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Swimming and Drills 101

The main points I stress to individuals for swimming:

1. Don't cross the midline of your body. This is from straight above the head where your hand enters all the way down your body. Once the midline swimming is understood, then you work on rotating from the "barge" to the "speedboat" with help from rotating the hip.

2. High elbow recovery. This helps the body be streamlined moving forward. A lack of high elbows has a tendency to throw the hips side to side, crossing the midline, that causes the body to wiggle through the water. A lack of high elbows also causes the muscles of the arm to be contracted during recovery and not able to relax. When entering, have the fingers enter the water first, followed by the wrist and then elbow.

3. Get rid of the S shaped sculling motion upon entering the water. This wastes time. Enter the water and start to pull, thinking about the area between your fingers and the elbow as a wrought iron bar that doesn't bend. Keeping your elbow bent at approximately 90-110 degrees prevents the arm from crossing the midline and gives you the best power of pushing through the water (which is 1100 times more dense than air).

4. Short, little kicks. Too much bending at the knee causes a braking motion. Your kick should really be within an 8-14 inch range from all the way up to all the way down. Kicking may only be 20-30% of the propulsion forward, but training your kick can make it have better economy to your energy system.

5. Head position. There is no set place to put it. Rather, it depends on the individual. Too high and the butt may sink. Too low and the head is more like an anchor in the water.

Swimming Drills:

Here are a few swimming drills I use at my triathlon camps and swimming clinics for people to improve their swimming as well as their open water swimming.

**** It is important to over-exaggerate any changes in your swimming stroke in order to change your form to a better and more efficient technique. This feeling can take anywhere from a few weeks to months, depending on how often you swim and how disciplined you are with accepting changes. It would be best to have someone knowledgeable about swimming observe you and offer things to change. In addition, being filmed above and below water will give you a visual of things you need to change and allow you to archive your swimming to view it later when periodically filmed***
PS. 90% of the time, drills are slow. Don't hurry the drill and not make the best use of your time.


1. If you cross your midline upon entry, swim like a penguin with your arms feeling FAR apart from the midline. Visualize the appendages of a penguin as the fins are more to the side of the body. Swim like that where you "feel" like your hands are entering the water way out to the side of your body. In reality, you may be entering right by your midlline!

2. To help not cross the midline under the body, try to breathe as little as possible for a 25 or 50, drop the chin to the chest and watch to see if the hands are crossing the midline near your chest and belly. If they are, then make the angle of your elbow larger.

3. High elbows (and relaxed lower arms upon recovery), act like you are pulling your arm out of a winter coat. If you aren't used to doing high elbows, you might feel some tightness in the shoulder area. Hang from a bar or a tree limb for 20 seconds a day. This will help streeetch the shoulder some. Have your hand entry into the water with fingertips first, then wrists, then elbows.
Drills for high elbow:
a. Fingertip drill where the fingers drag along the top of the water during recovery. If you don't feel your fingertips on the water, then you aren't doing this properly.
b. Thumb up the side of the body during the recovery phase from the hip and up along past the lat muscles.
c. Thumb hesitates for one second while touching the shoulder/armpit area. This promises a high elbow. You need to be patient with this drill and really hold it for a second at the shoulder. This also emphasizes rotation and lengthening of the stroke.

4. One legged kicking to improve kicking up (just as a cycling pedal stroke). This makes you work the upside of the kick (hamstrings) instead of just kicking down. Try to do the drill without a board. Arms in front and lift your head up when you need to breathe.

5. Short little kicks. Kick a 25 fast and then a 25 slow concentrating on the feet coming minimally out of the water and also not going too deep. Make sure the toes are pointed. If not, stretching the ankle and foot area will help with this.

6. Swim with your eyes closed to see what direction you go, this shows if one side of the stroke may be weaker (stronger) than the other. If you veer left, then the right arm is pulling better than the left. This is best in a pool with no lane lines. Have two people, one to your left and one to your right, about 15 meters in front of you. They will make sure you don't hit the lane lines or sides of the pool. Push off from a lane line that is marked at the bottom of the pool. Take 15 strokes with your eyes closed, stop and turn around to see if you went to the left or right of the line. No peeking!

7. Head out of the water (and barking). This helps prepare you for sighting in the open water. Try to keep the head moderately still to keep the stroke even. This enhances short/little kicks and high elbows. Then begin sighting every fifth stroke. Ideally you want to be able to breathe while you sight. If not, you can sight and then turn your head to breathe all within the same stroke.

8. Breathe every stroke! Yes, you may get dizzy, but this really helps you get the feel of hip rotation. Breathing every third or fifth stroke really helps for open water swimming. It helps to even out the stroke. Also, if wind created waves or ocean swells are coming from a certain direction during a race, you will feel comfortable breathing to one side so that you don't breathe into the ensuing wave. I didn't start alternate breathing until after college (many, many years ago), it still takes some getting used to. Typically, in a race, I will start the race for the first 400 meters breathing to my more comfortable and dominant breathing side (right) and then as the pace mellows, I will switch to alternate breathing. This also allows me to be able to sight on both sides and to see where other swimmers are in relation to me.

9. Breathe towards the corner of the pool you of the direction you are swimming, not where you have been. Don't breathe back and under your armpit so much. To do this, begin with just looking forward. Don't crick the neck forward by raising it too high. Paddles will help with the lift and keeping the shoulders high and not dropping your should so much that you are not pulling with your force forward. Think lift with the arms. Envision how the airplane uses water to lift the wings; hence the body, off of the ground. Instead of air, you are using the water to lift you up. The shoulder is the "stable" wing.

10. If you are a late breather, breathe towards the corner of the pool of the direction you are swimming, not where you have been. Don't breathe back and under your armpit so much. To do this, begin with just looking forward. Don't crick the neck forward by raising it too high.

© Wes Hobson Performance Inc.