People Paddle Progression


3-Dimensional Free


Just because the stroke is called Freestyle doesn’t mean anything goes. There are limits to any good swimmer’s motions, and the maxim of ‘Different Strokes for Different Folk’s’ is only generically true. Most swimming coaches now agree that fundamental movements exist within each stroke and that any unnecessary motions or actions outside those ranges create either increased drag or decreased propulsion.

Whether you coach yourself or are coached by another, an excellent, everyday method to reinforce proper skills are with Drills. Drills are, and should be, an integral part of any successful training routine. Swimmers intent on progressing their training through technical improvement should be able to break their stroke into smaller components, and then re-tool and re-build into bigger, better skills. Doing so results in not only increased performance but improved confidence as well.

By definition, Drills are swimming exercises that isolate a part of a stroke, or identify a new kind of movement which can be used to improve the overall technique of a swimming stroke.

Instead of presenting a handful of distinct drills, and after years of trial and error, I’ve settled on one global drill that encompasses a wide range of motions and actions. Not for the feint of heart or muscle, this exercise requires self-control, visualization and strength. The following material is offered to any Masters swimmer wishing to acquire a more complete Freestyle based on a minimum of effort with maximum effect.   

Training Alert -

Though this drill is useful to all level swimmers, it is based on the notion that a strong, continuous 6-beat style kick is propulsive. If you’re already a good kicker, then this drill is for you. If not, then this drill is really for you. (Please note that beginning swimmers might want to begin with long fins; intermediates with Zoomer-type fins and only advanced should begin with bare feet). This is NOT a simple exercise. Mastery of this Masters drill requires a complex combination of coordination and concentration

The People Paddle Progression Drill is helpful in defining dimensions and boundaries by increasing awareness of the length, width and height of the stroke. The desired end result is better conception of the total effort. Using visual and kinesthetic feedback this comprehensive, 4-step progression (25 yards per step), systematically leads from a head-up, dog paddle motion to a full Freestyle stroke.

In addition to teaching the proper ranges of freestyle motions, it’s also a diagnostic tool useful in identifying/correcting the following stroke errors:

·         Crossover arms on entry

·         Dropped elbows

·         Crossover pull underwater

·         Wide, low arm recovery

·         High head position

·         Premature release of vertical forearm

·         Lack of kick


Length: begin the first length by building onto a dog paddle-like pulling motion by adding a push back arm extension with wrist flick. Swim the first 5 yards with dog paddle arms only (hands remain in front of the shoulder plane) focusing on high elbows and a short-lived vertical forearm. Then cover the next 5 yards transitioning to full extension by gradually closing the armpit and pushing further back until you spend the reaming 15 yards in full-drill mode. This Drill Step #1 helps get the feel of length per stroke. Think of keeping all your body motions inside of the longest tube possible. Do this first stage in a head up position watching the extending arm lock in front as the opposite finishing arm extends along the thigh. (Swimmers with neck or upper back problems can skip this step and begin with the second stage - Width). Emphasis is on UNDERWATER recovery, keeping arms submerged at all times.



Focus on a lengthy, almost ice-skating-like glide from one side to other, reaching arms forwards in front of shoulders. Swimmers with too much of an early release on their extension will have difficulty here. Without rushing the stroke, allow the elbows to extend simultaneously. Feel the finishing fingertips on each hand crest the surface of the water with a flicking motion. (This may appear as exaggeration for effect, but many elite swimmers have exited the water with a flick). This moment (photo #b0256) reinforces the completed, length of motion portion of the drill. Kicking should be at a minimum.



Width: on the second length, drop the head down into a neutral position and begin rotary breathing (Photo #c0097).


While looking straight down between breaths, observe the propulsion the path of hands, as they travel backwards and forwards, should generally be below the shoulder plane. Over-rolling to breathe and kicking should be minimized. Length of stroke from the first 25 is maintained.



Height: Begin your over-water recovery on the third 25. Using a three-quarters arm recovery, start lifting the shoulder and elbow


out of the water keeping the entire hand below the surface. This Drill Step #3 is a basic submerged, finger-tip drag. But in this case, the whole hand, wrist firm, is pushed forwards creating a water skiing-like, rooster tail splash. The more continuous the forward splash, the greater strength and expert control are required to maintain lift and rotation of the shoulders. Swimmers not yet strong in this area will be unable to push their submerged hands much farther forwards than their shoulders. KEEP YOUR ELBOWS UP.


T Vigorous kicking is now encouraged. Length and width of stroke from first two lengths are maintained (photo #g0457).


Total Dimensions: Finally, on the fourth 25, Drill Step #4 begins as the entire hand lifts out of the water and recovers over the

surface for a classic, high elbow recovery. 




Seen from below, notice the swimmer in the final photo is swimming a complete freestyle stroke by combining all the following technical elements - looking downward; extending the entering hand out and downward from the shoulder; flexing the pulling elbow at roughly 90° as it passes below the shoulder and completing a downward kick. 



Taken in sequence, swimmers mastering this drill will find themselves with at least the basics of:

·         increased maximum distance per stroke (length)

·         slightly faster tempo by reducing cross-over, ‘S’ pulls (width)

·         less shoulder stress from straight-arm recovery swinging (height)

·         and a more continuous, propulsive kick.