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When’s best to do swim drills in a session?

When’s best to do swim drills in a session?

Drills are an important part of swim training but is there an optimum time to do them within your session? Yes, says swim coach Andrew Sheaff, who introduces the concept of 'technical recovery'…

Man swimming in an indoor swimming pool. Professional swimmer practising in pool.

The vast majority of triathletes place their drill work at the beginning of their workouts. The thought process is a good one, as you’re prioritising the inclusion of technical work to improve your skills.

You’re establishing good skills prior to the remainder of the training session, or you’re working to learn new ones while you’re fresh.

If you’re finding that this strategy has been an effective one for you, I’d encourage you to continue to use it. If you’re open to experimentation, however, there’s another opportunity to place your drill work that’s equally effective at improving your skills.

This strategy works to enable you to start each practice sessions with a higher baseline of skill. It all starts with the idea of technical recovery.

Technical recovery

All athletes are familiar with the concept of cooling-down or warming-down to facilitate physiological recovery. Doing so helps you prepare for your next effort or your next session.

However, a much less appreciated and equally important concept is the idea of technical recovery. After a hard set or a hard training session, it’s likely that your technical skills aren’t quite as sharp as they were when you started. Just as you want to make sure you’re creating physiological recovery, you want to facilitate technical recovery.

Why is it important? Every time you’re able to re-establish your skills, you’ll start your next set or your next session at a higher level of skill. You won’t have to spend any time trying to find your stroke again. The quality of your swimming will be better, and these small differences begin to add up over time.

If you continue to include skill work at the beginning of your sessions, it will take less time to find a groove and you’ll spend less time learning.

Putting it in to practice

Considered from the perspective of technical recovery, it becomes obvious that another great opportunity for including drills is AFTER the hard work has been done. Whenever you’re performing easy swimming for the purposes of physical recovery, begin to view that as time period as a chance to improve your skills as well as recover your body.

The main opportunities to implement this strategy is between hard sets in the session and during your warm-down after a session is over. It doesn’t take much, as even a couple minutes of work can have an major impact. You can use your favourite drills or you can simply swim freestyle with focused intention.

If you want to be strategic, work on the skills you feel like you need to improve the most, or work on the strokes you struggled with during your workout. You’ll find that you start off your next session with slightly better skills, and these slight differences compound over time into something significant.

My favourite exercises to include during warm-downs are the ball float and stroke and roll, below. I love them because they allow you to work on fundamental skills, while also forcing you to slow down and relax, improving physical recovery at the same time.

Top image: Getty Images

Profile image of Andrew Sheaff Andrew Sheaff Swim coach


Andrew Sheaff has been helping people improve their swimming for over 20 years. He’s worked with everyone from children learning to swim to Olympic medalists to masters triathletes and swimmers. He specialises in helping triathletes improve their swimming skills through online coaching. He is also the author of 'A Constraints-Led Approach to Swim Coaching'. For more information about improving your swimming and to work with Andrew, please visit www.masteringflow.info or www.youtube.com/@masteringflow.