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Swimming drills are are specific movements, done repetitively, to get your technique "in the groove." Generally included in all workouts, most coaches feel that you can never do enough technique work. You should include some in your workouts, too.

Most swimmers have learned some form of freestyle (also known as front crawl). But not many can appear to move down the pool as effortlessly as a world record holder. But there are ways to move yourself closer to their form; refine your technique with drills.

This list of drills is far from complete. If you are an experienced swimmer, you may either know these drills by different names, perform them somewhat differently, or know many more. Let me know of any that are your favorites.
Important key to freestyle: you spend most of your time on your edge or side, not on your belly! Imitate a sharp knife, on the edge of the blade, not a big soup spoon. Good freestyle, both swimming and drilling, requires you to rotate or roll your body along your "long-axis" or spine. You should also try to take breaths on alternate sides to help promote this good body roll. In these descriptions, if an arm is called the "front arm" it refers to the arm pointing to where you are headed. That side or edge of your body (shoulder to hip) is generally oriented towards the bottom of the pool, like the keel of a boat. The opposite edge (shoulder to hip) is aimed more "up" towards the ceiling (or the sky if you are lucky enough to swim outdoors) like a shark fin.
  • Catch-up: to isolate one arm, to practice a long stroke and a long body position. Swum like regular freestyle, except one arm is stationary, always extended forward (front arm), pointing towards the destination, while the other arm performs the stroke (working arm). When the working arm moves forward and "catches-up" with the stationary arm, they change places.

  • 3/4 Catch-up: Just like full catch-up, except the stationary (front) arm begins to work or move before the other arm fully "catches-up" - it begins to move after the working arm is about 3/4 of the way through a full arm motion.

  • Catch-up with a board: Just like regular catch-up, only your front hand is holding a kick board; as the arms trade places, they hand off the board to each other. You can substitute a pencil - or anything else that won't make you sink.

  • Fingertip Drag: to promote a high elbow recovery and to make you aware of your hand position during recovery. Swum like regular freestyle, except your fingertips never leave the water as your arm moves forward during the stroke recovery. You drag your fingers forward through the water, slightly off to the side of your body, focusing on good body roll and keeping your elbows pointed up. Change how much of your hand stays in the water: fingertips, hand, wrist, even your whole forearm.

  • 10/10 (simple): to promote good body roll and head alignment (when you add breathing - see the next drill). This looks like regular freestyle in very slow-motion. One arm is extended forward, pointing towards your destination (front hand). The other is backwards, pointing towards where you just left (back hand), with the arm resting against the edge of your body. You should be on your side, with the back hand side of your body up, the front hand side of your body down (towards the bottom of the pool). Your ear should be against your front hand shoulder, chin in line with your chest, eyes sideways (or even up a bit), mouth out of the water (so you can breath). Take 10 kicks, then stroke, so that your body rolls and your hands switch places. The front hand takes a stroke underwater and finishes against your side, becoming the back hand. The back hand recovers over the surface of the water, becoming the front hand. Your head switches, rotating with your body (rolling down into the water and then up on the other side), and you continue, taking 10 more kicks, then everything switching again. When you have this drill figured out, move onto the next step, adding breathing (see the next drill).

  • 10/10 (add breathing): just like regular 10/10 but you change your head alignment to mimic a relatively normal swimming position for freestyle. You look where you are going! Place your head so your cheek is against your front hand shoulder, eyes sighting down your front arm towards your destination. You need to roll your head to breath, then reestablish its position looking forward along the front arm. The breath should be taken away from the recovering arm (the one that is changing from back to front) just as that hand goes in the water; as your body rolls, roll your head with it. As you get better at this drill, play with decreasing the number of kicks taken while on each side of your body until you can move smoothly from the slow-motion drill (10/10) into regular speed freestyle (3/3 for a "six-beat" kicker)

  • Fist: to promote "feel" for the water. Swum like regular freestyle, except you hold either one or both of your hands in a fist. Vary the pattern and the number of strokes that you are "fisted." When you unclench your hand, you should notice a difference in pressure on your hand - use this feeling to keep your hand holding water as you move through your pull pattern. When you are clenched, you should also try to press on the water with the inside (palm side) of your forearm - think of the lower arm, from elbow to wrist, as an extension of your hand. And don't forget body roll!

  • One-arm: to focus on one arm at a time. Swum like regular freestyle, except only one arm is moving. The other arm is stationary, either forward (front hand) or backwards, against your side (back hand). The moving hand takes a series of strokes, each arm performing a set number of pulls before they switch roles. Practice this drill with the stationary arm in both positions. When your stationary arm is on your side, breath towards that side (away from the moving arm). When your stationary arm is forward, breath away from it (towards the arm doing the work). Again, time the breathing so that as your body rolls, your head rolls with it for a breath, then your head should return to its forward alignment.

There are plenty of variations for all of these drills, and many more to be added in upcoming features. You can also combine drills to work on several skills at once, or to add even more emphasis to a single element. Experiment with these drills and develop some of your own. Always work to improve your technique.

Good luck, and keep wet!

More ways to improve technique:

Developing Long & Powerful Freestyle

Distance Per Stroke

Freestyle Stroke Modifications to Prevent Fatigue

Front-end Freestyle

More Stroke Drills

Strokes Made Simple

Swimming Posture

Waiting to Inhale

Working Out Together - Drills for Groups

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