Autumn is around the corner, and those who love swimming have just about two months left to enjoy their time in the pool, and improve their performance. Whether it is for a casual swim, or for a competition as the triathlon season kicks off (that’s coming soon), you need to practice several drills in order to improve your freestyle, which is the fastest and most efficient stroke and hence the best to employ for any competition.
Lounge listed a few swimming drills earlier to help you improve your freestyle. So here are five more advanced drills that would make you a stronger and more efficient freestyle swimmer. Mastering this will serve you well in a pool, as well as if you opt for open water swimming, which is growing in popularity in India.
Finger-tip drag drill: In order to conserve energy and power, you will have to ensure that you have just one hand under tension at any point in time: it’s the one that is performing the pull. The other hand is in the recovery phase as it exits the water and it should be completely relaxed.
In order to master this, you need to ensure that your fingertips are pointing towards the floor of the pool and the elbow is pointing towards the sky. Nisha Millet, former Olympics swimmer, who runs the Nisha Millet Swimming Academy says this is what is commonly known as the high elbow freestyle. “When your hand exits the water, you keep your fingertips very close to the surface and drag them lightly. Imagine you are pulling up a zip, your hand will be very close to your body, almost touching it all through, and your fingertips drag into the water all along from the exit right to the moment you enter back into the water. This movement automatically leads to the high elbow pointing towards the sky. This drill makes your stroke more efficient.” However, if you have shoulder mobility issues you might find this drill difficult in the beginning, she warns.
Catch-up drill: This is a kick drill where both hands are out in the front. A lot of people, especially beginners, are predominantly upper body swimmers and don’t use their legs enough. “In this drill you perform a lot of kicks along with your freestyle stroke. Your legs are really strong muscles and we start off with a push-off with our arms in the streamline position in front and perform five or six kicks before bringing one arm into action. You move the arm through the entire stroke and return to the starting position where the other arm is still held in the streamline position. When the first arm returns to the starting position, you move the other arm through the entire stroke. This alternating movement of arms where one arm catches up with the other shifts the focus on your kicking. This drill forces you to use your legs and core and is excellent to improve your freestyle irrespective of you being a beginner or an expert swimmer,” says Millet.
Single-arm drill: This drill really helps competitive, open water swimmers as well as triathletes. Unlike in the catch-up drill, the hand that isn’t being used, remains by the side of the body, not in front, and only one arm is used to swim. Of course, you have to kick along while you’re using the solitary arm.
Most swimmers usually have one dominant arm and they also find it difficult to breathe on the weaker side. This drill irons out any kind of imbalances in your stroke. This drill has two variations: the easier version involves breathing on the same side as the hand that is moving. To scale it up, breathe on the opposite side of the hand that is moving. This drill helps improve balance and body rotation. You could use flippers for this drill for better stability.
Head up freestyle: This drill is excellent for your core, back and upper body strength, and it’s also a great rescue stroke. In the beginner version of the drill, you rotate both your body and neck from side to side, making it slightly easier to breathe, by not submerging your head in the water at all. The advanced version requires you to keep your head out of water and straight throughout the stroke. The important thing to note here is that this drill is not for beginners. Use a pull buoy if you find this drill difficult, and Millet warns that this drill shouldn’t be tried by people with back issues, since the movement loads the lower back.
Side-kicking drill: Beginners tend to sink their legs in water when doing the freestyle, or worse still, completely stop kicking while trying to side-breathe. Because of this their balance is compromised. To avoid this, you need to employ side-kicks, which ensures you don’t lose balance or form while taking a breath. This is where the side-kicking drill comes in.
Hold on to the bottom of a kickboard, bring your right arm next to your body with the hand resting on the thigh, while the left arm remains on the kickboard. Turn to the right side, simulating side breathing. Start with the normal freestyle kick and when you twist your body to breathe, kick on your side. You should kick forward and back with equal force. Millet advices that this drill should be done just once a week. This is a tough drill but it helps improve your breathing in water without compromising form or speed.
Count strokes: This is more of a trick that helps you become more efficient in water and improve your average pace. Count each hand as one stroke and your aim should be to do a lap in the least number of strokes. As you reduce the number of strokes needed to do a lap, you are increasing your distance per stroke, the hallmark of efficient use of energy. “We constantly try to reduce the number of strokes per lap by one. As you tire you start to glide less and your stroke isn’t as efficient. So, you need to be mindful and consciously make an effort to reduce the strokes per lap. Top swimmers know exactly how many strokes they need to cover a certain distance,” says Millet.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.