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Crawl technique - Exercises, drills and tips

Pool Training Techniques

Article by Adam Cowell


Sculling is an effective way of training multiple elements of crawl technique and swim fitness in one exercise. Train the ‘catch’, shoulder + forearm muscle groups and movement in deep water.

How to:

• Using a side-to-side motion with a slightly cupped hand, push the water away from your body and proceed to catch and pull against the current created. 

• Repeat in a waving motion, pointing the hands in the direction opposite to the desired travel direction


• BACK - Lying flat on your back with head looking at ceiling, torso and abdomen pushed up (but not tense!) relax and begin to scull head first. Your face will be out of the water, so breathing can occur as usual. Practice the efficiency of pulls by assessing distance and speed relative to your input effort.

• FRONT—Face in the water scull with your hands stretched out above your head. This is extremely difficult, energy-intensive, and slow! Don’t forget to breathe. It is useful for training body position.

• TREADING WATER - Tread water in a depth greater than your height. Time yourself and use a combination of a kick and sculling (pointed at the floor). Great for training shoulder and arm muscle groups.

• MOVING SIDE TO SIDE - Use sculling and treading water to move yourself whilst vertical in the water. Useful for moving around deep water in at the begging of a race / watercourse.

Single Arm

Training single-arm pulls lets you focus on hand entry, catch, recovery and balance.


• ARM EXTENDED - with one arm extended in front of you, practice your single-arm pull with the other arm.

• ARM BY SIDE - with one arm by your side, practice your single-arm pull with the other arm.

Catch Up

One arm at a time ‘catch-up’ is an excellent drill for focusing on the amount of water you are moving with each stroke and your stroke efficiency.


• Push from the wall and begin your pull with your first arm while the other arm rests in front of you. Wait until you have fully recovered that arm to begin your next pull with the alternate arm. Essentially pulling one arm at a time while the other cuts the water in front of you.


• This is a great one in combination with your ‘swim golf drill’ (explained later) to increase stroke efficiency and lower the number of strokes you take per length.

Fists Closed

Fists closed is an exercise that lets you concentrate on your pull, more specifically, the other parts of your pull. Use your forearm and arm mass to get the water behind you. 


• Swim your usual front crawl only with your fists closed, punching instead of spearing the water in front of you.

Crawl Kick

Crawl kicks, both for competitive speed + distance events and personal training, use the same kick style. The flutter kick is the most efficient way to keep forward momentum and correct body position throughout the stroke.

How to:

• With your ankles relaxed, using your hips, move your legs up and down, ‘shaking’ your feet and pushing the water with the soles of your feet upwards and the tops downwards. Minimal effort should be given to the kick and it should not be something that takes a lot of thinking.

• Keep your feet in the water - no splashes (minimal water disturbance and energy loss). Do not excessively bend your knee, but be conscious not to be stiff.


• FLUTTER KICK PRACTICE - With a float in front of you, swim a couple of lengths to practice your flutter kick and get a feel for the water.

• TOMBSTONE DRILL - Hold a kickboard out in front of you (long edge horizontal) and float upright to create a flat surface area of resistance. Push the kickboard against the water, practising your flutter kick. The idea is resistance, this will tire you out!

• SIDE KICK - With one arm extended in front of you and the other by your side. Completely roll onto your side (about 60 degrees) practice your kick. Your face will be in and out of the water, breathing every 5 seconds.

Swim Golf

Not what it sounds like. Count your strokes - less is more.


• Swim a length, counting your arm pulls as you go. Aim to reduce this number as you build your strength and technique using these various drills. You will see a substantial reduction in the percentage, but the actual number may not seem impressive. As you get better, it will become harder to reduce your overall number. 


This is a good one for measuring efficiency at different speeds.

Glide Pulls

Take your time to focus on your pull through the water. Slow your stroke to about 50% and try to pull as much water behind you per pull as possible—exaggerate the action.


• Swim a length slowly pulling as much water behind you per pull as possible. Breathe every two strokes and kick as normal.


This exercise is great for increasing stroke efficiency and lowering your ‘swim golf’ number. It will help you to develop an effective pull and conserve energy when swimming long distances.

Head Above Water

Tarzan swimming / polo swimming - this drill has many names and uses. When using it for craw technique practice, it will allow you to focus on your hand entry, pull and recovery.


• Swim a length with your head above water. The higher you lift your head out, the harder it will become -  as you are creating more surface area for water resistance to take place and upsetting your body position (swimming at an incline)


This exercise is extremely tiring - go one length at a time to avoid getting into trouble. Relax and do not strain your back and neck muscles as you swim.

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