None of these swimming drills and tips are revolutionary. They have stood the test of time. Rather the treasure trove below is a combination of experience and applied science with “coach speak”.

Because incubation is one of the four proposed stages of creativity, the others being preparation, illumination, and verification. All a part of the process of creating some amazing swimming.

And since, incubation is defined as the “process of unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas at some later point in time.” It comes as no great surprise that the list below is expansive.

Application of them comes with intuition and insight as to the unconscious part of the swimming process. Doing so substantially increases the odds of solving your problem and benefits from long incubation periods with low cognitive workloads.

Think about it, focus on the drills below, youtube clips, interval “send-offs”, heart rate variability, stroke count(s) – any metric or tangibly credible thought on swimming.

And when you’re ready, ultimately let that go and swim. 

Stack Swimming Skills to Create a Stroke Progression

The drills provided in the stroke progression are tools you may find useful as a coach or in coaching yourself.

Streamline Cues and Organization

First, teach swimmers how to streamline. Streamlining off the start and turn will allow for less water resistance and permit one to glide through the water easily and quickly. Use imagery like most fish, boats, airplanes, race cars, and rocket ships.

Teach swimmers great body position for the water – ” stand tall like a flag pole” & “head in a neutral position.” Stack and lock the hands…” hand over hand, wrist over wrist.” Reach arms overhead and squeeze just above ears with your biceps… “make shoulders disappear into the head.” Push off the wall with legs pressed together, and toes pointed… “long, toned bodies.”

Try this on land first and then in the water. Also, teach swimmers to kick while streamlining. Once this skill is mastered, you can streamline on their side and back as well as on their stomach.

Pushing off the Wall Properly ( Loch Ness Monsters) – Face the wall. Hold onto the wall with one hand, toes up against the wall. As you drop down underwater, both hands will meet up top in the streamline position. Feet will be shoulder-width apart and knees bent at a 90° angle. Push off on your back, rotate to your side, then over to your stomach… “back, side, stomach.”

Freestyle Swimming Drills

Body Position Drill – A straight spine and a neutral position with the head should be established. This will create the straight line you need. Arms should be kept by the side, and the back is dry while traveling with an easy flutter kick. Quick breath to the side, one goggle in one goggle in out. “hips high, butt dry”& “noarch in the low back.”

Body Position Drill with Rotation – Rotation from side to side should be from the hips (distance), core (mid-distance), shoulders (sprint). Hands should be put in the pockets. Spend about 8 kicks on each side. Also, make sure the top arm is dry when you are on their side.

Kicking on your side with the bottom arm extended – Focuses on a tight line down the side. One arm up in front, palm facing down. The other arm rests gently at your side. The head is looking down. When taking a breath, it is a quick small movement again, focusing on one goggle in one goggle out of the water. The shoulder should be out of the water, and hips forced up to the surface. Quick, tight boiling kick behind you.

Kicking on your side with top arm extended at 90 degrees – Focuses on a tight line down the side. One arm up in front, palm facing down. The other arm is extended upward to create an L shape with hands/arms. The head is looking down. When taking a breath, it is a quick small movement again, focusing on one goggle in one goggle out of the water. The shoulder should be out of the water, and hips forced up to the surface. Quick, tight boiling kick behind you.

6 Kick Switch/12 kick Switch – Four steps to focus on. 6 or 12 kicks on your left side, allow for a breath, place your face back in the water, and then switch with a “rainbow arm over the top.” Rotating from the hips, keeping kicks within your body line.

Flow Drill – 12 kicks on each side with three strokes to rotate. The bottom arm is extended with the palm facing down. Emphasize a lot of rotation from the hips with a steady kick.

Human Paddle – Hands remain underwater throughout. High catch initiated. Anchor and move over hand/forearm with your elbow in a fixed location. Recover hand forward with palm up and elbow remaining stationary.

Straight-Arm Freestyle – As the hand recovers, keep the arm straight and recover it “over the top.” Circle the arm into the entry setting up a high catch. The arms simulate the path of a rainbow.

Bow and Arrow – Three strokes and pause the arm at the top of the recovery. Reach back slightly and throw the hand forward into the catch.

2x Touch – Recovery arm taps at the water surface at entry then “rewinds” recovery back to tap at the exit point and re-arcs to finish the cycle. Repeat on each side.

Backstroke Swimming Drills

Shaping Shape body position by rounding the shoulders forward, but press backward. The head should be in a position, so the ears are underwater. Develop a balanced, streamlined body position with an easy kick. The feet should be in a pigeon toe position (toes turned in).

Roller Coaster Kick – Head staying in line with the spine. Arms up above the head, shoulder-width apart. Hands bent slightly at the wrist so that you are the only thing sticking out of the water. Tight belly, reaching from hands down to feet. Must keep arms elongated. Quick boiling kick behind you.

Rotation – The drill should start on the back. Rotate side to side from the hips. The shoulders should be tied into the rotation with the head staying in line with the spine. Hands should be put in the pockets. Spend about 8 kicks on each side. Also, make sure the top arm is dry when you are on their side.

Kicking on the side with the bottom arm extended – Keep pressure down on the water, and the top arm should be dry. Remember to have a balanced body position and a neutral head position.

6 or 12 kick Switch – The transition to the other side should be quickly rotating from the hips.

Lift and Drop – Same as rotation while working on just the recovery portion of the stroke. Make sure the shoulder exits the water first, followed by the thumb, and lifts the hand over the top of the shoulder and then back down.

6-3-6 Drill – Kick on the side for six kicks, take three strokes, and kick on the opposite side for six kicks. Emphasize swimming on your side and rotating.

2x Touch – Recovery arm taps at the water surface at entry then “rewinds” recovery back to tap at the exit point and re-arcs to finish the cycle. Repeat on each side.

Breaststroke Swimming Drills

Body Line Breaststroke Kick – Arms up in front of you with thumbs interlaced. The body on the surface of the water, head looking down. When getting a breath raise from the shoulder blades, not with the head. Want to keep eyes focused on hands and head in a neutral position.

Kick on your back – Keep hands under the rear end and drop the heels toward the bottom of the pool. Make sure the knees stay under the surface of the water and reasonably close together. Rotate the feet around the knees on the kick. If the knees keep breaking the surface of the water, then place a kickboard over the knees and try not to hit the board.

Kick on your stomach – Keep hands at the side. Recover the heels to the rear end while keeping the legs close together. When feet are turned out and get to the “loaded” position, the knees should not be wider than shoulder-width. A narrow whip kick should be emphasized.

Vertical Breaststroke Kick against the Wall– With the body and knees close to the wall, perform kicks to drive the heels up, then whip kick the legs and feet together. The knees should not hit the wall.

Inward and Outward Sweep or Front Scull– With a light flutter kick on the stomach, sweep the hands out (palms facing out) to the “Y” position and then sweep the hands back in (palms facing in). Make sure there is a slight elbow bend. Focusing on the elbows being in front of the body at the surface. Also, Call this “Moving Sand” Windshield Wipers” Or “Dagger Scull”

Quarter Pull – Let the hands sweep out slightly to the corners (“Y” position), anchor and move body over hands, then quickly recover the hands forward. Make sure the hands and elbows stay in front of the body (Do not pull back too far!). Use a light flutter or dolphin kick.

Inch Worm – Begin in a streamlined position. As you recover your heels to your rear end, bring hands toward the top of the head. As you kick, extend the hands forward into the streamlined position.

3 – 2 – 1-second delay – During streamlined position, count to 3 after feet finish kick and before taking the next stroke. Progress to counting to 2 and then 1.

Pullout – Maintain a straight body line through the water. Pull down like a fly pull and accelerate the hands. You may do a small dolphin kick during this pull. As you recover the hands forward, keep them close to your body into a streamlined position.

Drills #5 – #8 are for the more advanced swimmer!

Butterfly Swimming Drills

Hands down at sides kicking on your back – Make sure to kick from the chest through the hips/knees/ankles. Use your body to kick, not just your legs.

Hands down at sides kicking on your stomach – Works full-body movement in an accurate swimming body position. Begin to take a breath forward without interrupting the rhythm of the kick.

Front scull with dolphin kick – Perform a full-body butterfly movement at the surface while sculling out in front with the hands. You should press the chest in a downward motion on the out sweep, and you will move upward with the in-sweep.

Airplane Recovery – The back is next to the wall, with the arms fully extended to both sides. Push off the wall into a butterfly recovery motion.

Single Arm Drill – You can either breathe forward or to the side while keeping your opposite arm at your side. Over-exaggerate the recovery by pointing the fingertips to the ceiling and throwing the arm forward. To get the hips up. Emphasize body undulation and full-body movement.

2 Right/ 2 Left/ 2 Middle or 2,2,2 Drill – One arm up in front. Execute two fly pulls with the opposite arm breathing to the side of the arm that is pulling, 2 pulls with the opposite arm, and then two explosive pulls in the middle. The two pulls in the middle; there is no breath. Focusing on pressing your chest down, getting the hips up.

4 Kicks / 1 Pull – Perform three kicks at the beginning of the stroke, then begin the pull while punching the 4th kick as the hands pull under the body and make a triangle at the naval. This will set up a relaxed recovery and move the body forward. Try to sneak the breath and keep the nose close to the water.

Drills #5 & #6 are for a more advanced swimmer!

Key Points for Evaluating Swimming Technique

FREESTYLE

  1. Straight spine / Head stays in line with the spine
  2. Connect rotation to catch
  3. Swim big and open up stroke
  4. Clean entry with fingertips and set up a high catch
  5. Sneak breath (One goggle in water and one goggle out)
  6. Return head to the center point after breath
  7. Bilateral breathing
  8. Steady kick
  9. Distance Per Cycle (DPC)
  10. Accelerate through pull
  11. The sensation that hips are moving forward, but hands retain constant pressure on the water

BACKSTROKE

  1. Straight spine / Neutral head position / Shape the body
  2. Keep head still
  3. Steady kick with boiling water at the toes
  4. Connect rotation to catch
  5. Recover with a straight arm and thumb up
  6. Little finger entry
  7. Quick catch
  8. Flat underwater pull
  9. Finish stroke by hip
  10. The sensation that hips are moving forward, but hands retain constant pressure on the water

BREASTSTROKE

  1. Legs stay close together when recovering the heels to the butt
  2. Knees go no wider than shoulder-width
  3. Rotate feet around knees for more of a whip kick
  4. Think quarter pull / Do not pull back too far
  5. Sweep out to the corners, anchor and initiate kick with completion of the kick slightly behind the extension of hands
  6. Head stays in line with the spine
  7. Fully extend the body at the end of each stroke cycle
  8. Direct your energy forward while keeping the head in line with your body to breathe
  9. During the pullout, keep a good body line. Pull down like a fly pull with a dolphin kick and recover your arms close to the body when returning to the streamline position
  10. The sensation that hips are moving forward, but hands retain constant pressure on the water

BUTTERFLY

  1. Kick pulse increases through the hips, knees, and ankles (whip-like action)
  2. Hands enter directly in front of shoulders
  3. Press chest down before hand entry and move hips over hands.
  4. Accelerate hand speed throughout pull
  5. Breathing occurs by not raising the head, but by bringing the shoulders along with the natural rise of the body
  6. Two kicks for every pull (Kick hands in and kick hands out)
  7. Have an established breathing pattern
  8. Relaxed through shoulders with an almost straight arm recovery
  9. The sensation that hips are moving forward, but hands retain constant pressure on the water

Swimming Turns -More Drills and Tips

Turns are one of the critical components where races are usually won or lost. When performing turns and push-offs, it is the fastest one travels at any point in a race except after the start. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a great streamline to maximize speed and distance before using energy, taking strokes, or kicking.

Short-Axis (Breastroke & Butterfly) Turn Progression

Backward Flip – With the face in the water and head in line, arms and legs extended, draw the knees into the chest to create momentum into a backward flip. Stay in a narrow hallway.

Turning by the wall – With the hands resting on the wall, slowly bring the hands off the wall (elbow your brother and phone your mother) while drawing the knees quickly toward the body and the chin on the chest performing a backward flip.

Approaching the wall – As the swimmer moves toward the wall, one should use the knees to create momentum while keeping the chin on the chest and rotating without breathing.

Unfolding for the push-off – Swim into the wall, execute the turn on the wall, prepare for the push-off, but don’t! Make sure the feet are shoulder-width apart and placed in the center of the wall. This drill helps the swimmer focus solely on getting into the right position for a good push-off.

Where to get a breath – Make sure to exhale right before executing the turn, then breathe during the brief moment when the face is exposed to the air while still keeping the chin on the chest.

When to push off the wall – Usually swimmers will be at a certain angle with the feet before the push-off. Swimmers are generally positioned on their back, push off the wall to their side, then to the stomach. Remember, every little angle, the body is off-center will cost one distance off the wall. Practicing efficient turns at slower speeds will allow for great turns later.

Long-Axis (Freestyle and Backstroke) Turn Progression

Mid-pool flip-turn moving forward – This drill teaches the necessary submerging flip-turn motion. Traveling on the stomach with a light flutter kick and arms by the sides, press the chest and tuck the head to get the back underwater to initiate the start of the turn. The calves should slap the water with the legs at a 90-degree angle.

Two strokes into a mid-pool flip turn – While taking two strokes, submerge the body, contract the abdominals (get into a ball) and slap the calves on the water with the legs at a 90-degree angle. Keep the head in line with the spine.

Plant, Pause, and Push-off – Swim into the wall and, during the last stroke before the turn, tuck the head and submerge into the flip-turn. Plant the feet in the middle of the wall and shoulder-width apart. Make sure the body position on the wall is correct with arms in a streamline position, back is flat and straight, and the head is in line with the spine. Pause in this position for two seconds and push off the wall holding a great line and rotate from back to side and pull with the arm closest to the bottom of the pool to go to the stomach (for freestyle).

Full speed flip-turn with breakout – Put all the components together into a full-speed turn.

Backstroke Turn – First, the swimmer needs a backstroke stroke count from underneath the flags to the wall. Make sure this is done at top speed so the stroke count can be accurate. Once a precise stroke count is obtained, one stroke less than this number will be used to indicate the appropriate time to turn to the stomach. The rest is the same as the freestyle turn. Except for staying on the back after the push-off from the wall.