4 Drills to Improve Your Triathlon & AquaBike Swimming

Triathlon swimming is a doozy. Want to know the trick to getting faster and swimming efficiently?

black female swimmer in pool training
Fit Photo Credit: JJ Jefferson

Swimming is something that most triathletes, including the elites, struggle with. You may be frustrated with the sport if your swim times are the most difficult to improve for your triathlon and aquabike races. You've probably put in a lot of effort to get better, but your results have been disappointing. Does this describe your situation?


Swimming is a sport that requires technique. Your first priority should be to learn to swim efficiently and to reduce the resistance of the water.

Answer: Decreasing the amount of resistance you encounter in the water instantly makes you faster in the pool and open water.

However, simply being aware that you need to improve your stroke technique is insufficient when it comes to clocking faster 100's in the pool. Swimming drills come in handy in this situation. Drills in your swim workout accomplish three things:

  1. Allows you to isolate and concentrate on specific aspects of your stroke technique. 2.

  2. It aids in the development of good muscle memory while also assisting in the elimination of bad habits.

  3. Increases strength without causing fatigue.

It is important to note that drills alone are not the key to success—in fact, practicing drills incorrectly can be more harmful than beneficial. Combine these drills with full stroke sets and, if possible, get a stroke analysis to ensure you're on the right track to faster, stronger swimming.

4 Drills to Improve Your Triathlon Swim


One-Armed Drill


The single-arm drill allows you to focus on key aspects of proper stroke technique one arm at a time: the pull, recovery, breath timing, and kick. The single-arm drill will help you keep your stroke symmetrical and balanced by isolating each side of your body. If the drill is too difficult and you are unable to maintain a horizontal body position in the water, grab some fins and a kickboard for your non-stroking arm for added buoyancy. Maintain a consistent, narrow kick throughout the drill to maximize lift and propulsion.

YT One-Arm Swim Skills Video

Drill for Side Kicks


Training to develop a strong kick will allow you to use your legs strategically during your race, whether you want to break away from the pack, overtake someone, or escape a swimmer who is drafting off of you. Swimming is a total-body sport, and ignoring your legs means you'll be missing out on an extra weapon on race day.


Maintain a constant kick and rotate your head to breathe while performing a side kick with one arm hyperextended in front and the other arm at your side. Sometimes called the 6-1-6 drill, this is a fundamental kicking drill that improves water balance, leg strength, and the ability to breathe on your side. Furthermore, being on your side forces you to catch water rather than air, giving you a better leg workout than, say, kicking with a kickboard.


YT Side Kicks Swim Skills Video


Side-to-Side Swim Drill

The side-to-side swim drill allows you to practice stroke elements like timing, body rotation, bilateral breathing, and proper water balance. This drill is similar to the full stroke, except that at the end of each stroke, you pause and kick on your side for about two seconds. The pauses force you to rotate your body as you switch sides, as well as practice a powerful kick, in order to move through the water more easily after each pause.


Side-to-side also necessitates bilateral breathing, which is necessary to keep the stroke balanced and symmetrical. Bilateral breathing is also beneficial in open water and can be used strategically during the race to see on both sides, avoid looking at the sun, or see landmarks on the shore. YT Side-to-Side Swim Skills Video


Tarzan Drill Exercise

This challenging drill, also known as the water polo drill, is ideal for open-water swimming. In this drill, you practice the freestyle stroke with one exception: your head remains entirely above the water, fixedly looking forward. The Tarzan drill strengthens the kick as well as the neck and back muscles required to lift the head to see buoys, other swimmers, or obstacles. This drill should only be used for short distances in conjunction with regular freestyle sets.


YT Tarzan Drill Swim Skills Video


female triathlete open water swimming during a triathlon race
Fit Photo Credit: Elizabeth S.

Lastly, while triathlon swim drills should not be the only component of your workouts, they should be included because they are essential for improving your efficiency in the water, preventing injuries, and providing variety to your training so that you are fully prepared to dominate the water on race day.

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