Easy Swim Drills to Improve Your Triathlon Performance

May 21, 2024
swimming drills

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Swimming can be (and often is) the event that determines who places where in a triathlon. It sets the tone for the entire race, so you want to make sure you start off on a high note. Incorporating some easy swimming drills into your training can make the difference on event day, and this article is going to teach you how to do some!

The Importance of Swimming Drills

Swimming is chaotic at the best of times. Open water, flailing limbs, tight lanes, and limited space to breathe—yes, it’s a lot to deal with. The advantage, though, is that we already know about those things going into a triathlon. We can, and should, prepare for them beforehand by making sure our swimming ability far exceeds the demands of the race.

Here’s a great quote to keep in mind, from someone who has spent his fair share of time in the water…

“The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.” — Richard Marcinko, former U.S. Navy SEAL commander and Vietnam War veteran; from his 1992 autobiography, Rogue Warrior.

We all have our microcosms. We might not be heading into war like Mr. Marcinko, but we’re all fighting our own personal battles everyday in training and every so often in competition. If our swimming ability is lagging or we just want to improve in general, adding in the swimming drills that follow can help us prepare to perform better than ever at our next event.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Swimming Drills for Beginners

As a beginner triathlete, the pool can be an intimidating place. Everyone kind of looks like they know what they’re doing, and it can be hard to feel like you belong. Having a few beginner swimming drills in your back pocket can really help fuel the confidence and make you feel more comfortable and at home in the water.

1. Kicking Exercises

Many beginner swimmers forget to use their legs! They exhaust their upper bodies with frantic strokes trying to stay afloat while everything on the backend goes limp and sinks. Kicking drills help you improve overall awareness of your body and become more efficient as a swimmer.

How to Do It

  • Wall Kick: Simply turn towards and grab the wall, stretch your body out behind you and practice kicking. Focus on small, fast, tight kicks (get ready for those legs to burn!).
  • Kickboard Swimming: Grab a kickboard and hold onto the front (let it support your forearms at an angle that’s comfortable), then simply kick yourself across the pool!

2. Breathing Drills

If you want to induce panic in a human being, disrupt their breathing! If you feel flustered in the pool, you’re likely not breathing efficiently, which is extremely common for beginner swimmers. Try these simple breathing drills to feel more calm and confident in the water.

How to Do It

  • Kick/Breathing Integration: While performing the above kick drills, focus on exhaling with your face in the water, and inhaling by turning your head to either side (alternate).


  • Alternating Sides: Do a simple 1-2 freestyle stroke. Focus on turning your head to the side of the arm out of water to breathe. Practice on both sides (alternate every lap).


(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Freestyle Swimming Drills

In all likelihood (you’ll certainly stand out, otherwise), you’ll be using a freestyle stroke when competing in a triathlon. You may use other strokes for a new stimulus at different times in your training, but doing freestyle swimming drills specifically can really help refine technique and make you a pro in the water come race day.

1. Catch-Up Drill

One of the most common freestyle swimming drills is the catch-up drill. It teaches you to extend your arm fully and learn how to glide through the water; it’s key to building a smooth and efficient stroke, in general.

How to Do It

  • Start by doing a regular freestyle stroke
  • Then, instead of pulling immediately as your hand enters the water, wait for the other arm to go through its full push and recovery phase(s); i.e. wait until it “catches up”
  • There’ll be a split second where both hands are outstretched in front of you in the water, the other arm’s stroke should start immediately after this moment
  • Continue swimming in this manner to learn how to reduce drag while at the same time improving body position and balance

2. Fist Swimming

Fist swimming helps one understand the importance of the entire arm while pulling through the water. It increases awareness, proprioception, and overall sensitivity in the pool to make you a more efficient swimmer.

How to Do It

  • Perform a freestyle stroke while keeping your fists clenched
  • Keep the emphasis on using your forearms and upper arm to pull yourself through the water

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Swimming Drills for Weight Loss

Maybe triathlon isn’t so much about competition for you as it is about health, and what a great community to get into to help orient your life more in that direction! Swimming burns a huge amount of calories, and by learning how to do some swimming drills you can add variability into your workouts to keep them new, fresh, and exciting.

  1. Sprint Intervals

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is extremely effective at burning calories and increasing output in the water. You can get huge weight-loss benefits in a short amount of time (but you’re going to work for it!). Try these sprint intervals for a healthy dose of hard work in the pool.

How to Do It

  • Swim at near-maximum effort (90-95% exertion) for 25-50 meters, depending on your current fitness levels
  • Rest for 30-60 seconds
  • Repeat for anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes

2. Pyramid Sets

Structuring interval workouts into a pyramid-type structure challenges your capacity to endure stress and perform while tired. It’s extremely hard! If you want to lose weight and get into the best shape of your life, adding pyramid sets into your training is a great way to do it.

How to Do It

  • Perform each of the following somewhere in the 80%-90% exertion range; be stringent with the rest periods to push yourself to go when the time is up
  • Swim 25 meters, rest for 15 seconds
  • Swim 50 meters, rest for 30 seconds
  • Swim 100 meters, rest for 45 seconds
  • Swim 150 meters, rest for 60 seconds (top set)
  • This marks the top of your pyramid
  • Repeat another 150 meter swim, followed by a 60 second rest
  • Then, make your way back down the pyramid, performing each of the preceding sets one more time

Complete Your Training | Dynamic Triathlete

Swimming drills don’t do much if your mobility sucks and your strength levels are in the toilet. We’re here to fix all of it! Dynamic Triathlete is the world’s best platform for stretching/mobility, strength training and injury prevention for triathletes. Sign up today for a 7-day free trial and join thousands of triathletes around the world who are training and competing pain-free!

Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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