Beginner Swim Drills
Written by Libby Landry
You’ve seen swimming in the Games and noticed our Thursday active recovery swim workouts. Interested in throwing in some pool work to your weekly routine, but don’t know where to begin? Let’s start with some basic drills to improve technique.
The whole my-face-is-underwater thing can be intimidating at first. Even when relatively fit people first start swimming, beginner-swimmers will often complain of their heart rate sky-rocketing after a couple of laps. No, you’re not THAT unfit. But, learning to control your heart rate and stay calm while swimming comes with some practice.
Underwater exhales: With your head underwater, exhale all the air in your lungs. This will help if you feel panicky with your face underwater while swimming. Accumulate 10 reps.
Breathing to the side: Building on the above exercise, with one-arm hold onto the side of the pool, place your face in the water and expel the air in your lungs through your nose. Next, pivot your head to one side (away from your arm) and breathe in through your mouth only. Repeat this process before switching arms to practice on the other side. Pro tip: You should not be swallowing a bunch of water here!
“Use your legs!” – Ricky Moore
Seemingly obvious, but the kick is what propels you forward. The kick in swimming should come from the hips, not from (solely) the ankles/feet. However, practicing with just your legs will force you to use them properly without relying on power from the arms. Pro tip: Your hips should be rotating side to side, not staying straight the entire time.
Kickboard, head up: Use the kickboard as a warmup to get your legs going. Most community pools have these available. Extend the arms in front, head out of the water, kick for 4 x 25, resting on each wall.
Kickboard, head down: This builds on the first drill, but keeps your head in the water. This will help you get more comfortable with breathing while moving dynamically without yet adding in the arms.
6-1-6: Six kicks, one stroke, six kicks. This can help develop your kicking power and aids in learning body balance. Practice this for a few lengths.
“I don’t know what to do with my hands” – Ricky Bobby
Arms only: Your pool should also have little buoys that you can place between your upper legs so you get less assistance from them. Go for 4 x 25, resting on each wall.
Catch-up drill: This drill is great for teaching beginners proper mechanics of the stroke. Swimming freestyle, leave the left arm outstretched while the right arm goes through one stroke. Your left arm will not begin until the right one touches it. It’s like a hand-off.
Single-arm freestyle: With one arm by your side, swim front crawl (freestyle) with only the opposite arm. This drill can help with balance and control. The key here is to keep your midline tight (pull your belly button into your back — just like a hollow body!).
Just like with anything we do in the gym, swimming takes some practice and “time under tension” to feel more comfortable. Think of it like a barbell warmup for the Oly lifts or a gymnastics progression, breaking the movement down can help build capacity, good technique, and slowly dose the intensity. Let us know how it goes! Happy swimming.