Swimming Drills to Learn Proper Technique

Swimming Drills to Learn Proper Technique

In the previous four posts in our series on “Learn Swimming Strokes,” we talked about each of the strokes’ most basic components. Even though we already went over how to perform each stroke, beginners still run into issues when learning to swim. Most errors in any stroke originate from incorrect body position. Body mechanics and posture are the key to efficiency in anything you do, whether it be weightlifting or running, but water creates extra resistance on your entire body, so it’s important to emphasize the importance of proper technique. Let’s DIVE IN to some swimming drills to help with your freestyle and breaststroke technique.


Freestyle breathing is very simple once you get the basics down. Basically, you’re rotating your head at your neck, taking a quick gasp of air, and then rotating again, returning your face to the water. As easy as it sounds, many people struggle with things like over-rotating and getting enough air when first learning to swim. The video below does a good job of explaining how to achieve an efficient breath.

Proper Freestyle Breathing Tips

Breathing Tips:

  • Make sure to keep half of your face in the water
    • Keep one side of your face in the water (cheek, ear, eye)
    • This will prevent you from over-rotating (turning too much onto your back), which results in an inefficient stroke
  • Exhale while your face is still in the water
    • If you don’t breathe out, CO2 will build up in your lungs and muscles, making you more desperate for oxygen
    • If you hold your breath for too long, your upper body will tense up, changing your buoyancy and stroke technique
    • If you don’t breathe out in the water, you’ll have to both exhale AND inhale when rotating, meaning longer rotations, correlating to less efficient strokes

Another improper technique that can cause a lot of efficiency errors is either not bringing your arms out of the water enough, OR swinging them too far out. If you don’t lift your arms out of the water, it causes a lot more drag on your body and it will take you twice as long to go half as far. On the opposite end, if you reach up and extend your arms out of the water too far, it can lead to over-rotation. As you saw in the last video, the key to an efficient stroke is to have your face in the water as often as possible. If you’re rotating too much onto your back, it takes that much longer to return to face-in position.

Fingertip Drag Drill

The video below demonstrates a good stroke drill to complete if you’re having issues on either end. When you’re actually swimming (not doing drills), your hand should glide just barely above the water. This drill teaches your hand to skim the surface; it forces your arm to bend at the elbow (preventing big arm swings, which can cause over-rotation) and since your hand has to stay at the surface, it will teach your body to lift your arm above the surface instead of underwater.


As I mentioned in the breaststroke blog, timing is very important for a successful stroke. The video below demonstrates a kicking drill; this drill helps practice timing and distance in your kick. Basically, you’re doing two breaststroke kicks for every one breaststroke pull. While completing this drill, it’s important to not rush, and make sure you keep proper alignment with a neutral head position (streamline). When done properly, this stroke should help to improve power and length in your kick.

Double Kick Drill

The second drill is supposed to help improve your timing as well. Basically, you’re swimming breaststroke, but instead of doing the normal kick (like a frog) you replace it with a dolphin kick. Typically, the dolphin kick in this drill makes it easier for the swimmer to stay close to the surface of the water, which is where you want to be when swimming actual breaststroke. The surface has less resistance, so it’s important for efficient swimming to stay at the top. This drill also allows you to play around with your pull speed a bit more. It takes less time to complete a dolphin kick compared to a breaststroke kick, so take this opportunity to “speed pull” and see how a race pace breaststroke would feel. If you’re having a really hard time completing this drill with dolphin kick, you may also do it with flutter kicking.

Dolphin Kick Drill

Swimming takes a TON of practice. Even Olympians have been swimming for years and years (if you’ve watched interviews, most of them have been swimming since the ages of 5 or 6) and they STILL have to work on technique. While it can be challenging, swimming is a fantastic form of exercise that can be used as a lifelong sport. Have patience, be consistent, and give yourself a chance to have some fun.

Mckinzie Halkola - Fitness Intern at Elite Sports Clubs

Written by Mckinzie Halkola, Fitness Intern at Elite Sports Club – Brookfield

Mckinzie will be receiving her B.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise and fitness in August of 2018. She was captain of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s swim and dive team, was named two-time swimmer of the week by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), Athlete of the Week by the UWO athletic department, and made second-team all-conference for her efforts in the 200-yard backstroke. Her certifications include Adult and Child First Aid/CPR/AED from the American Red Cross (ARC) as well as a lifeguarding certification from the ARC.

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