10 Essential Pool Swim Drills for Triathletes Infographic

Karen Parnell May 26, 2022

After reading a great article in 220 triathlon magazine about the essential swimming drills for triathletes I thought I would make an infographic about it to capture the drills on a single sheet.

You can read the full article here.

Get in touch if you would like a PDF version of the Infographic.

For more swimming terms and drills here's a great blog.


Get your FREE swimming workouts for triathletes book here.


Here's how to do the drills with links to videos on how to do the drill:

6-1-6  or 6-Kick Switch Drill

How to do it: One hand out in front, the other by your side and core rotated 90° to the surface of the water, do 6 kicks while looking at the bottom of the pool. Take 1 stroke and roll your hips through under the water to swap sides. Repeat the switch every 6 kicks.

Works on: Kick efficiency, rotation & good body alignment

You can use swimming fins to help with this drill.


Water Polo

How to do it: Keep your chin on the surface of the water and swim full stroke front crawl. For a really good sighting drill, practise keeping your head still by focussing on a point at the end of the pool. If your head stays still then you’re far more likely to stay in a straight line.

Works on: Sighting, hand entry, arm turnover and engaging with the water.



Straight Arm Recovery

How to do it: Finish the last part of your stroke hard and accelerate your hand out of the water. Keep it moving up and lock your elbow to keep your arm straight and to help reach your hand up as high as you can. As your hand comes over the water, relax and let your hand place out in front of you.

Works on: Hand exit, relaxed recovery, straight alignment on entry. It's also a good stroke style to master for open water swimming.




How to do it: With your arms stretched forward and slightly down from the surface push the water outwards from your centre line to just outside shoulder width. Turn your hands inwards and push the water back towards the middle. Repeat in a constant motion.

Use a pull buoy if needed.

Works on: Hand control of the water and feel for the water in the front of your stroke.


New Doggy Paddle

How to do it: Use a pull buoy to concentrate on the front of your stroke and take your legs out of the equation. Keep your head facing down so that you can watch your hands and see what’s going on at the front of your stroke. Keeping your hands under the water, stretch forward, bend your elbow outward pushing your hand down, then pressing back past your hips, stretching the opposite arm forward under the water like a spear. Reach and roll with each stroke with a long smooth doggy paddle action. Think about pulling yourself along a step ladder or climbing a rock face one hand at a time. Keep your arms below the water the whole time.

Works on: Developing your catch technique and bent elbow position as you catch and pull through the water. Feeling force on the water all through the catch, pull and push phases.




Get your FREE swimming workouts for triathletes book here.


Fists or Closed Hand Drill

How to do it: Swim your normal front crawl stroke but with relaxed fists. The aim of the drill is to use your forearm as a paddle, not just using your hand. The key is to get your forearms pointed down toward the bottom of the pool, get your elbows angled out to the sides and hopefully your arm won’t just slice through the water. You can hold on to a golf practice with a relaxed fist to help.

Works on: Using your forearms as well as your hands to propel yourself through the water. 



Rotator Kick

How to do it: Start by kicking on your front with your arms by your sides and do 6 kicks then twist your body from the hips into a side lying position. After a further 6 kicks rotate back to the initial position lying on your front . Continue kicking before twisting to the opposite side, and then back.

Works on: Kick efficiency, rotation from the hips, not lifting your head to breath.


Swim Golf

How to do it: You add together the number of strokes you took for a given distance to your total time in seconds. That is your score. You can use this to work out how fast or slow you should take your strokes to see whether it makes a difference to how fast you swim.

Works on: Finding your own sweet spot for stroke rate and distances.



Double Arm Pull

How to do it: Push off the wall with both hands out in front, then in one smooth movement bend the elbows out to the side slightly so you can push your hands down, then push your hands and forearms back past your hips. Glide with your head down for a moment, then sneak your hands through out in front under your chest to go again.

Works on: Power on the water, symmetry between each arm.



Single Arm Drill

How to do it: Keeping one arm by your side, swim front crawl with only the other arm. The aim is to make sure that your hand enters in line with your shoulders and pulls under the body without crossing the centre line.

The real key here is to keep your core engaged. When you need to breathe make sure you turn your head

Works on: Balance and control.



Here’s a FREE Swim Workouts for Triathletes Book with swim workouts, tips, technique, drills, kit and terms.


If you liked this blog and would like help with your swimming, we offer 121 swim camps in Southern Spain get in touch.

I also offer swim improvement training plans on TrainingPeaks and FinalSurge.


Karen Parnell is a Level 3 British Triathlon Coach, 8020 Endurance and IRONMAN Certified Coach, WOWSA Level 3 open water swimming coach and NASM Personal Trainer and Sports Technology Writer. 

Need a training plan? I have plans on TrainingPeaks and FinalSurge marketplace:



8020 Polarised Training Plans

I also coach a very small number of athletes one to one for all triathlon distances, open water swimming events and running races, email me for details and availability. karen.parnell@chilitri.com

Get your FREE swimming workouts for triathletes book here.


FAQ: Swimming Drills and the Benefits

What are swimming drills?

Swimming drills are specific exercises or techniques that focus on improving various aspects of swimming mechanics, such as body position, stroke technique, breathing, and overall efficiency in the water. They are often used in swim training to target specific areas of improvement.

What are the benefits of incorporating swimming drills into training?

Swimming drills offer several benefits to swimmers of all levels:

  • Technique improvement: Drills allow swimmers to isolate and focus on specific aspects of their stroke technique, helping them develop proper form, body alignment, and efficient movement patterns in the water.
  • Increased body awareness: By breaking down the swimming stroke into smaller components, drills enhance swimmers' understanding of their body position, movement, and the impact of their actions in the water.
  • Efficiency and speed: Refining stroke mechanics through drills can lead to improved efficiency and speed in the water. Streamlined technique and reduced energy wastage contribute to faster swim times.
  • Muscle memory development: Consistently practicing drills helps develop muscle memory, allowing swimmers to perform efficient and effective movements automatically without conscious effort.
  • Injury prevention: By focusing on proper technique, swimming drills can help identify and correct imbalances or flaws in stroke mechanics that may contribute to overuse injuries.
  • Variability and engagement: Incorporating drills into swim workouts adds variety, making training more engaging and enjoyable. They break up the monotony of continuous swimming and add a new dimension to the training experience.

What are some common swimming drills and their specific benefits?

There are various swimming drills targeting different aspects of the stroke. Here are a few examples:

  • Catch-up drill: This drill involves extending one arm forward and waiting until the other arm completes the full stroke cycle before beginning the next stroke. It promotes proper arm extension, timing, and body rotation.
  • Fist drill: Swimmers perform the drill with closed fists, excluding the use of their hands. It encourages forearm and upper body engagement, promoting a more effective catch and pull.
  • Kickboard drill: Swimmers use a kickboard to isolate the lower body and focus on developing a strong kick and improved body position.
  • One-arm drill: Swimmers swim using only one arm while the other arm remains extended forward. This drill enhances body rotation, stroke symmetry, and reinforces a strong catch and pull.
  • Tarzan drill: Swimmers keep their heads above water, similar to the way Tarzan swims, to improve sighting, body alignment, and breathing technique in open water conditions.

How should swimming drills be incorporated into a training routine?

Here are some tips for incorporating swimming drills into your training routine:

  • Warm-up: Include a few drill-focused warm-up exercises before starting your main workout. This helps activate specific muscle groups and establish a focus on technique from the beginning.
  • Drill sets: Designate specific sets in your workout to focus solely on swimming drills. This allows you to concentrate on technique without the pressure of speed or distance.
  • Progression: Gradually introduce more advanced or challenging drills as your technique improves. Start with basic drills and progress to more complex ones as you become comfortable and proficient.
  • Mix and match: Combine different drills within a set to target different aspects of your stroke. This adds variety and keeps the training session engaging.
  • Coach or expert guidance: If possible, seek guidance from a swim coach or experienced swimmer who can evaluate your technique, recommend appropriate drills, and provide feedback to help you get the most out of your training.

Remember to practice drills with proper form, focus on quality over quantity, and be patient with your progress. Regular and consistent practice will yield long-term benefits in your swimming performance.

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