Add Some Gimmicks to Your Swim Sessions


Posted by Coach John Murray

As I have written often before, pool swimming has a potential for being monotonous. To derive maximum enjoyment from the hour (or more) that you spend developing fitness and technique in the water, add drills, use “toys” or find other quirky ways to get the job done. All of these gimmicks must have a basis for swimming improvement though.


Use tennis or wiffle balls. Put the ball in the palm of your hand and wrap your thumb and fingers all the way around it. Swim freestyle and look for the hold on the water to come more from your forearm. There is an element of “slippage” as you will miss the catch and hold on the water you would normally feel with your hand in a “paddle” position. This drill should force you to have an early (just after entry) high elbow-low hand position.

Sculling is a method of creating lift on the water by moving your open hand side to side as you switch your “blade angle”. It is the same movement you would use to tread water. Perfecting this technique will increase your feel for the water, which is a must-have attribute. I add variety to this drill by having swimmers scull with their hand straight out in front, by their shoulders and by their hips. We’ll even scull feet first! Watch our Sculling Video to see how it is done. 

Use your paddles in a different way. Instead of the conventional way of holding your paddles try holding them by the straps. Grab the straps from the top and make a loose fist on top of your paddle. As you swim this way see if you can avoid bending your wrist as you pull. You can also grab your paddles at the top of the paddle (no straps again), wrapping your fingers over the top edge and pull. If the swimmer has a bent wrist, the bottom of the paddle may jut into your wrist so try to keep hand and forearm on the same plane to avoid this from happening.

Trade your pull buoy for a kickboard. Most triathletes love their pull buoys. The extra flotation improves balance thereby decreasing drag, which makes the workload go down. However, after a while the training wheels have to come off. So if an athlete wants to continue to use the pull buoy, I say, “Let’s compromise!” Let the kickboard acts as your pull buoy. It’s a bit trickier but swimming with a kickboard between your thighs can be done. It also can tell you a story about your body roll.


So if your time in the pool is becoming humdrum, add some challenges to your swimming and try these. It may not only revitalize your training but I bet it’ll make you a better swimmer!


John Murray is a USA Triathlon Level II certified Coach, An ASCA Level II certified Coach and a USAT certified Race Director. John has over 25 years of coaching competitive swimmers and Masters Clubs and has completed over 70 triathlons including 2 Ironmans. John has produced the Portofino Tri Series since 2011 - a super sprint triathlon race series that has been the first triathlon for hundreds of athletes from all over the country. John is also a US Veteran having served in the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman (FMF) and is also a Registered Nurse. He is a current Board Member, Pensacola Sports Association, and co-founder and President of Team MPI. He can be reached at

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