Three Balance Drills to up Your Game

Photo Courtesy: Sarah Noll

By Sarah Noll, Swimming World Magazine College Intern. 

The drills discussed in this article are based on the hard work and dedication of

Terry Laughlin

Founder of Total Immersion

It’s your first day back to swim practice after a nice vacation with your family. You’ve had a week of relaxation, and the only swimming you have done in the last seven days is in the ocean. You hop in the pool, eager to get back in the swing of things, and wham! You forgot how to swim. We all have been there. To reset and step up your game, try these balance drills!

The following drills are designed to restore balance to the swimmer’s stroke by engaging your core and legs to stay on top of the water. When swimmers are out of shape, they are often tempted to simply pull their way through the water without engaging their core and hips. However, this can lead to shoulder problems down the road.

Johnny Highlands – a coach with over 30 years under his belt, Bloomsburg University Swimming Alumni, and current head coach of Belle Vernon Area Swim Club – uses balance drills every day. He favors this progression of drills originally developed by Terry Laughlin: skate, stop stop switch, and triple roll. They teach swimmers how to properly position their bodies during freestyle.

“They (balance drills) help with body roll, head position, and learning how to control and limit head movement in freestyle. Too much head movement and incorrect head movement is the biggest hiccup in freestyle. Also, they can be used in kick and strengthening sets, because all require a steady, fast six-beat kick.” – Johnny Highlands

1. “Skate” Drill

This drill is the first in the balance sequence. It is called “skate,” because the goal is to have the swimmer “skate” along the water. In order to do this drill, have the swimmer push off the wall on their side. One arm is to remain at their side while the other is to be above the head. Swimmers should stay on their side and try to remain as straight as possible. Engaging the core and keeping the legs close together is key in correctly executing this drill.

This drill can be converted for backstroke as well. Simply push off on your back and keep the head looking at the ceiling. The shoulder should point up at the ceiling, and the swimmer should stay on their side for the duration of the drill.

Coach Alayna Thompson of the Buckhannon Splashers uses this drill with her team throughout the season both simply as a drill and as a kick set:

“I like this drill because it engages the core and legs. A lot of younger swimmers think you only use your core during butterfly or backstroke, but your core should be engaged all the time. The drill is also harder to do if you have a really wide kick, so it kind of forces kids to keep their kicks closer together.” -Alayna Thompson

Example Set-

4×50 “skate” left. (Have left arm out front and the right arm laying on swimmer’s side).

4×50 “skate” right. (Have right arm out front and left arm on swimmer’s side).

2. “Stop Stop Switch” Drill

This next drill is just a continuation of the first. Start the drill in “skate” position. The swimmer should “stop” and look at the ceiling, “stop” and look at the bottom of the pool, and then “switch” and continue on the other side. This drill engages the core and helps emphasize rotation. Again, in order to get the full effect of the drill, do not let the legs kick too wide. Keep a steady six-beat kick.

This drill can be used to help backstroke too! Have the swimmer start on their back and omit the second “stop” (putting their face in the water) before switching. Only change leading arms when comfortably balanced.

One of Highlands’ swimmers, Andrew Noll, utilizes this drill progression all year and says,

“Coach Highlands always tells us that we need to stay streamlined in the water, and that breaking down our strokes with these drills will help us do that. He says that balance is important to be the most efficient while swimming. Work smarter, not harder.”

Example Set-

3×100- “stop stop switch” drill.

This drill is good for refocusing the swimmer in between sets.

3. “Triple Roll” Drill

This drill is another progression of the last two. It is the next level of “stop stop switch.” Simply take three strokes instead of one. This drill can be done during a faster pace set, as it can be done either slowly or quickly. It will also force the swimmers to use their legs, as a steady kick is required to get the full effect of the drill and proper rotations.

This drill can be adapted for backstroke in the same way as the previous one. Just ensure that the swimmer feels balance before switching to their other side. Also, like before, keep the head very still.

“I like this drill because it helps me think about my head placement and getting good rotations. Kicking is a big part of this drill. After I do a set with ‘triple roll,’ my freestyle feels very smooth and controlled. I like this drill better than ‘triple roll’ because I like to focus on my kick more. ‘Triple roll’ focuses more on the shoulders, but if you aren’t kicking while doing ‘stop stop switch,’ you start to sink.” -Andrew Noll

Example Set-

10×50 “Triple Roll” drill.

This set can be completed on a faster pace interval, such as :40, :45, or :50.

Share Your Drills

What other kind of drills do you use to reset your stroke? Comment down below with your favorites!

For additional examples and demonstrations of drills like these, visit the Total Immersion site by clicking HERE.

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.