Why and How to Practice Swimming Drills

The concept of a swimming drill may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. A drill is merely a specific exercise that focuses on a particular aspect of a swim stroke. And by using a logical sequence of swimming drills, you can learn a new stroke without the struggle. Swimming drills also allow you to improve your swimming technique significantly.

Swimming drills are your friends (Image courtesy of Tracy Barbutes)

Don’t neglect the practice of swimming drills.
(Photo: Tracy Barbutes)

Why practice swim drills?

First of all, the movements you do while practicing drills are often different than the ones you do during regular swimming, and especially so in the beginning. This ensures that previously learned bad habits don’t have a chance to interfere while (re-)learning phase a swim stroke.

The drills also teach you how to use your senses to feel how to do the correct movements rather than having to think them intellectually. This is not unlike how martial arts are taught to students. A swimming stroke is broken down into its parts, and each piece is repeatedly practiced until your body knows how to move correctly.

Once this understanding has occurred, your body will automatically try to reproduce the same sensations and movements during practice, and your mind is free to take on the next challenge.

This also means that there is a progression in the skills learned. During each sequence of swimming exercises, you are presented with more and more difficult challenges to solve. But as your body adapts and integrates new skills, you become ready to tackle the next drill.

The purpose of each drill is to master a specific skill. Tackling one skill at a time ensures that you don’t become overwhelmed and can fully concentrate on the task at hand. Progress is faster and easier to assess.

It’s rather simple: once you have mastered a swimming drill, you are ready to progress to the next one without too much difficulty. But if you move to the next drill without mastering the current one, you might run into problems.

Finally, the practice of drills has a zen-like quality. While you are focusing on the movements and sensations experienced during practice, you will notice how you can be both relaxed and concentrated on the task at hand while floating in the water. Swimming then becomes like a moving meditation in the water that is very pleasurable.

How to practice swimming drills

The key to successfully learn the different drills is to practice them patiently in the suggested order. It will often take a couple of swim sessions to be able to execute a new drill correctly.

This means it should take a couple of weeks to master the sequence of drills specific for a swim stroke. Nevertheless, you should quickly feel that your swimming technique improves once you add the practice of drills into your workouts.

Don’t try to complete all the drills in only a few swim sessions. It is best to take your time and start each swim session by rehearsing a few drills you already know to get into the zone and then to practice one or two new drills. After this, you can do something else, for example, regular swimming. Ideally, you should only start a new drill when the previous one has been mastered.

This gives the body time to adapt between swim sessions. You should notice that rehearsing a drill becomes easier with each new swim session, as the body has adapted. Finally, you are ready to move to the next drill.

You can also work on more than one swim stroke at a time so that you progress simultaneously with several swim strokes. The most important thing is that you take your time and enjoy the process of steady improvement made possible through purposeful and relaxed practice.

Additional Tips for Practice

Once you have mastered a swim stroke, it still is beneficial to rehearse its corresponding swimming drills regularly. For example, you can alternate lengths of drills with lengths of regular swimming. Or you can practice a drill for a few lengths, focusing on a specific aspect of your technique, and then try to maintain that focus while swimming a few regular lengths.

Finally, alternating regular swimming with swimming drills keeps your workouts more varied and interesting.


Now that we have discussed why swimming drills are among the best tools to learn swimming or to improve your technique, you can visit the following pages that contain specific drills for each swimming stroke:

Have fun and enjoy swimming!

7 thoughts on “Why and How to Practice Swimming Drills”

  1. I want to swim under water and touch the bottom of the pool. But I find it difficult to go under water. The head always bob’s up. Any tips please?

    1. This is completely off-topic but I do kind of a flip so that my head is down and my legs are up and then do breaststroke movements to swim downward.

    2. I’ve just learned this in my swimming lesson (adult improvers) and did my first handstand and somersault!!! The teacher said you need to expel ALL the air (blow out) as quickly as possible as you go down, and tuck your chin in. After 43 years it worked like a charm!!! Drill videos on the website by the way, just what my teacher says, but good to see them.

    3. Julia Coggins

      How deep is the bottom?

      If it is quite deep, at least 3, 4 meters, take a deep breath while treading water at the surface. Then, perform an arm over arm surface dive and exhale while making your way to the bottom of the pool. Air in your lungs makes you lighter and prone to floating back up, so we need to release some of this air to make it to the bottom, be careful you have enough air to get yourself to the bottom!

      Any sort of free diving takes knowledge of your own body and its limits. Experiment a bit but keep safe.

  2. Hi,

    I think this questioned has been asked before but I couldn’t find it. How often should each of the drills be practiced before progressing to the next one?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Marie,

      I’d say you should practice a drill until you can execute it in a relaxed or at least controlled manner. You may try to move to the next drill earlier, but you might get stuck if a prerequisite from an earlier drill hasn’t been mastered.

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