Distance Per Stroke is a critical component to swimming efficiency.

For swimmers looking for serious improvement this year, here are our top five drills to incorporate into your swim workouts regularly. These drills work different aspects of your stroke, improve your feel for the water and are great for beginner and advanced triathletes.

Sculling

For those of us always focused on speed and endurance, it may seem counter-productive to slow right down and scull our way across the pool. Sculling is one of the best swim drills you can practice as it improves your feel for the water and builds a stronger stroke. Practice a few laps of face-down sculling each time you’re in the water. Keep your elbows by your side and focus on creating figure-eight motions with each hand. The stronger your figure-eight, the faster you’ll move yourself across the pool.

Head-up 

This drill serves two purposes for triathletes. It forces you to keep your elbows high so that you’re fully clearing the water with each stroke and it allows for sighting which is useful in open water. Start at one end of the pool and identify an object on the other side that you’ll fixate on for the entire length. Keep your head fully above water as you swim across the pool. Practice this drill for a few laps and when you go back to normal swimming, keep in mind how your higher elbows felt and try to replicate that in each stroke.

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Underwater freestyle

Underwater freestyle forces you to correct your stroke more than any other drill. By swimming freestyle completely submerged underwater, you’ll be able to identify the most direct and efficient stroke path from catch to pull to exit point. If you’re crossing over too much or not reach far enough, it will be more evident underwater. Push off underwater and be sure that you’re deep enough so as not to create ripple on top of the water when you swim. For as long as possible, swim freestyle underwater with consistent kicking. When you come up and swim normally, your stroke will feel different and you’ll know whether your elbow is high enough or your pull is strong enough.

Shark

Place a kick board between your thighs as you swim for this drill. Each time you take a stroke, tap the kick board upon exit to ensure you’re fully finishing your stroke and not cutting it short. This is a common mistake new swimmers make and something that seasoned swimmers struggle with too. If your stroke is cut short, you’re missing out on most of your stroke efficiency and making yourself work harder than you need to.

Catch-up

This drill is so easy and useful that you can perform it for the majority of your sets if you really want to improve. Each time you take a stroke when swimming freestyle, keep the opposite arm out in front of you. When your stroke is complete, tap those opposite fingers before you begin the stroke with that arm. This drill ensures your reach is far enough, giving yourself maximum opportunity to pull yourself through the water.