Mike's Mailbag: Drilling Your Way to Best Times

Mike's Mailbag: Drilling Your Way to Best Times

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, October 2, 2017

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.


Dear Mike,


I'm a freshman swimmer. I try to do the drills that my coach gives me at school and the drills that my coach gives me at my USA Swimming club, and I do good with them. The thing is though that I do these drills good, but my times aren't what they want to be. What would you do in this situation?


High School Swimmer




Hey High School Swimmer,

Drills, in swimming, are sort of like flossing your teeth. It’s not a glamorous activity. It’s not even that fun. (If you do have fun flossing your teeth, I envy you.) You won’t win an Olympic gold medal for one-arm butterfly or two-kicks, one-pull breaststroke (though maybe we could make that an Olympic event, because it’s awesome).

Just like flossing your teeth is only one component of good overall dental hygiene, swim drills are just one aspect of training that will help you become a better overall swimmer. The thing about drills, though, is that they take a lot of time to develop. You won’t see immediate results. Only after doing the same drills, over and over, for months and years, with perfect technique, will you begin to find that precision and strength necessary to seriously drop time.

Why even do drills in the first place?

When swimmers are in the midst of heavy training, we often take on a “no pain, no gain” approach. That is, we’re trying very, very hard. We are pushing our bodies, pushing our minds, pushing the scope of what we believe to be accomplishable. This is good. You want to try hard, develop strength and endurance and force your body to learn how to swim fast.

The problem is, sometimes when we try very hard, we often lose good technique. Our strokes fall flatter, our kicks fall apart, our body position lowers. This happens with almost all swimmers when they get tired.

Drills, on the other hand, isolate parts of your stroke so that we can expend greater energy focusing and recalibrating.

Butterfly is a great example: Many younger swimmers just don’t have the proper technique or stamina to swim 400 yards of straight butterfly. Nor would you necessarily even want to — the risk of teaching your body poor technique is just too high. But through specific drills at varying speeds, a swimmer can focus on one part of the stroke, make sure that technique is still improving, build strength and endurance during specific aspects of that stroke, and, eventually, put it all together for an entire practice.

It’s so much better to swim with good technique by working with drills than with poor technique throughout an entire practice. This is very true as you’re still developing. Swimmers can only really succeed if they have the tools to do so, and drills help perfect and hone those tools.

As for your time drops, High School Swimmer, don’t worry about them just yet. Don’t fret if you gain time, either. This happens, especially if you are playing around with new techniques and making stroke adjustments. You’re only a freshman in high school. You have plenty of time to add the strength and endurance required to drop times, especially in races.

Like you can’t have perfect teeth overnight, you won’t be an Olympic gold medalist overnight, either. It takes flossing, brushing, mouthwash, twice a day, every day, so to speak (sorry!). It’s not glamorous, and you might not even notice the results right away. But then one day, out of nowhere — cheesy metaphor alert! — you’ll notice that your smile lights up the room.

I hope this helps. 



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