Shark Attack Drill

by SwimSwam 0

July 05th, 2015 Club, College, Training

Swim Training is courtesy of Bridger Bell


Shark Attack Drill is the name given by our swimmers to one-arm “Tarzan,” or one-arm, head-up freestyle. With no disrespect meant to recent victims in North Carolina and elsewhere, our swimmers say it looks and feels like swimming for your life after having an arm bitten off by a shark.

Shark Attack has many of the same benefits as standard Tarzan drill but to amplified effect due to the heightened threat of sinking when only pulling with one arm.

The drill is especially aptly named in that it can be of great potential benefit to Open Water swimmers, including triathletes, who compete with shorter strokes and higher stroke rates. Pool swimmers can also benefit from its effect on the power phase of the pull.


In addition to helping with the entry and finish, training Shark Attack Drill gives swimmers a feel for pulling fingertips-down under the shoulder and hip through the middle of the pull pattern: the power phase.

Shark Attack can help correct various stroke technique errors: “crossing under” (crossing the midline), pulling wide or meandering/indirect pull patterns. (Issues with the pull pattern often result from poorly timed breaths, which should also be addressed.)


– Chin in, mouth out
– Head out, completely still, straight ahead
– Hips at the surface, kick at the surface
– Lame (non-stroking) arm at side
– No splash with hand-entry out front
– Finish the stroke (triceps extension)
– Fast and furious kick (make mist!)
– Rotate/pivot/tip/switch hips and shoulders to lengthen the stroke
– Tight core
– Fingertips pointed at the bottom of the pool through the pull
– Pull under shoulders and hips


The heightened threat of sinking while training Shark Attack forces swimmers to maintain a high stroke rate while training a smooth hand-entry, an effective pull pattern to generate forward drive and thus lift, a tight core for body position and a fast kick with strong upbeat.


Some swimmers have incredible natural buoyancy, reducing the effectiveness of the drill. I encountered one such swimmer this summer while coaching at Mark Bernardino’s swim camp. His buoyancy insulated him from the threat of sinking that would normally force him into an efficient pull pattern, and he thus continued “crossing under” during his pull. So, in order to introduce the threat of sinking, we had him cross his legs while training Shark Attack. This effected a much better pull. When he crossed under, he sank. When he pulled under the shoulder and hip with fingertips down, he generated forward propulsion and thus lift. Thus, the drill gave him intrinsic negative reinforcement (sinking) and positive reinforcement (forward drive and lift).


Last week, I was fortunate to be a guest at Gerry Rodrigues’ Tower 26 Workout in Santa Monica, an Open Water training group that meets once a week. Gerry gave a short talk on the pull pattern before our swim, emphasizing the shorter stroke and higher stroke rate that is effective for many Open Water swimmers. Shark Attack Drill trains a shorter stroke and higher stroke rate with an efficient pull pattern. This can translate directly to Open Water or can function to give pool swimmers a feel for the middle of the pull pattern (power phase) as well as offering benefits to the entry, finish and body position.


When training Shark Attack Drill:
– Get times.
– Count strokes.
– Get both numbers ^ down.
– Train sets of it every day or almost every day for at least a month.

Bridger BellBridger Bell is the Head Coach of Donner Swim Club and Columbus North High School in Columbus, Indiana. He was previously an assistant at Johns Hopkins University while head-coaching the St. Paul’s Schools in Brooklandville, Maryland. Prior to that, he coached with Pete Higgins at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta when the boys and girls teams each won Georgia High School State Championships. Bell served for six years as the National Director of Collegiate Club Swimming for the American Swimming Association while also representing collegiate club swimming to the CSCAA. A competitive swimmer all his life, Bell was a USMS National Champion and All-American in the 2-mile cable swim. He was featured as a coach in the July ’14, August ’14 and June ’15 issues of Swimming World Magazine and has written articles for SwimSwam, Swimming World Magazine and Swimming Science.

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