How to make your swim drills more challenging

Bored of doing the same old swim drills over and over again? Swim coach Andrew Sheaff shows you how to make simple changes that will increase the challenge and improve your swim

A swimmer in a pool

Improving your skills can be tough. To optimise learning, you need a lot of repetition, and you need novelty. Unfortunately, these two requirements are somewhat contradictory!


You can perform the same activities over and over again to get your reps in, but there won’t be much novelty. In contrast, you can constantly switch up the drills you use, but you won’t be getting enough repetitions in.

However, there is an alternative. You can take the same old drills you love and make slight changes to them. Now you have the best of both worlds – you can perform lots of repetitions with the same basic drills while still getting novel challenges.

Below are some ideas for how to do exactly that.

How to make your swim drills more challenging

Change your hands

If you change the shape of your hands, I guarantee you’ll experience the drill differently. You’ll move water differently and your ability to stabilise your body position will be dramatically different as well.

The same drill will suddenly be a whole new experience. Fortunately, there are lots of different ways you can adjust the size and shape of your hands. Here are some great hand positions:

Change the speed

Most triathletes will perform their drills at a smooth and controlled pace. There’s no rule that says you have to do so!

You can practise building the speed of the drill over the course of each repetition or you can increase the speed from repetition to repetition.

By adding some speed, you’ll be challenging your coordination and you’re almost guaranteed to expose some weakness in your execution of the drill.

Add a buoy

Many drills, particularly those targeting the pulling action, take on a new life when you remove the legs from the action. All of a sudden, the arms are required to do all the work.

Without throwing in a buoy, you might not realise how the legs were compensating for the arms. Adding a buoy tends to change the entire dynamic of the drill, and this provides another context for you to master your skills.

Add fins

Take the opposite approach of adding a buoy by adding fins. Instead of de-emphasising the legs, you’ll emphasise them.

Don’t be surprised if you feel very different when performing the same drill. It will provide you with the opportunity to feel what it’s like to have a steady kick behind you, and that will likely allow for different ways of executing the drill.

Change your breathing

If you always wear a snorkel when doing drills, take it off. If you never wear one, start using it.

Breathing tends to alter how you swim, so performing the same drill with a different breathing pattern will likely have a significant impact on how you move through the water and how you execute the drill.

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