The 5 Worst Drills for Sprint Freestyle Swimming

The 5 Worst Drills for Sprint Freestyle Swimming

In my humble opinion of course...When you write an opinion piece on swimming (or politics, religion, etc.) and specifically why you disagree with something or someone, you inevitably incur the wrath of those "offended" by your beliefs. We have gone soft in this country, but that is another article for another time. Having said as much, I encourage debate on this article (and all of my articles) as I am not easily offended, if ever, and I love a good debate with those who can keep up with me and bring sound logic and reason to the table (and perhaps a bit of well-placed passion and emotion!). Remember it is the drills with which I disagree, I mean no personal attack on those coaches who implement said drills! 



1. Fingertip Drag 

  • Perhaps we call this one the anti-straight arm drill

  • I would rather teach a high elbow catch than a high elbow recovery

  • I believe this drill reinforces two behaviors detrimental to sprint free:

    • Entering the hand well before the ideal distance per stroke entry is achieved

    • Sliding the hand out while in the water after entry

  • I believe it is harder to teach a fingertips down entry when "attacking" the entry from an already low point in the recovery

  • I never saw the point for sprinters, and no coach has been able to convince me this drill benefits sprint types to the point where we should include this drill over others

  • If we say yes to a drill...we say no to another...what is the opportunity cost of fingertip drag? What drill did we miss when we chose fingertip drag? Was it worth the cost?


2. Catch-up Free 

  • I believe this is the single worst drill for sprint freestyle, and I am sure I will catch a bit of ire as this is also one of the most popular

  • Similar to fingertip drag, I believe this drill teaches everything we do not want to see in sprint freestyle:

    • Teaches elbow lower than wrist on the catch

    • Teaches wrist lower than fingertips on the catch

    • Teaches the athlete to slide the hand forward to the catch through the water

  • Proponents of catch-up will debate that it teaches distance per stroke...I would rather teach D.P.S. above the water through air resistance, than through the water and a medium 784 times more dense than air

  • I do not want to see sprint types "laying out" on their side with their hand above the elbow...this survival stroke is great for making it through 20 x 200's but perhaps not for beating Florent Manaudou in a 50 free

  • FWIW the above swim converts to 18.11 in a SCY format...a full 3 tenths faster than Cielo's NCAA and U.S. Open record, and his 21.19 LCM at the 2015 World Champs is a mind boggling time.

  • Notice how little he lays out on his side in a position similar to catch-up freestyle in the above swim...and by little....not at all

  • Watching the underwater replay slowly, I see no point in this stroke where his hand/arm slide forward whatsoever...the hand enters and gets right to the catch, pulling right away with no forward glide whatsoever, and we see a similar stroke from other elite sprint freestylers.

  • The technique would be different with a bit more "layout" and forward glide on the hand for a 100 LCM swim, but for the 50...straight to the catch!


3. "N" Kick Switch With Arm Fully Extended  

  • The key reason why I do not like this drill for sprint types is the arm fully extended while the swimmer is on the side

  • This once again teaches a low elbow catch, with the elbow in a position below the wrist and below the fingertips

  • A coach may instruct the athlete to maintain the fingertips below the elbow, however if the athlete is fully extended on their side I believe these attempts are futile

  • I do think this drill has benefits when performed with the extended arm in the early vertical forearm/catch position, not fully extended, with the elbow clearly above the wrist


4. Fist Drill 

  • This may come as a shock as I listed anti-paddles and swimming with tennis balls as part of my top 5 drills for sprint freestyle

  • My reasoning here is simple:

    • More often than not, athletes will "cheat" and not use a tight fist

    • Even with a tight fist, you can still get a decent amount of propulsion from the flat surface the fist creates

    • I do not believe we train the brain nearly as well with the fist as we do the anti-paddle

    • I do not believe the same number sensory receptors in the forearm are activated with the fist as they are with the anti-paddle

    • I want the athletes focusing on the forearm with a relaxed hand, not using valuable brain energy focusing on keeping the fist tight (I want the brain to forget about the hand altogether...put it to sleep!)

  • If you say yes to fist say no to anti-paddles. Time is limited and so are drill sets for the majority of coaches...I like to make every drill count

  • No funds for anti-paddles? Old tennis balls are available for free from your local college or high school tennis program


5. Fingertips to Shoulder Touch on the Recovery 

  • See fingertip drag as these drills are quite similar


And there we have my top 5 worst drills for sprint freestyle. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. I will reply to all comments in time. In a future swimming article I will feature a free chapter in the upcoming eBook I am writing about Power Towers and resistance swimming in general. The book has been a blast to write thus far, and I am eager to share the Power Tower with you. As always, thank you for reading! 

Swim Fast! 


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