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Technique Swimming & Race Swim Strategies in the Pool

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Swimming is a very technical sport and requires lot of attention to the technique aspects of the stroke. It is not similar to cycling or running, in which the more miles you bike or run, the more improvement you see.  

Instead, the swim volume is not directly proportional to your progress of improvement. In order to ensure that you get the most gain out of your training time in the pool, the proper swim technique and practicing race swim strategies is essential.  

When focusing on technique swimming and race swim strategies in the pool, here are my recommendations:

  1. See yourself swim on video. I have had athletes who have been swimming for a long time, but have never seen themselves do it. Seeing yourself gives you a better understanding of what exactly needs to be addressed. When swimming, we sometimes think that we are swimming the way we think we are swimming until we see ourselves on a video. Taking videos of yourself could be a self-revelation to you. Try it!

  2. Have someone mentor or coach you of how to swim with proper technique. Being able to see yourself swim through a video won’t get you anywhere if you have no knowledge of the proper technique. Besides knowing what the right way to swim is, you will progress faster if you understand the root cause of the faulty technique, why it's happening and how you can correct it.  Have a mentor or coach help you understand the following: - What is the technique being corrected? - How to correct it? - Do you need a tool or swim "toy" to aid in the correction? - What is the focus of that drill?

  3. Ask someone to demonstrate to you how to execute the drill and then execute the drill.

  4. If you are to follow a swim video of drills online, carefully select the swim videos. There are tons of videos online. The question is, “which one is right?” At times, videos also don’t specifically tell you the details of how to execute the drill properly.  

  5. When swimming, do not combine all drills and techniques at one time. Focus on a particular form or technique, one at a time. For example, in one length focus only on having your toes pointing backwards. If they are, then check whether you’re kicking properly, and so on.

  6. Breaking the bad habits in swimming takes some time. It requires you to unlearn or break the wrong swim technique. That said, expect that you may feel awkward when trying to execute a drill. While executing the drill, have someone watch you very carefully so they can give you immediate feedback. Receiving immediate feedback is critical in order to encourage the right technique and stop the faulty swim technique.

  7. Once you understand and are able to execute the basics of a particular drill, repeat it several times. Only focus on 1 drill at a time. Executing the drill at least 200 yards is recommended. Repetition will help you ingrain that new technique in your brain.

  8. Learning a new technique does not happen overnight. After learning a new technique, it is advisable that you incorporate it in the beginning of your swim  workouts. The more often that you practice, the faster you would naturally swim with the new learned technique.

  9. Have a mantra when practicing drills. Create a mantra that you can repeat to yourself and that reminds you of the proper execution. For example, you may repeat to yourself “Glide, Catch, Pull” to remind yourself of the effective glide, catch and pull motion when swimming. Or you can say, “Stretch Stretch Roll” to remind you to stretch your arms, sides and elongate your body when stroking and to roll your head to execute side breathing.

  10. Be patient. Accept that incorporating a new learned swim technique may take time.  You may want to calculate how long you have been swimming with the faulty technique. For example, you may have been swimming using the faulty technique for 5 years now. With 5 years of swimming, it definitely would take some time and patience for you to break that bad habit in swimming.  

  11. Visualize the proper technique in your head and connect that motion with a feeling.  Having the picture in your head of what to follow and how to execute it tricks the brain.  For example, visualize the proper catch when swimming. Now once you’ve picture the proper technique, allow yourself to feel exhilarated as you propel forward with every stroke.  

  12. Some drills are more basic than other advanced drills. If unknowingly, you are trying a more advanced drill without even polishing up the more basic drills, then you will find it difficult. Swimming is composed of basic swim movements. Even some advanced swimmers who have not gone through proper training need to break down their swimming into simpler chunks of drills. Master the basics first.

  13. If you do find yourself overwhelmed by how much you need to improve while having limited time left until your scheduled race, focus on correcting the form in which you would get the most gain. There are some faulty swim technique that result from another faulty technique. In other words, you may be able to correct several things at once if you focus first on the main faulty technique that is causing a domino effect. For example, an ineffective side breathing method could cause “over-rotation,” “scissor kick,” “cross-over” or “lop-sided body” during swimming. Instead of trying to correct all the faulty techniques that you’ve learned, it would be more effective if you focused on mastering the proper side breathing technique first. Hence, first understand how you are currently swimming and then focus on correcting the main root cause of your faulty technique.

  14. Some swim gears e.g. pull buoys, fins, paddles are necessary to aid in executing some of the drills. For example, a pull buoy is used for the drill “doggy paddle” so the swimmer can focus more on executing a proper catch, pull and “feeling the water” than keeping his/her legs from sinking. That said, understand why a particular swim gear is necessary to execute the drill. Once understood, do not use them as a “crutch.” Be able to let them go. By the end of the day, you want to make sure that you are able to swim without them.

  15. Should I wear swimsuit or shorts that are buoyant? This question is often asked by my athletes whose legs tend to sink. During the drill portion of the swim workout, I require my athletes not to wear swimsuit or shorts that are buoyant. Wearing them masks the faulty swim techniques that needs to be corrected. Considerations are given to athletes who are injured, not fully well or recovered.

  16. Start practicing open water swimming skills in the pool. Some of the skills that you may practice in the pool are: - Sighting every 6 or 10 strokes. - Treading in deep water and elevating your heart rate to practice an open water swim start - Drafting after the swimmer in front of you.   - Practicing your turn on buoy e.g. corscrew turn, controlling the direction or turn, etc.

  17. Practice problem solving skills in the pool. Unexpected things can happen during the race. You can start practicing what you would do to solve those problems. Some of these problems are: - What would you do if you start panicking or hyperventilating? - How to fix your goggles if water starts leaking in. - What would you do if you get kicked by a swimmer in front of you? - What if your goggles broke? What would you do?  Are you able to swim without goggles? - What if your swim cap came off or tore. Would you still manage to swim?  How would you swim? - How will you swim, if you start cramping? - What would you do if a jellyfish stings you?

So, does that mean that we should be focusing on technique of the stroke alone and not on fitness training? No, that is not the answer either. If you become a technique hermit and just perform tons and tons of drills, some improvements may come but you will soon hit a performance ceiling. You may find confidence in swimming by correcting your technique yet still can't swim longer distances without feeling fatigued. Why? Because we need to have your cardiovascular capacity adapt to the racing environment as well. For example, if you only do technique drills in the pool, your heart rate barely goes up and is almost always in the relaxed state. That said, it is strongly recommended that you exercise different energy systems by planning your training to cover (1) technique, (2) threshold/CSS/speed (3) endurance and (4) open water skills. To help with time management, you may incorporate swim technique during the warm up portion of the workout. This will remind your brain of the proper way to swim. Last but not the least, do not wait to practice race strategy or open water swimming skills until you are swimming in open water. Reminders (16) and (17) above can already be done in the swimming pool.  

Now go and practice your swim technique! If you still need more help and would like to have someone SHOW you HOW to do all this step by step and be able to see your swim speed improve in the next 30 days, you can register for our 30-day Swim Bootcamp happening from February 9th, 2020 until March 9th, 2020.


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