Swim Training: In Defense of Drills

Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder.

In the never-ending quest to get their swimmers fitter, coaches tend to use every minute of the practice to get more meters or yards into the workout. Rarely, do they ever stop and take a step back to really analyze what their swimmers are doing. In fact, in the sea of arms and legs moving across a pool in a daily workout, seldom will a coach pinpoint any details of any individual swimmer’s stroke. It is hard to see the forest through the trees.

Since it takes place in a medium some 800 times denser than air, swimming could arguably claim to be the most technique-sensitive sport out there. With compelling drag forces that come into play at relative low speeds, the water has no mercy for swimmers when it comes to making positional mistakes. Yet coaches will watch their swimmers for hours going up and down the pool, making the same mistakes over and over again.

While one could argue about the relative importance that should be given to fitness vs. technique, the fact is, most swimming coaches don’t give technique much consideration at all. They should. Great swimmers have great technique and those that aren’t so great, usually don’t.

Drills are the single best way to improve technique. Here are three good reasons why coaches should give up some of the swimmer’s precious fitness time and devote more of it to doing drills.

  1. Drills Isolate the problem

  2. Drills help correct the problem

  3. Drills help keep the problem corrected

Although, it has to be said, not all swimming drills are good for you.


Gary Hall, Sr.,  Technical Director and Head Coach of The Race Club (courtesy of TRC)

Gary Hall, Sr., Technical Director and Head Coach of The Race Club (courtesy of TRC)

Yours in Swimming,

-Gary Hall Sr.

[email protected] <http://[email protected] 
Www.theraceclub.com <http://Www.theraceclub.com 


The Race Club, logoThe Race Club, logoThe Race Club, logoBecause Life is Worth Swimming, our mission is to promote swimming through sport, lifelong enjoyment, and good health benefits. Our objective is for each member of and each participant in The Race Club to improve his or her swimming performances, health, and self-esteem through our educational programs, services and creativity. We strive to help each member of The Race Club overcome challenges and reach his or her individual life goals.

The Race Club provides facilities, coaching, training, technical instruction, video, fitness and health programs for swimmers of all ages and abilities. Race Club swim camps are designed and tailored to satisfy each swimmer’s needs, whether one is trying to reach the Olympic Games or simply improve one’s fitness. Our programs are suitable for beginner swimmers, pleasure swimmers, fitness swimmers, USA swimming or YMCA swimmers, or triathletes; anyone who wants to improve swimming skills. All of our Race Club members share an enjoyment of being in the water and use swimming to stimulate a more active mind and body.

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Clive Rushton
9 years ago

I was once asked what was the percentage balance between technique, anaerobic and aerobic factors in a swim race. I queried which distance, and said, “Let’s say 200.”

Technique -100% (coach looks amazed)
Anaerobic – maybe 40% (coach looks perplexed)
Aerobic – maybe 60% (coach looks totally confused)

I was probably out for most good swimmers on the 40/60 thing (its individual anyway) but I was 100% right on the 100%.

Dr. Hall is correct: swimming is the most technique-sensitive sport out there. Drills are great. Drills help. Maximum speed drills help more 🙂

Stuart Dustan
Reply to  Clive Rushton
9 years ago

Drills can be very useful, at all levels, in introducing and helping a swimmer get to ‘grips’ with a new movement. However, drills do become less useful at elite level.

At younger ages, most movements are new to a swimmer and drills can be essential in helping a young swimmer develop the correct movement. However, once the desired movement has been achieved, there is absolutely no substitute to repeating the movement in full stroke, at race pace.

Only moments which are repeated at race-pace will transfer to a race – a statement which doesn’t stand well with everyone. The common belief is that you can repeat a movement over a large distance at less-than-race-pace and it will transfer to… Read more »

9 years ago

Usrpt says it depends on your skill level

Reply to  Rvpt
9 years ago

Dr. Hall doesn’t advocate USRPT, that’s the other Dr.

9 years ago

But I thought USRPT says that drills are a waste of time for most swimmers!