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6 Drills to Improve Your Front Crawl Swim Technique

Open Water Front Crawl Swim Technique Drills

Swimming is a crucial component of triathlon, and mastering the front crawl technique can significantly impact your overall performance. 

In this article, we will discuss the importance of swimming drills for improving your front crawl, explain why focusing on freestyle is essential in triathlons, and provide a list of four highly effective swimming drills to enhance your freestyle stroke.

The Significance of Drills

Front Crawl Swim Technique Drills

Swimming drills are targeted exercises designed to isolate specific aspects of your stroke technique, helping you refine your form and build muscle memory. 

Incorporating drills into your training regime can enhance your efficiency, speed, and endurance in the water. 

Consistent practice of these drills can lead to a more streamlined and powerful front crawl, ultimately contributing to a faster swim leg in your triathlon.

Why Front Crawl in Triathlons

triathlon swim

While breaststroke may be a comfortable and energy-conserving stroke, it’s not the most efficient choice for triathlon swims. Front crawl, also known as freestyle, allows for a more streamlined position in the water, reducing drag and conserving energy. 

Freestyle is the preferred stroke in triathlons because of its speed and efficiency, helping you cover the swim leg more quickly and efficiently, leaving you with more energy for the bike and run segments.

So, it’s worth mastering freestyle or front crawl and these drills can help you perfect your stroke.

Top 6 Front Crawl Swimming Drills

Swimmer Practicing Front Crawl Swimming Technique Drills

Here are my top 6 swimming drills to improve your front crawl stroke. The first four are your bread-and-butter drills and the final two are more advanced. If you are new to swimming drills master the first four first and then move on to the final two drills.

1. Catch-Up Drill

Focus: The Catch-Up Drill emphasizes arm extension, proper hand placement, and a coordinated stroke. 

By pausing one arm’s movement until the other “catches up,” this drill encourages a longer, more controlled stroke and helps improve overall arm mechanics.

How to do it:

  • Start by pushing off the wall or entering the water.
  • Begin swimming freestyle with one arm extended forward.
  • Complete the stroke with the other arm, making sure the hands “catch up” before the next stroke.
  • Alternate arms, focusing on a smooth and deliberate stroke.

Tips:

  • Emphasize a full extension of each arm to maximize the catch phase.
  • Pay attention to hand placement and wrist position during the catch.
  • Maintain a streamlined body position to minimize drag.

2. Sculling Drill

Focus: The Sculling Drill is designed to improve water feel, forearm strength, and overall hand control. 

By utilizing a sweeping motion with the hands and forearms, swimmers enhance their ability to maintain buoyancy and control in the water. This drill is best performed with the pull buoy.

How to do it:

  • Position yourself in a horizontal and streamlined position on the water’s surface with the pull buoy in between your thighs.
  • Extend your arms forward with slightly bent elbows and hands under the water facing downward. Elbows high.
  • Perform a subtle sculling motion by moving your hands and forearms in a figure-eight pattern to propel yourself down the pool lane.
  • Experiment with variations of the sculling motion, focusing on maintaining a horizontal body position.

Tips:

  • Keep the movement focused on the hands and forearms, avoiding excessive shoulder movement.
  • Adjust the angle and intensity of the sculling motion to find the most effective position for you.
  • Experiment with sculling variations, including wider or narrower movements, to enhance water feel.
  • Do not kick your legs but focus on finding a sculling movement that propels you forward.
  • Try swimming half a length of the sculling drill then take this into your normal front crawl stroke for the second half of the length.

3. Finger Drag Drill

Focus: The Finger Drag Drill concentrates on promoting a high elbow catch and forearm engagement during the underwater phase of the freestyle stroke. 

By dragging the fingertips along the water’s surface, swimmers enhance their awareness of hand placement and maintain a more efficient pull.

How to do it:

  • Start swimming freestyle with a focus on a high elbow position during the catch.
  • As your hand enters the water, allow the fingertips to gently drag along the surface.
  • Emphasize the entire underwater pull, keeping the fingertips close to the surface throughout.
  • Maintain a steady and controlled stroke, paying attention to hand and forearm alignment.

Tips:

  • Ensure a smooth and continuous motion, avoiding abrupt changes in hand position.
  • Focus on keeping the hand and forearm in a vertical position during the catch and pull.
  • Incorporate a controlled rotation of the body to maximize the effectiveness of the drill.

4. Fist Drill

Focus: The Fist Drill targets forearm propulsion and the catch phase of the stroke. By swimming with closed fists, swimmers are encouraged to engage their forearms more effectively, fostering a stronger and more efficient pull and enhanced “feel for the water”.

How to do it:

  • Clench your fists lightly and start swimming freestyle.
  • Focus on pulling through the water using your forearm, emphasizing the catch phase.
  • Keep the elbow higher during the pull, engaging the entire forearm.
  • Gradually open your hands as you become more comfortable with the forearm engagement.

Tips:

  • Concentrate on a high elbow position during the underwater pull.
  • Ensure a continuous and fluid motion despite the closed fists.
  • Gradually transition to open hands while maintaining the forearm-focused pull.

Advanced Front Crawl Technique Drills

Advanced Front Crawl Swimming Technique Drills

The final two drills are more advanced drills and it’s best to perform these with swim fins. 

5. 6/1/6 Drill

Focus: The 6/1/6 drill primarily targets body rotation and breathing synchronization, key components of a successful front crawl. 

This drill helps swimmers develop a balanced stroke by incorporating a focused rotation that allows for efficient breathing without sacrificing form. This drill is best performed wearing swim fins.

How to do it:

  • Begin by swimming six kicks in a streamlined position on your side (90 degrees to the bottom of the pool), emphasizing a straight body line.
  • After the six kicks, rotate to your side for one arm pull, keeping the other arm extended forward.
  • Finally, complete the sequence with another six kicks on your other side. Repeat the 6 kicks right, one stroke, 6 kicks left for the whole of the length. 

Tips:

  • Coordinate your breathing with the arm pull, inhaling during the side position and exhaling during the six kicks.
  • Maintain a steady and controlled rotation, engaging your core muscles to support the movement.
  • Focus on a long and streamlined body position to minimize resistance in the water.

6. Side Kicking Drill

Focus: The Side Kicking Drill is designed to enhance body balance, leg strength, and kicking technique. 

It helps swimmers develop a strong and effective flutter kick while maintaining proper body alignment in the water. This drill is best done with swimming fins.

How to do it:

  • Start by lying on your side in the water, with one arm extended forward and the other resting by your side.
  • Keep your body in a straight line, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.
  • Initiate a flutter kick from your hip and engage your glutes.
  • Switch sides after a length, ensuring equal practice on both sides.

Tips:

  • Focus on a quick and continuous flutter kick, generating power from your hips and glutes.
  • Keep your body parallel to the water surface, avoiding any tilting or rotation.
  • Pay attention to the positioning of your head; it should be in a neutral position, looking straight ahead.
  • Maintain a steady and controlled breathing pattern.

Incorporate these drills into your training routine to refine your front crawl technique, and over time you’ll experience improvements in balance, rotation, and overall swimming efficiency.

Takeaway

Incorporating these front crawl swimming drills into your training routine will undoubtedly elevate your freestyle technique, making you a more efficient and confident swimmer in your triathlon endeavors. 

Remember, consistency is key, so dedicate regular practice sessions to practice and perfect these drills and watch your front crawl prowess soar to new heights. Happy swimming!

If you have any questions about swim technique or triathlon training in general, you can contact me at karen.parnell@chilitri.com.

Need a training plan? I have plans on TrainingPeaks and FinalSurge. I also coach a very small number of athletes one-on-one for all triathlon distances, open water swimming events, and running races, email me for details and availability.

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Karen Parnell
Karen Parnell
Triathlon Coach at Chili Tri | Website

Karen Parnell is a Level 3 British Triathlon Coach, 8020 Endurance and IRONMAN Certified Coach, WOWSA Level 3 open water swimming coach, and NASM Personal Trainer and Sports Technology Writer. Learn more about Karen.