General Swimming Drills / Commnon Stroke Errors


FT: Fingertip drag

Purpose: The purpose of this drill is to work on a high elbow recovery.

Description: During the arm recovery, drag the tip of your middle finger along the surface of the water. Keep your hand close to your torso during the recovery. The elbow should lead the hand through the first half of the recovery. The shoulder and elbow should be high during the recovery.

Importance: The propulsive part of the freestyle arm stroke is underwater, so why is the arm position during the recovery so important? There are several reasons:

What you are doing with your arm during the recovery has a direct effect on both the end of the stroke (follow through) and the beginning of the stroke (entry). Assuming a high elbow and shoulder position early in the recovery, with the elbow leading the hand, encourages the proper follow through on your arm pull. By maintaining a high shoulder and elbow position until the hand enters the water, you will assure a clean, streamlined entry to start the stroke. You will also roll your body correctly with the entry.

Common freestyle error: Recovering with a straight arm can throw the body out of lateral alignment, and interfere with a proper entry and follow through.

Variation: A common variation is the "thumb drag" drill. In this case you drag the knuckle of your thumb along the side of your body during the arm recovery.

C/U: Catch-up drill

Purpose: Concentrate on each freestyle arm pull individually.

Description: Leave one arm extended in front of you. Swim one complete stroke cycle with the other arm, until it has "caught up" with the arm you are holding in front of you. Continue to repeat the cycle, alternating the arm held stationary in front of you.

Things to work on: Since you are swimming with only one arm at a time during the Catch-up drill, your body will accelerate and decelerate more than during ordinary freestyle. You will accelerate during the arm pull, and decelerate during the recovery. Try to increase your hand speed as much as possible through the arm stroke.

Common freestyle error: Some Masters swimmers pull with a relatively constant hand velocity. This sacrifices a great deal of potential power generated by increasing hand speed through the stroke, especially near the follow through.

BOS: Breathe Opposite Side

Purpose: The purpose of this drill is to practice rolling the head to breathe at the correct time.

Description: This is a one arm freestyle drill used to work on breath timing. If you normally breathe to only one side, pull that arm to your side and leave it there. Swim with the opposite arm only. Breathe to the opposite side of the arm you are swimming with. Roll your head to breathe exactly when the swimming arm enters the water.

Why breathe at this time? As stated above, the correct time to roll your head to breathe is when the arm opposite the breathing side enters the water. When the arm opposite the breathing side enters the water, the arm on the breathing side should be under the chest. By rolling to breathe at this time, the power of rolling the torso can be transmitted to the pulling arm, i.e. the arm under the chest. It is easier to key on the moment in time when the arm opposite the breathing side enters the water than it is to try to think about when the arm on the breathing side is under the chest, which cannot be as clearly defined.

Common error: Breathing Late

What's wrong with breathing late? Swimmers who breathe late may roll the head to breathe when the breathing arm is all the way to the swimmers side. Since the arm on the breathing side has already completed the pull, the swimmer cannot use the body roll to transmit power to the arm.

Biondi drill (or 3-6-3 drill):

Purpose: The purpose of this drill is to work on body roll and stroke technique.

Description: Swim three long, perfect strokes of freestyle. At the end of the third stroke, roll on to the side opposite the arm completing the third arm pull. You should now be on your side with the arm nearer the pool bottom extended above your head, and the top arm at your side. Kick for six beats. Now swim three more long, perfect freestyle strokes, rolling on to your side at the end of the third stroke. You should now be on your other side with the arm nearer the pool bottom extended above your head and the top arm at your side. Continue swimming with this pattern.

Freestyle error: Snake-like swimming

Ideally the swimmer's hand should enter the water almost directly in front of the shoulder, perhaps a little further toward the centerline of the body. If the swimmer's hand crosses the body's centerline as it enters the water, snake-like swimming can result, with the feet fishtailing side to side. This problem can be exacerbated if the swimmer bends the torso in the direction of the overreaching entry. Some swimmers may be doing this in a misguided attempt to reach further, or to get more distance per stroke.

Corrective drill:

Pull freestyle with a buoy and a band wrapped around the ankles. Initially the swimmer's snake-like motion is actually exaggerated while pulling this way, and his/her feet may have significant side-to-side motion. The swimmer should try to feel what his/her feet are doing, and take corrective action to minimize that side to side motion. Once the swimmer begins concentrating on keeping the feet from moving side to side, there is usually rapid improvement.

More common freestyle errors:

Hand too flat during the entry: The hand should enter the water with the thumb down. The angle between the palm and the water should be about 45 degrees. There is a nice article by Troy Dalby in the April-June 1999 issue of Swimming Technique on this subject.

Pulling too straight-armed: Many swimmers pull with a straight arm from the entry all the way to the follow through. When the arm is under the chest there should be about a 90-degree bend in the elbow, and the hand should be almost directly below the center of the chest. You are able to transmit a lot more power to the water in this position, and can better recruit the large muscles in the back and chest.

Dropping the elbow at the entry: Some swimmers let their elbow drop just after their arm enters the water. This sacrifices a lot of power in the pull. Ideally the arm should enter the water and reach full extension. Almost immediately after reaching full extension, the fingertips should begin to pitch downward. As you proceed with the pull, the elbow should be higher than the wrist, the wrist higher than the fingertips. If you point your fingertips toward the bottom of the pool almost immediately after reaching full extension on the entry, it is almost impossible to drop your elbow. Try the position on land and verify it for yourself. Pointing your fingertips toward the bottom of the pool forces the arm into a favorable position throughout the freestyle pull.


One arm drill:

Purpose: Concentrate on each backstroke arm pull individually.

Description: Pull one arm all the way to your side and leave it there. Swim with the other arm only.

Things to work on:

Body roll: During the entry and catch phase of the stroking arm, the body should roll sufficiently so that the opposite shoulder pops out of the water. During the follow through of the stroking arm, the shoulder of the stroking arm should pop out of the water

Hand entry: The hand should enter the water pinky first. The hands should enter the water directly in line with the side of the body.

Head position: The swimmer should be looking straight up or very slightly toward the feet (do not tuck the chin too much). The water line should be approximately on the back of the ears.

Follow through drill:

Purpose: To develop a feel for the follow through and elbow bend in backstroke swimming.

Description: Pull both arms all the way to your side. While leaving your elbow touching your torso, do the last third of the backstroke arm pull with one arm. Repeat three times. Now switch arms and do the last third of the stroke with the other arm three times. Now do the last third of the stroke with both arms at the same time, and repeat three times. Next repeat the whole cycle (right arm only, left arm only, both arms together), but this time do the last half of the stroke while leaving the elbow in contact with the torso.

Common backstroke error: Many swimmers do the backstroke pull with a straight arm. The elbow should have a 90 degree bend when it is perpendicular to the torso. The stroke should finish with the elbow by the side. The above drill will help swimmers get the feel for bending the elbow and finishing the stroke in the correct position.

Backstroke with paddles:

Purpose: To work on hand entry position, and build strength.

Common backstroke error: Some swimmers slap the back of the hand against the water during the entry. It is difficult to swim this way while wearing hand paddles.

Common backstroke errors:

Incorrect arm pull timing: Some Masters swimmers tend to swim a “catch up” backstroke, where the one arm catches up to the other at the hip. One arm should be entering the water while the other arm is completing the last third of the stroke. Use the force from the follow through of the stroking arm to roll the body and get a strong deep entry and catch with the opposite arm.

Failing to get a good catch: Some Masters swimmers enter the water with good form, but slip through the beginning of the stroke, and ultimately get very little propulsion. It is important to pitch the hand and arm correctly after the entry to “catch” water at the beginning of the stroke. If the swimmer starts slipping water at the start of the stroke, it is difficult to get much propulsion from the rest of the stroke.

Other backstroke notes:

The hand exists the water thumb first and enters the water pinky first.

The head should stay stationary, i.e. should not roll side to side with the body roll.


Kicking drill:

Purpose: To work on the full range of motion in the breaststroke kick, and to develop a narrow, propulsive kick.

Description: Pull both arms all the way to your side. Draw your feet up so that your heels touch your fingertips, then do the breaststroke kick.

Pulling drills:

Breast pull with flutter kick: The breaststroke arm recovery is under water. It is therefore a challenge to execute the breaststroke arm recovery with the minimum possible drag and resistance. While swimming breaststroke pull with a flutter kick, try to execute the arm recovery without losing momentum.

Breaststroke pull with dolphin kick: The “wave style” breaststroke incorporates a dolphin like motion in the torso during the breaststroke. Swimmers can get the feel of this by swimming breaststroke pull with a dolphin kick. Do one dolphin kick per breaststroke pull.

Hypoxic drills:

In short course pools a considerable percentage of breaststroke swimming is done underwater during the breaststroke pullouts. It is therefore a good idea to do hypoxic breaststroke training.

Breaststroke with flip turns: Swim breaststroke normally but do flip turns with full underwater pullouts.

Double underwater pullouts: Do two complete underwater pullouts off the wall.

Common breaststroke errors:

Arm recovery, hesitation under chin: Many breaststrokers pause during the arm recovery when their hands are under the chin. The arm position during the recovery when the hands are under the chin is not at all streamlined, so it is highly undesirable to spend much time in this position. Use the breaststroke pulling drills described above to develop a fluid arm recovery without hesitations.

Face forward, head up throughout stroke: In the old days the breaststroke rules stated that the head could not go underwater, except during the underwater pullout. At that time swimmers frequently did breaststroke with the face forward and head up throughout the stroke. The new rules say that the head must break the water surface once each stroke cycle. It is now advantageous to look toward the pool bottom after the kick. Lowering the head at this point in the stroke helps to elevate the hips.


Three skills to get you on the road to swimming butterfly:

* Underwater kicking:

Underwater butterfly kicking is done much like a dolphin swims. A dolphin propels itself by moving it’s tail up and down. We humans emulate this in the underwater dolphin kick by moving our feet up and down. We use our torso and legs to get as much power as possible into the kick. Here no number of words will substitute for a coach’s instruction, or a demonstration in the water. Underwater dolphin kick can be done with the arms above the head, in a streamlined position, or with the arms by the side (as in the 70’s TV series Aquaman!).

* Boomer fly drill:

Starting position: on your stomach, face down, elbows at your side, forearms bent 90 degrees so that your hands point toward the pool bottom. Step 1: Simultaneously, do a downward fly kick, push your hands toward your thighs, and lift your head up to take a breath. Step 2: Simultaneously do a second dolphin kick, bring your forearms back so your hands point toward the bottom of the pool (elbows still pinned to your side), put your head in a face down position. You are now back to your original position. Repeat pattern.

* Underwater recovery fly:

Starting position: on your stomach, face down, arms extended above your head. Step 1: Pull your arms back toward your thighs; do a downward dolphin kick at the same time you did it in the Boomer drill above, i.e. near the end of your arm pull; lift your head to breathe as you did in the Boomer drill. Step 2: drag your arms back underwater, and do a second fly kick as your hands extend in front of you. Repeat pattern.

If you can do all of the above, then you can do the full fly stroke by incorporating an above water recovery.

Other Fly Drills:

One arm drill, breathing to side:

Purpose: To concentrate on each arm pull individually, and to swim fly in a less stressful manner than the full stroke.

Description: This is much like the “Catch Up” freestyle stroke, but with a dolphin kick. Begin the cycle by leaving one arm extended in front of you. Swim one fly stroke with the other arm, breathing to the stroking arm side. When the stroking arm reaches full extension in front of you, repeat the cycle with the other arm, etc.

One arm drill, breathing forward:

Purpose: To concentrate on each arm pull individually, and to swim fly in a less stressful manner than the full stroke.

Description: Begin by leaving one arm extended in front of you, and swim three fly strokes with the other arm, breathing forward. Next reverse arms and swim three more arm strokes. Finally swim three full fly strokes. Continue to repeat the pattern.

Common butterfly errors:

Kick timing: There are two fly kicks per fly arm stroke cycle. The first fly kick should coincide with the arm entry into the water at the beginning of the stroke. The second fly kick occurs when the arms are finishing the underwater pull.

Second fly kick too early: Some Masters swimmers do the second fly kick before the hands are following through on the underwater pull. Use the One Arm Drills to concentrate on kick timing.

Failing to get the hips up with the first fly kick: It is important to get your hips up with the kick that coincides with the arm entry into the water at the beginning of the stroke. There can be a tendency for the torso to sink a little while both arms are recovered over the water. If you don’t get your hips up with the first fly kick, soon you will be plowing through the water, and that’s no fun.

Too much knee bend in the fly kick: The knees should not bend a lot during the fly kick. Much of the power comes from the hips. Bending the knees too much during the fly kick is not streamlined, reduces the power from kick, and interrupts the flow of the stroke.

Lifting the head up too high to breathe: Try to lift your head just high enough to breathe without inhaling any water. Also, you do not need to look straight forward while breathing, try to keep your chin tucked a little during the breath. Your head is heavy. The higher you lift it for each fly breath, the more tiring your stroke, and the more likely your hips will drop.

A word of encouragement:
Fly is a difficult stroke. If you are an adult trying to learn to swim butterfly, have patience. Work on the kick first. Move on to one arm fly. Take your time, get feedback from a coach, and have patience.


A drill for Fly and Breast:

First: alternate a fly stroke with a breath, and a breaststroke with no breath, swimming continuously for the entire length. Second: alternate a fly stroke with no breath and a breaststroke with a breath, swimming continuously for the entire length.

This drill helps to get the same torso movements used in the fly into your breaststroke. The no-breath breaststroke also helps the swimmer find places where the arm recovery is not smooth. Another advantage is that the fly stroke gets you moving at high speed. By swimming a breaststroke in immediate succession, you get the feeling of swimming a breaststroke at higher than normal swimming speed. This again offers opportunity to find “hitches” or other problems in the breaststroke.

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