Practising technique is crucial for efficient swimming. If you’re wasting energy by swimming incorrectly, the chances are you’re losing speed. Drill work – focusing on specific elements of your stroke for short periods of time – pays dividends by boosting performance and giving you something to think about as you swim. Aim to practise all these drills in rotation, switching drill every 50m or two lengths. Rest when you need to, but no more than 45 seconds.
High elbow drill
WHY? Some swimmers make the mistake of allowing their whole arm to rotate fully in a ‘windmill’ motion. Another common mistake is to bend the elbow but let your arms go too wide. To avoid this, practise swimming with an exaggerated high elbow position when your arm is both under and out of the water. This will also position your hand well when it enters the water at the start of every pull.
HOW? As you swim, keep your elbows bent, imagining you are lifting your arm out of your pocket with each recovery, and aim to enter the water with your hand in line with your shoulder. Don’t ‘cross over’, directing each stroke to the opposite side, as this wastes energy and risks injury. Ensure your hands are always lower than your elbows in the water.
WHY? Top swimmers tend to use far fewer strokes per length than beginners. This drill encourages you to ‘glide’ for as long as possible with each stroke and, although you wouldn’t do it in a race, it helps develop longer strokes.
HOW? As you swim, keep your non-stroking arm out in front (in a ‘Superman’ position) until the other arm completes a full stroke cycle. Glide before you start the next stroke. You should touch hands each time. Be sure to pull under the centre line of your body and all the way past your hips so your thumb brushes past your thigh as it recovers out of the water.
WHY? Most swimmers are stronger on one side than on the other, and prefer to breathe on that side, with the result that their stroke can become unbalanced. In a race, choose a breathing pattern that feels natural, but practise breathing on both sides in training to discipline yourself and balance your stroke.
HOW? Breathe every three or five strokes so you are breathing on alternate sides. It may feel unnatural at first but as your stroke starts to balance out it will become easier. Make sure you breathe out while your face is under the water and breathe in when you turn your head.
WHY? Stripping away the arm movements from your stroke allows you to think about your torso positioning and kick. The straighter you keep your legs, the faster you go – so kick from your hips, not your knees.
HOW? Swimming with one arm ahead of you and one arm flat against your side, propel yourself for a length with only your kick. Focus on being horizontal in the water, keeping a soft but straight leg.
WHY? To encourage you to think about your arm positioning, using the forearm to catch water and help propulsion.
HOW? As it sounds, swim a length with your hands curled in fists.
Triathlon Made Easy (Collins & Brown, £9.99)