Masters Swimming


Swim Drills

We are often asked to do a drill in workout, often we don’t know the purpose of the drill or we are not choosing the best one to improve our technique. They should not be done strictly for the sake of doing them, getting the distance done. They must serve the purpose of helping stroke technique. They make us focus on a specific part of the technique such as arm position, head position, kicking or breathing.

These are drills are supplemental skills proposed to help refine strokes- not prescriptive solutions and immediate fixes. Strokes are often built from a foundation of body position and adding the details onto it. The order of implementation of these details is important for long term success.

Most drills, along with having benefits also have downsides and knowledge about what that may be is important when implementing them.

The interaction between coach and swimmer and the body awareness of the swimmer cannot be taken into account when you implement a drill from a list. The Coach / Swimmer relationship with tweaks, feedback and minor corrections is needed when executing drills.

“All Swimmers need to work on technique. It’s the fastest and most effective way to improve. Anyone can train hard, but not everyone applies themselves to perfecting stroke technique and racing skills.” – Ken McKinnon, National Development Coach, Swimming Canada

Many drills exist for each stroke. We will present several for each stroke, however, we invite you to explore and find a drill that specifically meets the aspect of your technique you wish to concentrate on. Coaches have an arsenal of drills to help their swimmers. The Swimming Drill Book, 2nd edition by Ruben Guzman is available as a free download on Pinterest.

Closed-fist Freestyle

Ball up your hands, removing the surface area that your out-stretched fingers would usually provide for your pull, and swim freestyle as you normally would.

It reinforces the notion that when you are pulling that you should be also using your forearms, and not just your hands. This added emphasis on the surface area of the forearm also pushes you towards a higher elbow recovery.

Your stroke count per length will go down a little bit, and once you unclench your hands you will get a little jolt of power, your hands now feeling like over-sized swim paddles.

Best for: Increasing feel for the water with your forearm. Encouraging high elbow recovery.

Finger trail

Glide your fingertips close to edge of your body, whilst dragging them across the surface to maintain a high elbow. The shoulder of your lead arm should brush closely to the chin as it extends forward, achieving a nicely-rotated body position.

Best for: Achieving a narrower, more efficient stroke with a high elbow recovery.


Swim freestyle with right arm keeping while left arm at side and breath only to left side. Switch arm and breathing side each length.

Best for: Working on breathing timing, stroke coordination and body rotation by forcing an awkward stroke pattern.

Freestyle with Dolphin Kicks

By adding dolphin kick to your freestyle arms you cannot help but begin to develop a rhythm that promotes the smooth, kayak stroke we want in our freestyle.

The first time trying it will be a little awkward, but once you get comfortable with it you’ll be surprised at how fast you can get going.

Best for: Improving stroke rhythm. Increasing stroke rate. Encouraging a high elbow catch.

6-kick switch

Take 6 kicks while balancing on your side, keeping your head down. Then take a single stroke and balance on the opposite side for 6 kicks.

For a more advanced drill keep both arms at sides and head down. Core and legs will drive the rotation.

Best for: Improving continuous rotation from side to side and finding balance.

Freestyle legs

Swim with your normal breaststroke arm technique, but make sure you are kicking with your legs in freestyle. While performing this drill, try to keep your head at the water level. Complete arm pull and breathe after every sixth kick and feel yourself shoot forward.

Best for: Developing proper breaststroke arm pull and keeping arms forward.

Windshield Wiper

With your body flat on the water, extend arms forward. Keep elbows close to the surface and wrists lower than elbows. Maintain balance and flat position by tightening back core muscles. Move forearms outwards in a sweeping movement to the widest part of a normal breaststroke pull, this will propel you forward. Let arms float back together in front of you.

Best for: Proper arm position for the out-sweep of the breaststroke arm pull.


Float face down in the water, arms at your sides. Engage your core and straighten your spine. Achieve a downhill floating position by pressing your chest down into the water about three inches. This resembles the body position during the glide phase of the breaststroke. Hold for five seconds.

Now, release your chest press as you draw your heels back toward your buttocks while keeping, feet under the water. Feel your floating position change. Notice that your head rises. This resembles the body position when you are approaching the inhale and the power phase of the kick. Hold for five seconds.

Push off the wall with your face down, arms at your sides, core engaged, and spine straight. Begin the rocking motion of the breaststroke, spending twice as much time in the glide position, as in the breathing position. Practice several times. Notice that by returning to the glide position more quickly, you can continue your forward momentum much longer.

Best for: Developing unified core action and purpose of rocking in breaststroke

Breaststroke kick on back

While on your back with hands at sides complete breaststroke kicks. Bring heels back to touch hands while keeping knees a shoulder width apart. With feet flexed and pointed outward complete sweeping movement to bring feet together. Keep knees underwater by maintaining a straight body position from head to knees.

Best for: Positioning knees inside feet for a propulsive kick

Closed-fist breaststroke

Ball up your hands, removing the surface area that your out-stretched fingers would usually provide for your pull, and swim breaststroke as you normally would. Position arms through stroke so inside of forearms press against the water. Elbows must be high and firm as arms sweep outward. Accelerate stroke and maintain high elbows as fists turn inwards. As arms approach end of in sweep allow elbows to come towards each other in front of rib cage. Push hands forward and repeat.

Best for: Increasing feel for the water with your forearm. Appreciating changing elbow position

Float on spine

Body position: Lay on water with arms at sides. Focus on spine and its effects on flotation.  Bring knees towards chest and notice how you sink. Resume horizontal position. Arch back to have abdomen out of water and notice how you sink. Resume horizontal position. Rotate pelvis forward, contract abdominal muscles, press head back and relax neck.

Best for: Developing advantageous floating position for good backstroke

 12 Kick Switch

While on side. with arm closer to surface at side and other arm extended above head. Straighten spine. Begin gentle flutter kick. Allow face to be completely out of the water. Kick 12 times. With last kick roll to opposite side, using a single arm pull to complete, concentrate on straight spine and core stability. Repeat 12 kicks and rotation.

Best for: Identifying longest backstroke position while feeling leverage from core

Cup on head

Fill cup halfway with water. While on back, balance it on your forehead. Place both arms at sides, begin kicking. Once mastered without spilling, every six kicks do a quarter roll of body. First so left shoulder is out of water and you are on your side. Next return to back, the roll so right shoulder is out of water. Practice to kick productively with hips and shoulders rolling together, without loosing cup. Once perfected add arms to swim backstroke smoothly maintaining neutral head position and rolling smoothly from side to side

Best for: Developing a balanced, effective kick and stroke while maintaining a stable head position

 Two step recovery

Begin on back with both arms extended above head. Take a single arm stoke, leaving other arm extended. Stop arm recovering over water at highest point, directly over the shoulder, pointing upward, count to five. Lower arm towards hips, count to five, complete arm recovery to enter beside head. Repeat with other arm.

Best for: Establishing recovery path for arm, with correct alignment while avoiding over-reaching entry

Rhythmic breathing

Swim backstroke while matching inhalation to one arm and exhalation to other arm. Experiment with different stroke rates. With a faster stroke rate, it is necessary to inhale and exhale after a full stroke cycle (one stroke of each arm). At a very slow, relaxed stroke rate is it necessary to inhale and exhale with each arm recovery.

Best for: matching stroke rate and breathing rhythm to become comfortable breathing in backstroke 


Butterfly kicking at the top of the water with arms at sides. Swim like a mermaid or a dolphin with feet together. Keep legs long and do an efficient butterfly kick (no kicking from the knees, no big waist bend).

Best for: Feeling the effects of the body’s undulation on the propulsive butterfly kick

Dolphin dives

Stand in waist deep water with arms at sides. Straighten body, bend knees and push off bottom. As you begin to rise bow forward so head points towards pool and you make a head first entry. Allow legs to follow through along same line. Make certain not to hit the bottom! As you approach bottom, raise the upper body to change directions and feet sink complete a butterfly kick. Repeat.

Best for:  Understanding full-body action of the undulation. Feeling transfer of power to feet

Single arm butterfly

Swim butterfly using only one arm keeping other extended in front or at side. Breath towards the front. Assure body is undulation with each arm stroke and legs are kicking twice per are stroke.

Best for: Timing of breathing and feeling the importance of the undulation of the body bring head forward to breath. Feeling rhythm of arm stroke

Variable entry

Swim the butterfly making sure your hands enter the water approximately 50 cm apart for the first arm stroke, approximately 25 cm apart for the second stroke and then together for the third stroke before returning to the initial 50 cm for 4th arm stroke. Continue repeating variations. Notice which entry provides optimal initiation of arm pull.

Best for: Determining optimal hand entry position for initiating underwater stroke

Right arm, left arm, both arms

With both arms forward above head complete a single stroke using the right arm. Include a light undulation to body and an acceleration of stroke to the rear. As arm recovers over the water, breathe. Allow feet to snap down in a kick as stroke finishes. Repeat with left arm. When both arms are forward complete a double arm pull by bending forward as the feet snap down to kick. Sweep arms backwards through stroke, accelerating at rear. Repeat until you are moving comfortably and rhythmically.

Best for: Feeling the line of the stroke, accelerating to the back of the stroke, experiencing butterfly rhythm

Streamline push and glide

Submerge and push off wall on front keeping a narrow and streamlined position. Place your hands on top of each other and aim to squeeze your ears with your upper arms, while keeping your chin tucked in. Glide as far as you can exhale as you go. Only start your full stroke once you break the surface. Repeat trying to increase distance. Add kick once proper glide has been achieved.

Best for: Achieving the optimal underwater body position when pushing off the wall.


Kick on your side with your lead arm outstretched, shoulder to your cheek. Aim to keep your head still and your chin pointing down, rotating your head to breathe.

You should be kicking enough to elevate your trailing shoulder above the water’s surface, while ensuring that when outstretched, your lead arm is parallel to the floor and below the surface. If your lead arm feels like it’s sinking while breathing, try using a kickboard for support.

Best for: Encourages lengthening body position while staying streamlined