5 Best Drills for Sprint Freestyle Swimming

5 Best Drills for Sprint Freestyle Swimming

There are certainly a multitude of drills for sprint freestyle (and freestyle in general), and to narrow the many down to five is no small task. Quite a few drills have come and gone in my personal sprint training repertoire throughout my ten years of collegiate coaching, but the following five drills have been a staple of nearly every sprint group I have coached. I want to keep this article short and thus will not go too in-depth into the how and why of each drill, but I will give you enough bullet points to get the idea as to why I believe wholeheartedly in these Final Five. I will also be posting a video shortly showing these 5 drills in action.  

Disclaimer: None of these drills are my own creation (except for the anti-paddle power/speed work I will not share), and as with the majority of coaches I have borrowed heavily from mentors both past and present. Bill Dorenkott, Rick DeMont, John Hargis, and David Marsh were a primary influence during my time at Penn State and Arizona. 



My Top 5 Drills for Sprint Freestyle 1. Left / Right Arm Freestyle 2. Straight Arm Freestyle 3. Swimming With Anti-Paddles 4. Fly Pause 5. Simmons Board Drill

1. Left Arm / Right Arm Freestyle 

  • Looking for balance in the propulsive and recovery phase of the stroke, body position, etc.

  • 30-45 degree rotation to both sides...this is important as many athletes will neglect rotating to the non-pulling side and rush through the drill

  • L/R free is as much a kick set as anything...looking for the leg tempo to remain constant through the recovery

  • Focus is on a straight stroking pattern north to south, propulsion, drag reduction, early vertical forearm (henceforth EVF), tips down on the entry, kick tempo

  • We teach non-pulling arm relaxed at the side...NOT overhead.

  • Perhaps by focusing on just one arm at a time the athlete can train the brain to narrow down and zone in on the neuromuscular component of the stroke?

  • We like to count strokes per 25..if we see an imbalance we work on correcting it...propulsion/drag reduction imbalances are easy to see with L/R swimming

  • We use a variety of paddles to focus on the different components of propulsion and drag reduction and to provide different stimuli to the brain

  • We often use a Power Tower with an extremely light bucket for L/R free...why -

    • FORCES the athlete to keep the kick tempo up on the recovery...without the opposite arm providing propulsion on the recovery the brain MUST use the legs...as we know on the tower...if you are not moving forwards you are moving backwards!

    • Propulsion imbalances are magnified with resistance...often times we will see 2-4 more strokes taken with the athlete's weaker arm...we bank that info and reexamine in the weight room

    • General propulsion...are we pulling water? Again any inefficiencies are magnified with resistance

2. Straight Arm 

  • Straight arm and its variations were made popular once again by Mike Bottom a few years ago with his threestyle freestyle and the Auburn/Cal/Arizona sprint success.

  • We instruct the athletes to focus on a finger tips down entry and EVF as we do not want a flat entry...the finger tips must hit first

  • The goal is to increase stroke length without sliding the hand forward in the water which increases drag...increase the stroke length via the recovery instead

  • The aforementioned concept of maximizing distance on the recovery (straight arm) is not new...Watch Janet Evans in Seoul 1988 straight-arming her way to gold below, then see another example from Libby Trickett.

  • The physics of these two women are simple...they had to swim "bigger" as we say because they were/are 5'5'' and 5'6'' respectively...not likely they would have been as dominant with a shorter stroke against their 6'0'' competitors

  • As one final example...watch what happens when 6'6'' Florent Manaudou opens up on his way to Olympic Gold in London with a straight arm freestyle...If you are 6'2'' and not maximizing your stroke length above the water I am not sure how you plan to beat someone maximizing their DPS who also happens to be 6'6''

  • I have heard prominent sprint coaches dismiss the bigger recovery of a shoulder driven, straight arm freestyle because of the possibility of the hand entering flat on the water...Florent is about as straight as you can go and at the very last second gets his tips down first on the entry...textbook sprint freestyle and in my humble opinion is well worth teaching, even with the possibility of a flat entry. If he can go straight AND get this tips down we can teach others to do the same.

  • On a side note, IMHO, I believe Cullen would have won the 50 in London with a "bigger" stroke. Compare Cullen to Florent...who would you pick to win based on stroke technique alone? I have always wondered why Cullen never adopted a "bigger" recovery for the 50.


3. Anti-paddles, tennis balls, etc. 

  • I have used these tools daily over the past 10 years and believe in them wholeheartedly

  • The goal is EVF and to teach the brain to involve sensory receptors in the forearms...proprioception...can we teach the brain to "feel" water on the forearm and involve the forearm in the stroke?

  • We teach that good athletes swim with their hands, great athletes swim with their hands and forearms, elite athletes swim with their hands, forearms, and upper arm

  • We drill with the anti-paddles and sprint with the tennis balls

  • We involve the Power Tower in this drill as well...if you want to see great leg action try anti-paddle 25's on the Power Tower with an extremely light bucket...the legs will have to steal the show

  • We love going anti-paddle work during a lactate production set or power set...but that is a Liberty secret and I won't share it here

  • We seldom do fist drill as we want the brain to focus on the forearm and not having to close the fist...a great anti-paddle allows the hands to relax, the athlete to relax, and for the brain to work on those forearm sensory inputs.


  • On a side note, I am in the beginning stages of developing a new anti-paddle design that I believe will be the best anti-paddle available on the market...more info coming soon!


4. Fly Pause 

  • We always go with a snorkel and a buoy

  • The goal is EVF, straight pull, no recovery...no need for recovery, let us focus on the stroking patterns, propulsion, etc.

  • We teach the athletes to actually pause...pause, and do not be afraid to take a look, lift the head up and see if we have a great starting position of tips down, EVF, hands at shoulder width or slightly wider, elbows higher than wrist and wrist higher than fingertips

  • We would obviously normally never have athletes lift the head to look the hands...during this drill we don't mind and we'll use the GoPro to compare where the athletes saw their hands and where the HD GoPro saw their hands...my how the two sometimes differ!

  • This drill can also be done on the Power Tower

  • Obviously a great drill for fly as well...many sprint free types are also sprint fly types and the stroking pattern is similar


5. Simmons Board Drill (S.B.D.) 

  • We stole this one directly from Matt Kredich at Tennessee via Caroline Simmons when she trained with us last summer

  • Snorkel is a must

  • Kick board balances under the hips, elevating the core

  • Arms at the side, making sure not to touch the board in any way

  • Goal is a straight body line and high hips, balance with the core/legs

  • "Hips up, feet in" are some of the small coaching cues we'll give

  • Can we ride higher with hips after taking the board out?

  • This can also be done with a Power Tower and requires more balance, more control, more stability, etc.


I am working on a video (video shooting/uploading/editing takes much more time than writing!) with examples of these drills and will upload in the next few days. The aforementioned are my Final Fant...Final Five, and have helped us tremendously in the short distance events. The results have been outstanding, and perhaps more so when one considers the fastest 50 out of high school we've ever recruited has been 23.82 and our program is just 5 years old here at Liberty.

Our 200 Free Relay time and final D1 ranking over the past five years - 

  • 2015 - 1:30.29 (32nd)

  • 2014 - 1:30.94 (34th)

  • 2013 - 1:30.01 (20th)

  • 2012 - 1:31.36 (34th)

  • 2011 - 1:34.64 (101st) - First ever year in program history


Many of you are already incorporating these or similar drills. What are your top 5 drills for speed freestyle and why? Leave a comment below! 


....Another swim article coming soon....The 5 Worst Drills For Sprint Freestyle and Why






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