Many swimmers ask how often they should be doing drill sessions or swims; how many swim drills they should be doing. Swim drills can be a pretty controversial topic depending on who you speak to.
Why Would You Use Swim Drills?
Drills are a useful part of working on form and technique in your swim. In stepping away from JUST swimming up and down the pool, you give your stroke focus and control; You give your speed the chance to improve without having to work physically harder for it.
From my experience, a large number of novice swimmers/triathletes who are just getting started can swim only a few lengths without taking a break. They need drills like side kick or sculling to get their form right initially so that they can swim further or easier.
To improve the former, you have to get the latter correct. If we just give these swimmers sprints or 500 metre repeats not only would they not be able to complete sessions; They would most likely quit because of how miserable it feels. They may get a little faster over time, but will always be limited by inefficient form. The compounding effect too is that swimming without the technique instruction first ingrains bad form habits that will prevent them from getting faster later on in their swim development.
These errors not only will be in the pool but also in the open water. In this instance, drills and building awareness in the water allows swimmers to be more confident in the water. Drills build awareness of what your body is doing, which is a critical skill for those uncomfortable in the water.
You aren’t going to float better in the water if you don’t know what it feels like to be balanced in the water. Nor are you going to be able to develop a high elbow catch if you don’t focus on it and work to improve it. Breathing, the trickiest part of learning to swim, is hard to develop without knowing the timing of your stroke. It’s hard to develop timing without breaking down your stroke into individual parts.
Why Would You NOT Do Swim Drills?
Some incredibly successful coaches see swim drills as unimportant for becoming a better swimmer. Rather, in fact, it is better to spend your time with intensity. Matt Dixon goes as far as to call drills making you faster a “myth” and that they “rarely translate into improved swimming for triathletes”.
His reasoning is that as triathletes, we are training for open water swimming. As a result swim drills that focus on technique are great for competitive pool swimmers but not for the open water. It’s like learning to run a marathon by looking at the form of Usain Bolt.
At the same time, Sutton states that “90% of non-swimmers would be far better served by using aids and instead of drilling, performing swim sessions that specifically address the needs of the physical exertion of swimming non-stop for an hour”. He goes on to say that “developing a feel” for the water prevents you from becoming a better triathlete.
Both Dixon and Sutton have some very valid points here. Since many cannot get to the pool more than twice a week, we have to make every lap count. Spending an hour of our time and majority of the practice doing fingertip drag for length after length does little to building swim fitness or speed. And drills will not make you faster- at least not directly.
So What Should You Do?
For me, swim drills are important. A key, even, to making you a better swimmer. But they are only a tool to help you along your way; they are not the be all and end all. Perfection is not necessary, either in your stroke or in your drills. But EVERYONE has parts of their stroke that they need to work on. That’s where these swim drills can be used to make a difference. They exaggerate a particular element of your technique, allowing you to feel a positive change when you swim full stroke.
Rather than doing whole sessions of mindless drills all the time, incorporate specific drills into your warm up. Swim with purpose, and use the improved form to help improve your speed and fitness. Make sure that you know why you are doing a drill, what it is aiming to improve. Then you can get the maximum out of the exercise, and the sessions you are undertaking.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.
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