Improve your kicking speed and swim pull with these foolproof drills from three-time Olympic swimmer Gary Hall, Sr.

By Catherine Orda | Photo by AquaChara /Unsplash

For some triathletes, the swim leg is notorious for a good reason: It tends to be the most difficult part, yet it’s also the one that’s probably the least important considering the little amount of time you have to spend actually doing it (relative to the other two disciplines).

But while this has been an issue among many athletes, you still might want to hold out some hope for the potential advantages of a good swim. As three-time Olympic swimmer and now swim columnist doctor Gary Hall, Sr. said, “One cannot win the triathlon with a good swim, but one can surely lose it with a bad swim.”

What assures you of a good performance in the water—and what can save you from a terrible one—has a lot to do with training. This may sound obvious, but it’s a good reminder, considering that most athletes spend about three hours a week training for the swim leg. Hall wrote that as a general rule, no one should expect to make significant gains in the swim time while training three hours per week. It can do you good to up swim training by increasing the number of hours you swim train every week. But if you simply can’t find the time to do that, here are some routines from Hall published on Team USA that you can incorporate into your swim training:

 

Two Workouts to Improve Your Kicking Speed
  1. Swim 200 easy freestyle, thinking about head position. Try to get the head underwater as the hand enters in front. Kick 100 with fins and snorkel, hands at side, head down. Dolphin kick off walls then flutter kick to the wall. Practice flip turns holding the arms straight over head (use a nose clip to avoid getting water up the nose). Snorkels require a little learning curve but help with many drills.

  1. Swim 200 easy, thinking about drawing the elbow up above the shoulder on the recovery. Kick 100 with fins and alignment board. Kick five by 100 with snorkel and alignment board and fins. Work on pulling the legs up hard on the upkick, maintaining a tighter, narrower kicking motion. Rest for two to 15 seconds. Then swim 20 by 25 with fins, holding desired stroke rate on 30 seconds, with a 20-second vertical kick in between each 25. Try to keep arms in streamline position above water. If you’re unable to do this, put elbows to surface with forearms above. Warm down by doing a 300 easy freestyle swim.

Two Workouts to Improve Your Pull
  1. Warm up with a 200 swim, then a 200 pull, keeping the head down and the elbows high on pulling motion. Swim 4 x 50 freestyle at desired stroke rate with 10 seconds rest. Swim 3 x 100 freestyle at desired stroke rate with 15 seconds rest. Swim 2 x 150 freestyle at desired stroke rate with 20 seconds rest. Swim 1 x 200 holding stroke rate. Pull 4 x 50 freestyle with paddles and buoy holding stroke rate with 10 seconds rest (stroke rate should be a little slower with paddles on). Pull 3 x 100 freestyle with paddles and buoy holding stroke rate with 15 seconds rest. Pull 2 x 150 freestyle with paddles and buoy holding stroke rate with 20 seconds rest. Pull 1 x 200 freestyle with paddles and buoy holding stroke rate. Warm down by doing a 400 easy freestyle swim.

  1. Warm up with a 200 swim and 200 pull keeping the head down and elbows high. Swim 6 x 100 50 drill with 20 seconds rest. (A 50 drill is one-arm drill with the other hand at the side, working on high elbow pulling motion and good body rotation.) Then swim 3 x 800 and rest for a minute. First 800 is 50 easy hip driven/50 fast shoulder driven holding stroke rate (eight times). Second 800 is 50 easy hip driven/150 fast shoulder driven holding stroke rate (four times). Third 800 is 50 easy hip driven/350 fast shoulder driven holding stroke rate (two times). Warm down by doing a 400 easy freestyle swim.