by Andy Potts

Ed. Note—why would you turn anywhere else other than one of the sport's greatest swimmers, Andy Potts, for swim advice? Potts is also a great coach who runs AP Racing, where you can find more excellent content such as this piece below, about inserting three drills into your training to find better balance in the water.

I get asked all the time about doing drills and which ones athletes should focus on. This question is a common one, and drills certainly have a place in all three disciplines, but how much, how often, and which drills are the three big pieces to the fitness puzzle we are all trying to solve. Today we’re going to look at three “must-do” drills to master your swimming. 

Balance is key

My favorite swim drills are all about balance. Since we are in an unfamiliar environment, water, and you can’t breathe whenever you want, swimming poses the highest hurdle for lots of triathletes to overcome. I suggest these drills to build your comfort and balance in the water:

Drill #1: Single arm, Breathe Opposite Side Swimming

How: pin one arm at your side, and swim with only the other arm while breathing towards the side you’re not stroking with. Breathe every stroke as this is a balance drill and not a breathing one. You’ll notice when you sink and when you rise (giving you a clue where you are losing “traction” on the water) and timing is key. Try to be as smooth and fluid as possible while maintaining forward motion. You want to get enough rotation to be symmetrical on both sides and you should really feel your body rotating around your spine. Insert 100-200 yards of this drill right after you finish your warmup.Here is an example of what this drill should look like:

Drill #2: Broken Wing

How: put a paddle on one hand and a fin on the opposite foot. Swim freestyle and note your timing and rotation. This is great for swimmers who are struggling to find a rhythm and who are missing the front part of the catch of their stroke. You want to really feel your opposite hand and opposite foot enter the water at about the same time. This helps with rotation and timing of your stroke. Toss this in right before your main set to nail your stroke rhythm, and depending on your stroke, you might do anywhere between 300-1000 yards of this drill.

Drill #3: Modified catch up with dowel or tube

How: use a dowel or a tube about about 12-20 inches long and swim freestyle while holding the dowel out front with one hand as the other does a full stroke and then switch. This is great for flattening out a stroke that rotates too much, or to help a swimmer whose arm collapses underneath him or her during a breath. We are looking to get into and hold a powerful position in the water and this helps remind people to not cross over their midline during the pull phase. A key tip for this drill is that your hand should hold the dowel at shoulder width on each side respectively (to help avoid the crossover we just mentioned!). Toss this drill in before your main set for 200-500 yards. Here is an example of what this drill should look like without a dowel and an advanced version of it that you can practice:

And that’s it! There are many more drills out there in the swim world, but I chose these three because they speak to limitations that many amateur triathletes share. Don’t just slavishly insert these into your workouts, however. Add them in and see if it makes a difference in your swimming, after you give the drills a while to take effect. You can always let me know how you’re getting on over at AP Racing. Drop me a line, because I’d really like to hear from you!