That being said, here are 3 of the most common areas that swimmers struggle with and the drills to help combat them.
Midline Crossover- This is by far the most common issue with swimmers in general, especially beginners and one of the biggest killers of speed in my opinion. It is one of the most crucial pieces of the swim stroke. So many parts of the swim stroke are affected by midline crossover, so fixing this one problem will improve several other aspects of the stroke. Crossing over ones body midline creates several issues including the potential for shoulder injury, hips to lower, poor head and body position as well as preventing the swimmer from initiating a proper hand entry and “catch” on the water. All of these create a substantial amount of drag on the body. Crossing over the mid line also increases the chances of the swimmer performing a scissor kick to compensate for hips. Midline crossover also affects a swimmers EVF(early vertical forearm) which is a main component of generating power.
This problem is amplified in open water and prevents one from swimming a straight line when visibility is less than ideal. In an Ironman swim this problem can cost a swimmer 4-12 minutes of time!
Catchup Drill: This is one of the most commonly used drills in helping new swimmers with midline crossover. Besides helping with midline crossover, this drill helps the swimmer with timing and tempo as well as lengthening the stroke. Begin by pushing off the wall and start swimming your normal stroke. If you begin with your left arm, leave your right arm out in front of your body fully extended. The right arm or lead arm in this case should not begin the catch and pull back on the water until the left arm (recovery arm) comes to the same position as the lead arm or in other words “catches up” to that lead arm. I like to have new swimmers use a snorkel and pull buoy the first few times so they can watch what they are doing without worrying about breathing or kicking. As this becomes more natural the pull buoy and snorkel should be taken away. Another aid is to have the swimmer hold a pencil or pipe in the lead hand. The swimmer holds onto the pipe or pencil and then switches hands when the opposite hand “catches up”. There are also special swim aids that can be used in place of these items.
90 Degree Kick: Use fins to help with the kick. Push off the wall and rotate your body over to 90 degrees. Your stomach and belly button will be facing the side wall. Kick at a steady pace and keep your lead arm out in front of you. I like to start with the right arm out in front. Rest your top arm(one closest to the surface) at your side and face downwards. Rotate the head out of the water to inhale and then rotate back downward. Eyes are looking down but slightly ahead. This helps the swimmer learn what it feels like to keep the lead arm out in front while holding body position, kicking and the breathing cycle. Alternate sides each lap. If this drill is difficult in the beginning use a snorkel until you feel comfortable and then try a few laps without it.
I also like to have a swimmer perform the drill and then swim a normal stroke to feel the difference immediately after the drill to create muscles memory correlation.
Fingertip Drag Drill: For this drill start off with a snorkel. This allows you to visually focus on the hand entry and catch without having to worry about the breathing component. Start by pushing off the wall and swimming normal freestyle. The only difference is focus on keeping your fingertips pointed downward towards the bottom of the pool the entire time. As your hand and arm comes out of the water and begins the recovery phase, drag only your fingertips along the surface of the water, aiming to just skim the surface. By doing so it makes it nearly impossible to cross over your midline but if you do you will instantly notice it because your forward momentum will stop and the body will sink in the water. This drill also promotes a high elbow recovery. Also one must fully relax the wrist on this drill for it to be effective. Remember to watch your hand entry during this drill. Notice if your fingertips get close to crossing over. This drill also helps promote a slight fingers down hand entry at the start of the stroke. Keeping the fingers lower than the wrist and the wrist lower than the elbow will help promote a proper and efficient entry, catch and pull in the water.
Visualization Drill: This drill we will use a clock and the pool lane line to help us prevent midline crossover. Start by swimming in the middle of the lane with the center of your body being directly over the black lane line of the pool. With your eyes watch as your hand enters the water in front of you. Focus on keeping your hands and arms outside of the black lane line. If you cross over the lane line then you know you are crossing your midline. Side note: Every wonder why the lane lines come to a T at the end? The T stands for turn and it is where the flip turn should take place for timing.
The last visualization drill is using a clock as reference. Imagine the 12 oclock position is the center of your body. Think about your hands entering the water at the 10 oclock and 2 oclock positions on the clock face. This will feel odd at first but with consistency will become more natural and in time you will start to see times increase.
Lastely, have someone film you doing the drills for reference. Film yourself every couple of months to see the progress. If you have a coach this can be extremely useful in helping them decide what drills are best needed and how to make corrections for the swimmer.
– Coach Ray