How to combine swim drills to improve your stroke

Chief Correspondent

How coupling two swim drills together can produce swim improvements

Experienced coach and Masters swimmer, Dan Bullock, Head of Coach of Swim for Tri ( provides some practical advice on how to combine swim drills together (but in isolation…) to improve your triathlon and Front Crawl swimming.

I have been working on the idea of combining swim drills of late. A few well-known coaches refer to improving the timing and coordination between the arms and legs as coupling. This concept is key to create a fluid full stroke, but I feel that when two drills are linked/coupled together they can have a remarkably improved effect on a swimmers’ full stroke.

The idea is that two areas working together enhance or restrict a movement so that the sum then generates a better full stroke Front Crawl when the drills end.

The usual process is to take a movement off the wall for 5-10m and then build on it with a separate, but linked, movement to half way of a 25m pool. The swimmer then finishes the length on fast full stroke as the drills end and the heightened or enhanced stroke is unleashed.

I wrote a while back about hybrid drills, but this is something different. Hybrid drills integrate two drills to improve or limit a bad habit. Adding a shark fin movement in-between a single arm movement will encourage you to complete your rotation. Coupling two drills together – in isolation – is slightly different.

During a lesson this week we combined 5m off the wall, ‘Arms folded on top of the head, Legs only.’ This was to wake up the legs which flowed into 5m of fists clenched to build the leg momentum further and introduce a faster turnover from the arms as they felt like they were slipping. These two movements then combined nicely to leave the last half length strong with the body high in the water. My swimmer tried 4x25m as a subset, rest 10 with a strong final half length. Two rounds with fins then two without (i.e. 4 sets of 4*25m)


Five more practical examples of combining drills

FISTS w Catchup is a nice variation in its own right but first add 10m fins pointed down with normal hands to offset the fists clenched position and encourage more from the arms. Initially you are working hard to pull with the hands and forearms to offset the dragging legs. The legs are then returned but the hands are taken away to heighten the use of the forearm. When the legs and arms are both ‘returned’ for the full stroke the legs feel higher, more involved and we feel we can now hold more water.

Legs crossed 5m off the wall will speed the arms into fists clenched for 5m which will wake the legs and continue the momentum of the fast arms. Swim hard for the final 15m of the length.

Swim Torpedo for 5m off the wall to promote your rotation and wake up the legs to enhance them into Legs crossed with normal FC arms. The previously exaggerated rotation will feel stifled but then enhanced when you launch into full stroke for the final part of the length.

10Kick Catch Up to slow the arms, improve arm accuracy and wake up the legs into Fists clenched and legs crossed to speed up the arms again beyond normal turnover. Introducing full stroke for the final half of the length will maintain the early accuracy at the faster pace.

Fists Clenched with a pull buoy to engage the forearm more while the body works on improving its compromised body position with the float in the harder position. After 5m open the hands to build on this position and then at halfway let the float go to enhance the body position further with the leg kick.

Add an openwater theme as follows- make this 4×50 Front Crawl

  • 5m pull buoy and fists clenched
  • 5m pull buoy and normal hands
  • 15m ditch the pull buoy sprint to the wall. Turn back into…
  • 10m easy swimming as you return practice sighting looking for your pull buoy.
  • 15m easy with the pull buoy.


There are lots of variations to implement; as a general rule the harder drill should be placed first so you can utilise the push off from the wall and assist with some momentum. The second drill should build or enhance the compromised position and help you flow into the full stroke.

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