This post was originally published by Terry Laughlin on July 9, 2015.
Would you like to make your stroke markedly, noticeably more efficient in as little as 10 minutes? Doing the right drill, in the right way, can achieve stroke transformation faster than any other means. Here’s a summary of “First Principles” of maximizing the value and efficacy of stroke drills from my recent series of posts on this topic:
- The only reason for doing a drill should be to improve your swimming . . . in “real time,” during and immediately after the drill. In other words, after a short period of practicing a drill—generally less than 10 minutes–your stroke should feel noticeably better. Or you should at least have heightened awareness of subtler aspects of your stroke–to work on via Focal Points, while swimming whole stroke.
- Never do a drill by rote or on autopilot. Always be aware of (a) how it is specifically meant to improve your stroke; and (b) what stroke thoughts will create that improvement and what sensations confirm the desired improvement is occurring.
- Do the drill only long enough (with respect to both the duration of each drill rep and the number of reps) to create a “sense memory” to guide you during whole stroke. Never continue to the point where you lose intensity of focus or the drill becomes a kicking exercise, rather than a skill builder.
Here’s an example of how we design and teach TI drills to observe those principles. For our example, I’ve chosen Torpedo, our simplest drill and the one we teach first. For what purpose did we design it, and how should you practice it to achieve that purpose?
Torpedo is the first drill in what we call our “Comfort and Body Control” drill series. These drills and skills teach three qualities essential to efficiency –and to creating the conditions for long-term improvement:
- Immediate energy savings from a weightless and stable body position.
- The body control necessary to learn all subsequent skills.
- The focus, sense of calm, and habits of self-perception that will make your swimming more satisfying and effective for decades to come.
Torpedo practice repeats are briefer than any other drill—usually about 6 seconds. And you’ll probably only practice it a few times—for a lifetime cumulative duration of as little as 30 minutes. Nevertheless, it can create invaluable and enduring body awareness that improves Balance and Core Stability—the indispensable foundations of an efficient stroke.
One reason we like Torpedo as a introductory drill is that it has few “moving parts.” This allows pinpoint focus on three key mini-skills—a “weightless” head, head-spine alignment, and an engaged core. Isolating your head in front heightens awareness of when your head is truly “weightless” and aligned with the spine. We also use Torpedo to initiate awareness of how it feels to engage core muscle while you swim. Both skills are essential to maintaining a sleek, stable body position when you begin moving your arms and legs.
Before doing Torpedo in a horizontal gliding position, we have students rehearse good posture in a standing position. Then we proceed to live practice.
How to Practice Torpedo
- Push gently into a surface glide.
- Your legs may sink gradually as glide slows. Maintain head-spine alignment as they do.
- Lightly press legs together to increase glide and slow legs from sinking.
- When you lose momentum (in a few seconds) stand for a breather and mental reset. Then push into glide again.
[Note: You can use a gentle flutter to maintain momentum and body position for just a few seconds longer–allowing sensations to imprint a bit longer. Stop if your kick feels like work.
Torpedo Focal Point Checklist
Arms: Push hands far down the front of your thighs—arms should mold inside bodyline.
Core: Pull navel toward spine. Feel curve in lower back flatten slightly.
Legs: Press together and lengthen. If legs drift toward bottom, as momentum slows, don’t fight it. DO maintain head-spine alignment.
Improve Your Stroke in 10 Minutes
Repeat Torpedo as described four to eight times. Total elapsed time should be just two to three minutes. Then practice whole stroke—just five to six strokes without breathing. Focus solely on replicating the sensation of a weightless/cushioned and stable head from Torpedo. After each, stand for a breather and mental reset. Repeat 4x. Elapsed time two to three minutes–a total of five minutes on this sequence of drill + whole stroke.
Then repeat the 5-minute sequence above with a focus on good posture with an engaged and stable core.
Total elapsed time for both: About 10 Minutes. Stroke Improvement: Priceless!
This is how drills should work—always!
Transform Your Entire Stroke in Two Months or Less
Learn Torpedo and other guaranteed skill-builders with our downloadable Ultra-Efficient Freestyle Self-Coaching Toolkit. The drills and skills are illustrated in 15 short videos. Guidance on how to learn and practice each drill effectively–like that provided above–illustrated by clear pictures like those above are contained in the companion Workbook.