What the Karate Kid can teach you about swim drills

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(from Coach Dominic)

I just got back from a weekend of teaching coaches certifications and stroke clinics. Everyone, coaches, swimmers and triathletes wanted to know what swim drills to do for x, y, and z corrections or how to get faster.

It made me realize that so many people think there is some secret swim drill or magical way to improve. But the reality is that the fastest triathlon swimmers in the world are doing the same freestyle swimming drills that you are doing. They are just approaching them differently. There are no secrets.

Drills are just an extra of portion of a stroke. Its very important to understand the purpose of a drill before you start trying to practice the drill. Understand how the swim drill you are working on is going to improve your stroke.

Think through how you can implement the drill into your stroke before you start practicing the drill. I know sometimes doing drill work can make you feel like Daniel-son waxing on and waxing off or painting that fence.

What the Karate kid didn’t get was the purpose of his chores. Knowing the why of a drill is extremely beneficial.

Now for the important stuff. When you first start working with a new drill you need to work very slowly and mindfully. New motor skills are very hard to learn, our brains don’t want to reinvent something it already “knows how to do”.

Most people can only maintain a new movement/motor skill for about 15 seconds. If you are lucky maybe you can do it for 20 seconds. This means you can really only maintain doing this new movement for about 25 yards at the most. I always instruct people to do 25s or less and take a lot of rest.

Once your heart rate goes up or you add too much effort your subconscious takes over so your conscious can be more focused on something more important, like, surviving. So take your time, try to control the movements, and get a lot of rest. If you have a pair of fins I think it’s a good idea to use them so you can focus more on one task (the drill) and not worry about having to move forward or even stay up on the surface of the water.

This is the part that most people don’t do. After about 4 to 6 practices of working on a drill slowly it’s time to add some effort.

You should be able to judge if you can nail the drill you are working on moving at an easy controlled pace or not. If it takes more than 6 practices that’s okay, don’t get discouraged. Just keep at it with your controlled pace until you are ready to move on.

Every 4 to 6 practices you should increase the intensity of the drill with the end goal being that you can perform the drill without fins and at a fast pace. It’s important to practice drills at your race pace, or even sprinting, so your nervous system learns to make these movements at a fast pace. It’s the same idea of doing speed work for your run. If you always run the same pace you will only ever run that speed. It’s the same for swimming and for learning drills.

If you are wondering why you are doing the drills you’re currently working on I am happy to help you understand the reasoning behind them and they’ll help your stroke.

-Dominic Latella
Tri Swim Coach
The Swim Box

P.S. We have a series of drill videos combined with workouts to put you on the path to swim success for your next race..join the course here: Tri Swim Success