Five Beginner Swimming Improvement Tips

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By Coach John Murray 

Each week I see many triathletes who come to me for help in improving their swim. Although each athlete has developed his or her own way of swimming there are common threads within the technique flaws. Here are five areas of improvement I see often and some remedies I recommend.

Swimming flat

Using our hips to aid in propulsion is essential, especially when swimming the long open water distances associated with triathlon. My goal for the new triathlete is to develop a long axis rotation that will eventually decrease their workload by increasing their efficiency. Think swimming on your edge. This “body roll” can also relieve shoulder discomfort during your arm recovery.

Drills - Side glide, pause drills. These drills are designed to isolate the body’s rotation and develop muscle memory that will become part of their everyday swimming.

Ineffective or absent "catch"

As our hand and forearm enters the water we want to begin our positive propulsive phase early. Using a high elbow/low fingertip position, the swimmer tries to feel the pressure of the water and then “hold the water” throughout the arm stroke. Learning to develop an early, definitive "catch" of the water is one of the quickest ways to find some swimming speed. Some coaches have used the term “reach over the barrel.”

Drills - Fist, Dog Paddle, Swimming with paddles. These are just a few drills used to isolate the feel for the catch. 

Overzealous kicking

Triathlon swimming should rely primarily on the arms, core & hips for propulsion. Our kick will be used to help us keep our feet near the surface as well as augmenting our body rotation. If we employ our legs to make our triathlon swim faster chances are we will fatigue very quickly.

Drills - Swimming with a pull buoy, kicking (with or without fins)

Buoyancy balance issues

Swimming against the resistance of the water is inevitable but finding ways to minimize the drag can decrease the your effort significantly. Ideally we are on the surface of the water from our head to our toes (similar to what happens to us when we put on a wetsuit!). When hips, knees and feet are sinking under the surface our workload is dramatically increased.

Drills - Balance drills, Head position drills. These drills will help you keep you spine aligned, get your hips to ride higher and teach you to have good posture in the water.

Crossing over

As the fingertips enter the water try to keep your hand out in front of your shoulder vs. crossing over the midline. The sweet spot of our strength in freestyle arm propulsion is in line with our shoulders. When our hands cross over during entry we lose strength and this could even explain why we can’t swim in a straight line.

Drills - Catch-up, one arm drill. These drills are focused on proper hand entry.   

Triathletes should consider having a qualified swim coach take a look at their stroke. A swim video analysis will also help to point out any areas that need improvement. Be patient as you make the changes to your stroke as you have developed muscle memory in your personalized technique.

See our video swim drills on youtube.

Established in 2010, Team MPI provides a diverse spectrum of services uniquely structured for both novice and experienced multisport athletes. Team MPI also provides specialty services in swim analysis, F.I.S.T. certified bike fitting and individualized multisport coaching.


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date: June 7, 2013



MPI services include coaching, single & multi-day tri camps, clinics, swim video analysis, tri swim programs, bike fitting & more!



MPI services include coaching, single & multi-day tri camps, clinics, swim video analysis, tri swim programs, bike fitting & more!

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