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Drills for Body Position, Rotation, and Extension for Freestyle

Let's face it: swimming is TOUGH. For most people, swimming efficiently doesn't come naturally, and unlike most land endurance sports, swimming isn't intuitive. Body position, rotation, and extension are the 3 areas where I see seasoned swimmers and beginners alike struggling. Without proper body position, rotation, and extension, most swimmers will hit their speed ceiling and get frustrated about their times not improving.

Most adults don't have a swim coach watching their every move in and out of the water during their swim workouts, so improving times by mastering efficient technique can be difficult with no feedback. If you're training alone, don't have regular stroke technique feedback, or want to just find ways to be more efficient, drills can be the key to learning self-awareness so you can evaluate and diagnose what you're doing and how it may need to change to create a stroke that works best for you.

What's a drill? "Drill" refers to using an exaggerated exercise to feel a wider range of movement and practice different components of swimming. Almost every element of swimming lives within a range - I like to think of it of 0 - 100. For instance, rotation is not "on" or "off," but instead ranges from 0% rotation (you swim flat like a barge, and your belly button never shifts around the axis of your spine) to 100% rotation (you're on one side, with your bellybutton looking directly at the wall of the pool, your shoulders and hips are stacked). For most swimmers, 70% - 80% rotation is an ideal amount of rotation, but that depends on flexibility, mobility, muscle structure, and comfort.

Identifying areas of improvement and learning what safe ranges exist for your body can be accomplished by incorporating drills into your workouts. Here are a list of a few popular drills:

  • Side kicking - 1 arm up, 1 arm down, your head resting on your bicep. This is a difficult drill to master, as you need to learn to float and have proper body position on your side, with your hips and shoulders stacked. Most swimmers start learning this drill struggling to raise their chin out of the water to breathe, and instead, pull their head up, which causes their hips to fall and ultimately, sinking. Here is a great video to see how to side kick: This drill teaches body position and rotation. If you're having trouble staying afloat, use fins to build up to it.

  • Side kicking with 1 stroke pattern - 12 kicks, 1 stroke to rotate you to the opposite side; 6 kicks/1 stroke; 3 kicks/1 stroke (make sure you switch sides by putting your face into the water. Here's a great video: This drill helps teach rotation, extension, and glide. The only way to master this drill is to be able to slow down your arms as they turnover and take the time to go in slow motion.

  • Strokes per length - in 4 lengths, count your strokes and try to reduce by 1-2 strokes per length. Hint hint: your glide and extension will help you slow down your arms and use fewer strokes to get to the other side of the pool!

  • Catch up drill where only one arm gets to take a stroke while the other arm waits for it to return to the start of the pull. 100% catch up drill requires you to "tag" one arm in with the other, tapping one hand to indicate the next stroke can begin. This teaches a long extension/reach, and allows you to become self-aware of each stroke individually. You can use a kickboard and pass it from one hand to the other on 100% catch up to force yourself to pause up top if you find yourself automatically starting a new stroke before the first is completed. is a great demonstration video showing 100% catch up drill.

Ultimately, incorporating drills into your workouts will help with your technique, but they will also help your mind remain focused. Many swimmers continuously evaluate each stroke, identifying ways they feel the water around their heads, hands, torsos, and feet. Each stroke provides feedback on how the next can be improved. Most swimmers start to lose focus when they get tired or bored, and their technique starts to fall apart, which can cause injuries at worst and crappy workouts at best.

Do you have a favorite drill? Have questions about the drills described above? Feel free to email: Happy swimming!

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