Age Group Triathlon Swimming Review and Drills

Mike Graffeo Swim Clinic

I just ran one of our local swim clinics for Endurance Nation members and fans here in Providence, RI (join our newsletter to stay up to date on all EN events!), and it was awesome on many levels. Great to connect with our growing Team, great to see them pushing their limits, and great to watch so many folks swimming with different styles.

Age Group Swimmers Aren’t All That Different

While triathletes usually consider themselves to be unique in terms of their needs as athletes, my 30,000-foot view during the swim clinic showed some seriously common themes that we all (myself included!) can improve.


The more horizontal you can be, the faster you will be. Most triathletes have lower hips than shoulders, which causes increased drag on the water. This is due to either poor breathing technique (think: lifting head to breathe causes hips to drop) or to pool hand placement (think: high hand/arm extension causes uplifted torso).

Your key drill here is kicking on your side, focusing on breathing with one goggle in the water and on proper extension of the bottom / leading arm to about 4 o’clock (or 8 o’clock) on the dial. Note, we recommend you do the side kicking work with short fins so you don’t spend all day getting from one end of the pool to the other!

Unified Rotation

While we all rotate our shoulders in order to move our arms around, few triathletes move their shoulders and hips in unison. I call this area “the box” and it’s essentially the engine room for your stroke. The rotation of your torso as a single unit gives incredible torque to your catch, making forward progress that much easier because rotation is essentially “free” (think: doesn’t require work like kicking faster or stroking faster).

The key drill here is the switch drill, or the step after kicking on your side. In this drill you’ll cement your position in the water, then take a single stroke and switch sides. After a few repeats, you can build up to a double- or triple-switch, making sure to always return to the kick-on-side position.

Proper Catch

This is the obvious one, but it bears repeating. Almost everyone in the clinic “felt” the catch by extending their arm out horizontally from their body, with a few even angling up towards the surface. This position puts tension on the arm/shoulder because of where you body is at; unfortunately your arm is NOWHERE NEAR being able to actually use the water it’s currently occupying. Triathletes compound this missed catch by pushing directly down on the water with a straight arm (think: lifting themselves up, not moving forward). It’s not until they have forced their arm all the way down that they are actually in a position to create forward propulsion…the result is a ton of work for little results.

Contrast this with the triathlete who places their hand in the water at 4 o’clock, with their body horizontal between 9 and 3 o’clock. The arm is down and relaxed. The forearm is mere inches away from a “good” catch. This triathlete then “breaks” their wrist to encourage a popping up of the elbow and the start of the catch. It’s not the amazing catch you’ll see Michael Phelps do, but it’s way more efficient than how you are swimming now and very achievable for most triathletes.

Key drills include kicking on the side and switch drills, additionally you can practice swimming with closed fists to emphasize the use of your forearms for propulsion. Consider swimming 50s as alternating 25 fist drill, 25 freestyle to contrast the difference.

I Should Pay You To Attend The Clinic

I am a very visual learner. It’s not quite a photographic memory (bummer!), as I forget my shopping list every time I go into the supermarket, it’s more specific to the athletic space. Reading is fun, and listening is cool…but if I can _see_ someone do something I can come pretty close to it myself.

So having the chance to watch different folks in the water, and then give them feedback in video, means that I seriously benefit. Each athlete’s stroke multiple times both live on the day and then again when producing their video, and the net is that I have it burned in my memory. So when I hit the water, I can get right to work tweaking what I am doing.

If you are a visual learner, you should definitely spend some time browsing youtube for some swimming videos. It’s not so much an exercise in finding the PERFECT stroke online but rather reviewing what makes different people effective in the water and then applying that new perspective to your own stroke.

How You Can Accelerate Your Learning

If you have the interest, consider signing up for one of our FREE Triathlon Seminars. Each one is unique, but most will give you the chance to access many of our downloadable resources…which includes our Swim Clinic eBook: More than 30 pages of tips, videos, drills and more to make you a better swimmer!


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Coach P

All stories by: Coach P
  • Richard

    Excellent article. Yes my problem is body balance, great to learn the 2 drills from you that will help my body balance. Going to pool now, skip office work 🙂

  • Richard

    Excellent article. Yes my problem is body balance, great to learn the 2 drills from you that will help my body balance. Going to pool now, skip office work 🙂

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