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3 Reasons Why Drills Matter in Swimming

By Gary Hall Sr. | Dec. 01, 2015, 10:39 a.m. (ET)

swim school

Go back to school! Erase the smelly, crowded hallways of your high school from your mind and imagine yourself under the Islamorada sun in a clear pool ready to absorb knowledge that will enable you to swim faster. Swim School from Gary Hall Sr. of The Race Club is about lifelong enjoyment of the sport. It’s always more fun to swim to your potential.

1. Drills isolate the problem.
Once the problem is identified, the best way to fix it is to focus on it. There are simply too many complex movements going on in the act of swimming to enable one to think about one single movement or position of the body. For example, one of the best ways to learn to pull with a high elbow underwater (early vertical forearm position) is by doing a one-arm drill. Holding one arm in front, swim with one arm only, rotating from side to stomach, but focusing on the high elbow position as the single arm pulls through. It is much easier to grasp the concept swimming with high elbows, after practicing with each arm alone.

swimmer2. Drills help correct the problem.
We are all creatures of habit. Once we develop a poor technique, it may be a challenge to ditch it. Even when we have discovered the right thing to do, we tend to gravitate back to old bad habits. A good example is head position. Most freestylers hold their heads too high, causing more frontal drag. The best way to correct this problem is by doing a 25 drill, sculling with the hands above the head in front, chin nearly on your chest, followed by a 25 freestyle swim with the head in the same down position. Doing a swim after any drill will reinforce the correct habit and help practice the correct swimming technique.

3. Drills help keep the problem corrected.

While getting fit is important in order to swim fast, spending a few minutes at the beginning of each practice working on specific drills to help your weak points will help you become a better swimmer. Or devoting one extra 45-minute practice per week to just doing drills and drill/swims is another way to get faster. Correct technique requires that you not only know what to do, but that you build the stamina required to keep using the good technique throughout your swim. Some drills can help with both. One of my favorite workout sets is doing 10- by 25-yard high elbow sculls with fins as fast as you can and with short rest. This drill is difficult to do correctly, but helps build the strength and stamina to set up the correct underwater pull and to maintain it.

At our Race Club camps, we make certain that each drill has a purpose. Once a problem is identified, we repeat the drills over and over in order to correct it. By doing so, we help put each swimmer in a better position to improve. Here’s how to do a few of our favorite high elbow drills for common problems.

Stay tuned for why sculling matters in swimming in the next Swim School column on Dec. 15.

gary hall srGary Hall Sr., M.D. is a three-time Olympic swimmer (‘68, ‘72, ‘76) who earned a medal in each of the three Olympic Games. At one time he held 10 world records in all strokes except breaststroke and was the World Swimmer of the year in 1969 and 1970.

Gary Sr. serves as president and technical director of The Race Club Inc. based in Islamorada, Florida. He is the current president of the United States Olympians and Paralympians Association and co-founder of World Fit, a non-profit organization promoting childhood exercise and sports. He has six children, the oldest of whom, Gary Jr., also swam in three Olympic Games (‘96, ‘00, ‘04) and earned 10 Olympic medals. Two other children, Richard and Amy, and his wife, Mary, work with Gary Sr. at The Race Club. In 2006, Gary Sr. retired from ophthalmology to dedicate his remaining professional career to teaching advanced swimming techniques for competitive swimmers and triathletes. 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.