc. It must feel great to help so many people across the globe!
I've enjoyed reading the Swimsmooth book and think my swimming is starting to improve. However, here in the UK, fins are not allowed in public sessions. I try the side swimming drill, kicking as best I can with my bare feet, but find it tough. I kick like mad to try and build some momentum but soon tire and still can't get a breath. I resort to swimming about 15m then stopping to regain my breath. The warm up drill leaves me pretty tired and less able to work on correcting my many flaws! Any suggestions?

Hans Brink Netherlands said...

Dear swim smooth thanks for your advise but as an beginning intermediate swimmer I do'nt understand what means 6-1-6/6-3-6 at the kick on side drill.
Hans Brink from the Netherlands

Adam Young said...

Hi David,

Paul's tied up so it's down to me to reply to you! Yes, there's are lots of pools in the UK that don't allow fins but equally a lot that do, especially at certain sessions at certain times. It's well worth asking your pool management to put aside a lane a few evenings a week for proper swimmers.

Fins are so useful to help you develop your swimming that we recommend a short drive once a week to a pool further away if necessary - they really are that beneficial!

If you are absolutely stuck then you're going to have to shorten the drill distances dramatically and on drills where you swap sides (e.g. 6-1-6 and 6-3-6) then reduce the number of kicks before swapping, so effectively 6-1-6 might become 3-1-3. Not ideal at all but I hope that helps.

Hi Hans,

These are drills from our DVDs, training plans and book. Well worth checking out if you want to "Swim Smooth"! :)



Lyndsey said...

Are you planning any clinics in the United States? (I live in Wisconsin.)

Adam Young said...

Hi Lyndsey,

We're hoping to be in the US in June but I'm not sure we'll have the time to get out to Wisconsin. But if you're happy to do a short trip to NY/CO/CA then hope to meet you then!


Jodi Murphy said...

The drills you hate are probably the ones you need more practice on! We hate drills that are hard or force us to relearn a skill we do wrong. But what's the point of doing a drill when you don't need help with that skill?

Pat Cabe said...

Hi Adam,
Maybe this is the right thread for this comment. A number of the drills focus on the catch and coordinating that with body roll. Kicking is relatively less emphasized.

A little background on me: I'm 68 (69 in June), 5 ft. 7 in. tall, weight around 137. I swam (unimpressively) on my high school swim team, then gave up swimming altogether
until about 4 years ago. What I know about freestyle swimming I learned from books and the internet...and lots of introspective practice (yeah, I sound like an over-glider, don't I?).

Anyway, at the beginning of the year, I got the notion that I would like to improve my kick. Generally, I have been using a very mild kick. I bought some fins and my 100 yd times
dropped by about 30 sec! I could kick 50 yds about 10-20 sec faster than I could swim w/o the fins. So there was some power in those fins.

One day, as a test, I swam 10 x 100 yd intervals (no fins), alternating kicking and not kicking (pull buoy between my legs). The non-kick intervals were routinely 5 - 10 sec FASTER
than the kicking intervals. Intervals with kicking were in the 2:04 - 2:08 range; intervals w/o kicking got down to as low as 1:53, which is personal best territory for me.

This boggled me, until I went back to your "Swim Smooth" book and -- son of a gun -- you had laid it out in black and white. Kicking adds both drag and propulsion. Weak kicking,
apparently, contributes less propulsion than it does drag.

Back to drills: They can clearly help with horizontal body position (what I think my mild kicking mainly does) and with kick power, if that's what you want to emphasize. But the big benefit
is developing and maintaining efficient arm movement and body coordination, while fighting that parasitic drag.

"Swim Smooth" has been a gold mine of information for me; I've learned so much from it, and continue to find valuable tips and orientations on re-reading it.

Best regards,
Pat Cabe

Adam Young said...

Great stuff Pat! Yes good kicking technique is very important in swimming to help bring the body position high and avoid creating drag from the kick itself. That's true even if we're not looking to create propulsion from the kick itself.

Keep up the great work, I'm sure there's plenty more to come.


Elizabeth J. Neal said...

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Cindy said...

Hello Paul, thanks for the post, great information and good writing, keep posting and i will keep following you!

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