Vicky Holland’s top 3 swim drills

Holland regularly includes these 3 swim drills to tune up the most important aspects of her stroke.


Vicky Holland always alternates one length of drill with one length of normal swimming to transfer the focus of the drill into the full front-crawl stroke. The following are her top three swim drills for triathletes.


Drill 1: Sculling on your front 

This drill is used to improve that elusive ‘feel’ for the water that swimmers always refer to. The key areas that Holland focuses on are keeping both hands moving together and encouraging the forearm to do the work in moving the hands from inside to outside, while making sure that the arms don’t drift out too wide. Holland advises using a pull buoy when doing this drill to keep the legs up on top of the water and to allow you to concentrate solely on what the arms are doing.

1. Start position

Arms extended with slight flexion at the elbow. Hands orientated with palms basically facing down, thumbs nearly touching, little fingers slightly higher than thumbs.

2. Mid-point

Hands sweep outwards and start to rotate palms towards the outside. Keep elbows slightly bent.

3. Widest point of scull

Hands stop sweeping outwards when just outside of the shoulders (don’t go too wide) with palms now facing outwards.

4. Finish

Hands sweep back towards the centre, this time with palms facing inwards (thumbs on the upper side) before repeating.

Drill 2: Extended doggy paddle

This drill is used to work on the catch phase of the stroke, especially in positioning the forearm vertically in the water and using it as a ‘paddle’. Arms recover under, rather than over the top of the water so that you can focus 100% on the catch. 

1. Start position

Gliding off the wall with arms fully outstretched in front of you.

2. Pulling back under the water

Make sure your forearm is close to vertical to maximise the use of your forearm as a paddle in the catch. 

3. Completing the pull

Continue to pull all the way through the underwater phase of the stroke, aiming to bring your hand down past your hip before starting the recovery. 

4. Underwater recovery

‘Push’ your hand back to the front of the stroke underwater before starting the stroke with the other arm. 

Drill 3: Fist swim 

This drill focuses on using the forearm in the catch and pull phases of the stroke (it’s much harder to ‘catch the water’ with a closed fist). Essentially it involves swimming a normal front-crawl stroke, but with your fists closed.

Swimming with fists closed means that you cannot use the fingers and palm of the hand as a paddle, so at first you will feel like you’re ‘slipping’ a lot of water and gaining little propulsion from the arms.

You can make swimming with fists progressively harder by firstly putting your thumb under your fingers…

…then by clenching your fist harder… 

…and then finally by putting your thumb over your closed fingers. This reduces the size of the paddle made by your hand and increases the work the forearm has to do in the catch.


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