The concept of a swimming “drill” might sound foreign or intimidating, but the reality is that drills are useful, approachable exercises that focus on a particular aspect of a swim stroke and can be very helpful. Whether it is teaching a new stroke or technique through a progression of drills, or using specific drills to correct some minor or major flaw in a stroke, there are a variety of drills that have been developed over the years to address a plethora of needs.
Swimming drills help to:
- Isolate and target a problem
- Correct a problem and improve technique
- Keep a problem corrected
- Minimize risk of injury by correcting poor technique
- Develop mindful swimming
While swimmers should try to be mindful at all times in the water, as I’ve noted before and previously written about, the reality is that being mindful 100% of the time can be impossible. Because drills require intense focus, they naturally allow for the opportunity to dedicate part of the workout set to being mindful. Drills also help reinforce and strengthen pre-existing motor skills and pave new neural pathways in the brain so that flaws and issues can be corrected and proper technique can be trained into the brain. Later, when racing, this good technique becomes enacted as second nature because it has become a habit through focused repetition.
Repeated drill training is especially valuable at a Masters level, because as we age it gets harder and harder for the brain to learn new things. When learning something new or changing an old habit, new neural pathways have to be formed in the brain, which takes much more repetition when we are older. One could say that when it comes to learning, younger brains are like wet concrete, and older brains are like dried concrete, requiring much more repetition to make a lasting impression.
Also, once a neural pathway has already formed, it can be difficult to change. Years of repeating the same stroke mechanics can make a new learning curve very long, steep, and frustrating. Drills can assist a new learning curve by providing focused and targeted repetition of one pinpointed stroke aspect. This process could be visualized as chiseling repeatedly at one specific area of the “dried concrete” grey matter, increasing the likelihood of leaving a lasting impression in the swimmer’s brain, rather than scratching around indiscriminately.
Interestingly, a relatively new training technique, called Ultra-Short Race-Pace Training (USRPT), dismisses drills as “harmful and irrelevant” (at least for elite swimmers). I am currently an ardent follower of the USRPT training methodology, practicing it twice a week when I’m in full training mode, and I believe it is one of the better ways to train to get faster. However, I disagree with their assertion that drills are harmful and irrelevant. In the types of situations that require correction and new learning of stroke techniques, I’ve found that drills are immensely valuable.
If you’re looking for some drills to incorporate in your workouts, a quick Google search will turn up countless swimming websites online to find ideas. And looking on Amazon, there are several published books on drills that garner good reviews and are likely to contain some great drills.
And, of course, don’t hesitate to ask your coach for suggested drills to help correct anything that might need attention in your stroke(s). Most knowledgeable coaches have a number of drills in their arsenal to combat the most common stroke problems. So, don’t hesitate to ask your coach for “More drills, please!”