How to use swim drills more effectively

Not making much progress with your swim drills? The problem might be when and how often you're doing the drills in your session. Andrew Sheaff has the solution…

Man swimming in an indoor swimming pool

If you’re struggling to make as much progress as you’d like with your swimming drills, the problem may not be the drills themselves, but how you’re implementing them in practice.


In this article, I’ll show you how to optimally use drills to accelerate learning, improve your skills, and accomplish your goals. You’ll learn more effectively, you’ll learn faster, and you’ll learn with less effort.

Focus on the freestyle 

If you want to improve your freestyle skills, you have to be strategic about it. The typical approach is to throw some drills in at the start of a session, get them done, and then start training hard.

The problem is that it separates the drill work from the skill you’re actually trying to improve, your freestyle! The drills are a means to an end, it’s the freestyle that you ultimately want to improve.

Repetition is key

Learning new physical skills is ultimately a sensory process. To move differently you have to feel new ways of moving. That’s the purpose of good drills.

They help you feel new ways of moving through the water that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to feel while swimming freestyle. You need a new stimulus to feel the opportunity for change.

However, the learning process doesn’t stop there. You actually need to practise swimming freestyle with an awareness of these new sensations. You need to do both if you actually want to create change, not just one or the other.

The problem is that this sensory awareness doesn’t stick for very long for most triathletes. It’s fleeting. The only way around this challenge is repetition. You have to repeat the combination of a drill and freestyle swimming over and over again.

The more repetitions of this combination you get in, the faster the desired skills will show up in your freestyle.

Practise sessions 

Below are two sample sets that illustrate these concepts. They integrate the drill work into the swimming, providing an opportunity.

The first set is more of a ‘learning’ set with an emphasis on the exercises. The second set is more of a ‘training’ set, with an emphasis on the freestyle.

The principles are the same in both, with the difference being that the first set focuses on the exercises and the second set focus on the freestyle. Same idea, different purpose.

1. Paddle cap freestyle

2-4 x

  • 2 x 25m Paddle Cap Freestyle
  • 50m Freestyle
  • 2 x 25m Paddle Cap Freestyle
  • 100m Freestyle
  • 2 x 25m Paddle Cap Freestyle
  • 150m Freestyle

2. Underwater recovery

2-4 x

  • 4 x 25m Underwater Recovery
  • 150m Freestyle; steady effort
  • 100m Freestyle; solid effort
  • 50m Freestyle; strong effort

If you want to take your skill development to the next level, consider integrating your drill work into your freestyle training. When you’re learning a new skill, focus more on the exercises.

When you really want to make sure it shows up in your freestyle, emphasise the freestyle repetitions. It’s a simple strategy that will take your ability to learn new skills to the next level.


Top image credit: Getty Images