triathlete wearing a FORM swim cap and goggles in the pool

How Swimming Drills Help You Get Faster, Stronger, and More Efficient

Swimming is a complicated and technical sport. It’s a full body exercise that requires you to use various parts of your body in different ways simultaneously—all in an environment that makes you constantly fight resistance.

And with so many different components to consider all at once, swimming drills are one of the fastest ways to see improvements in your swimming. But they’re also challenging because they require commitment, focus, and mental capacity.

In this article, you’ll learn what exactly swimming drills are, why they’re important, how they can help you reach your swimming potential.

What Are Swimming Drills?

On a fundamental level, swimming drills are a set of motions that focus on particular strokes, swim skills, or muscle groups.

They’re designed to break down your strokes and skills into individual components which you can target and improve to create a better holistic result.

Swimming drills also focus on improving key aspects your form in order to help you to be more streamlined as you move through the water.

By intentionally building better strokes, your swimming will become smoother, stronger, and more efficient.

How Do Swimming Drills Help You Improve?

Each swimming drill offers its own unique benefits to certain aspects of your stroke, strength, and form.

Isolating and Strengthening Specific Muscles

Some swimming drills serve to isolate specific muscles or muscle groups that play key roles in your overall swimming strength.

For instance, some swimming drills isolate your legs to create better kick strength while others focus on building greater upper body strength—particularly in those smaller, lesser-used muscle groups that are so vital to you as a swimmer.

Identifying and Correcting Bad Habits

With so many moving parts, it’s all too easy to develop bad swimming habits.

Swimming drills help you to:

  • Identify areas for improvement
  • Correct bad habits and poor technique
  • Maintain good habits rather than reverting back to unwanted ones


Becoming a stronger swimmer is a constant work in progress that requires consistency on an ongoing basis. Regularly incorporating swimming drills into your training sessions helps you to improve and maintain these gains.

Making You Faster and More Efficient

Certain swimming drills are catered towards improving both your aerobic and anaerobic fitness:

  • Aerobic: The word “aerobic” means “with oxygen.” Essentially, you can think of this as endurance training that helps you swim farther distances and for longer time periods at a lower level of intensity.
  • Anaerobic: The exact opposite of aerobic, “anaerobic” means “without oxygen.” Anaerobic training focuses on short bursts of effort at really high intensity levels. The benefit of anaerobic training is that it helps set the bar higher for the distance you can swim at lower levels of effort.

By mixing in swimming drills that focus on both short, hard bursts of effort as well as others that you practice at slower paces over longer distances, you’ll increase your overall swimming capacity, efficiency, and speed.

Making It All Instinctive

There’s a lot to think about when you’re swimming, from your form to your strokes, your pace, and your breathing.

Swimming drills create neural pathways in your nervous system that help make the movements and motions of swimming instinctive rather than something you have to consciously think about with every stroke.

What Types of Things Do Swimming Drills Focus On?

There are a ton of different swimming drills that you can use to improve various aspects of your strokes, form, and technique.


Many swimming drills focus on strengthening your swim kicks or making them more efficient, helping you propel yourself through the water more quickly.

Body Position

Your body position is incredibly important when you’re swimming. For instance, if your head pops up above the surface when you’re swimming, your legs will naturally drop down, in turn making you less streamlined and less efficient.

There are many swimming drills available to help you dial in your body position to help you move faster and more smoothly with less exertion.

Arm Stroke

The arm stroke is an complex cyclical movement and is the driving force of our power and propulsion in swimming. Drills focused on the arm stroke allow us to break down the stroke movement into each individual phase, and perfect those phases in isolation.


It takes full body strength to be a great swimmer and there are swimming drills that can help you strengthen every one of your swim-specific muscle groups.


Many swimming drills are designed to help boost your endurance over time, allowing you to swim farther and for longer periods of time without fatigue.


Your breathing is one of the most fundamental components of your swim. It’s virtually impossible to become a strong swimmer if you’re not comfortable and proficient with breathing while in the water. Practicing swimming drills focused on breathing will help you improve more quickly than almost anything else.

With so many options available, it’s a smart choice to do targeted swimming drills based on the goals you’re hoping to achieve and the improvements you’d like to make.

That’s why FORM gives you access to swim training plans and workouts as well as a custom workout builder and video tutorials that can help you choose purpose-driven swimming drills to work through—and then displays them in real-time, right in front of your eye, during your swim.

Are Swimming Drills Better Than Just Laps?

One of the biggest questions that swimmers have is whether it’s better to do drills or to steadily swim laps.

While swimming laps is extremely valuable, it doesn’t necessarily serve to help improve your technique, which is ultimately the key to becoming a stronger swimmer.

And that’s not to say lap swimming isn’t bad by any means—it’s not. It’s just that drills help you hyper-focus on and improve specific aspects of your technique which is especially if you’re looking to improve a skill or reach a goal.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of structured swimming vs. lap swimming, check out our interview on the topic with two-time Canadian Olympic swimmer, Scott Dickens.

What Kind of Equipment Do You Need for Swimming Drills?

Before you dive into your swimming drills, there are some key pieces of gear that you’ll need to get the most out of them.


Look for high-quality goggles that fit your face optimally to avoid distracting and frustrating leaks.


These are used to help build your leg strength and make your swim kicks more efficient. They also help us keep our body position with much less effort in our kick, allowing us to completely slow down the stroke movement so we can hone in on that technical focus.


This is used to isolate and strengthen your legs during your triathlon swim training.

Pull buoy

You’ll use this to remove your legs from the equation and strengthen your vital upper body muscles by swimming only with your arms. Pull buoys also assist in maintaining proper body position, keeping the lower body effort with less effort.


Hand paddles help strengthen your upper body by stopping the flow of water through your fingers.


Unlike the traditional type, snorkels for swimming drills goe up and in front of your face rather than out to the side. When you do swimming drills with a snorkel, you don’t have to worry about turning or lifting your head to breathe. Instead, you can focus on head position body position, catch, and rotation without interruption.

Tips to be Successful with Swimming Drills

Becoming a better swimmer takes hard work, and swimming drills can sometimes be challenging. But with a few basic tips, your swimming drills can help you go from a beginner swimmer to a good one and from a good swimmer to a great one.

Be Patient

When you’re doing your swimming drills, a good philosophy is to go slow so you can go fast. Sometimes you’ll need to go slower than you’re used to in order to do your swimming drills properly. But by slowing down, focusing on technique, and making sure every motion is dialed in, you’ll ultimately find yourself swimming faster, stronger, and more efficiently.

Follow a Plan

Don’t just make it up as you go. The most effective way to improve your swimming is to follow a training plan that focuses on working through swimming drills in a strategic way that will help you get better over time.

Don’t Make It “One-And-Done”

Adopt the mentality of a lifelong learner. Getting better at a swimming drill doesn’t mean you can stop working on it for good. Becoming a stronger swimmer requires consistent and ongoing focus and effort rather than a “one-and-done” mentality.

The truth is that drills are not a magic pill and are not about simply going through the motions.

Drills will come with a specific complimentary focus, and maintaining the drill focus is just as important as the performance of the drill.

Swimming Drills You Can Practice Today

If you’re feeling ready to get in the water and to start practicing some key swimming drills, here are a few that we’d recommend you try out.

Catch-up Freestyle Drill (CU)

The Catch-Up drill works on the pull pattern of the stroke by only using one arm at a time.

The focus is on establishing the beginning part of the pull. While doing this drill, keep your head down and hold a steady kick. Start with both hands together and pull with one arm at a time. Slow down your arm and keep your elbow high and your finger tips pointed down as you pull back. Pull under your shoulder and finish past your hip.

Side-Kick Freestyle Drill (SK)

The Side-Kick drill improves body position and alignment.

Engage your core, keep your head down and hold a steady kick. Start by kicking on your side with one arm extended. The other arm is at your side with the shoulder pointed up and out of the water. To breathe, rotate your head to the side while maintaining your kick and keeping your shoulder out of the water. Alternate sides by length.

6-Kick Switch Freestyle Drill (6KS)

The 6-Kick Switch drill improves the length of your stroke by working on how to properly rotate your body.

Engage your core, keep your head down and hold a steady kick. Start by kicking on your side with one arm extended. The other arm is at your side with the shoulder pointed up and out of the water. After 6 kicks, pull with the extended arm and switch to the other side. Repeat until the end of the length.

One-Arm Freestyle Drill (1ARM)

By isolating each arm, the One-Arm drill emphasizes each arm’s stroking pattern.

Hold a steady kick and keep your head down, looking at the bottom of the pool. Start with both hands together and pull with one arm only. Slow down your arm, keeping your elbow high with your finger tips pointed down. Pull under your shoulder and extend past your hip. Alternate arms.

Dog Paddle Freestyle Drill (DP)

The Dog Paddle drill isolates the initial phase of the arm stroke.

While holding a steady kick, pull with one arm at a time. Take only half of the stroke, and once you have pulled to below your shoulder, recover the arm under the surface of the water back to the starting position. As one arm is pulling, the other arm is recovering under the water. Keep your elbows high near the surface and your fingertips pointed down.

Closed Fist Freestyle Drill (FIST)

The Closed First drill enhances awareness of your arm stroke by eliminating the hands while pulling.

Swim freestyle, but instead of open palms, close your hands into fists, and focus on your forearm position. Notice the loss of feeling and power in your pull and any changes you have to make in your arm stroke to compensate for it.

Get the Most Out of Your Swimming Drills with FORM

Swimming drills can sometimes feel confusing. But by working through a strategic training plan, you can take the guesswork out of becoming a stronger swimmer.

And FORM is here to help you through that process.

With FORM, you'll swim with real-time metrics right there in your goggles. Plus, get a free 1-year membership and boost improvement in the pool with 1,000+ workouts, 30+ training plans, and a custom workout builder.

Backed by a 2-year warranty and 30-day return guarantee, FORM goggles are built to last.

Already have FORM goggles, but don’t have access to our full range of features? Head to the FORM app to start a 30-day free membership trial*.

*30-day free membership trial is only valid for one-time use for new members who have previously purchased FORM goggles.




Take this 10 second quiz to find a free plan that matches your goals.

Get Yours


Take this 10 second quiz to find a free plan that matches your goals.

Get Yours