Category Archives: technique

Teach your child to swim – Freestyle

This is the last in the little series of lessons I hope you have enjoyed them and found them to be of some help.

The transition from catch up arms to conventional freestyle swimming is not a difficult one.

In this stage we will make sure they can do catch up correctly then show how to change the timing to resemble the freestyle you would recognise from the Olympics. Then show you additional drills to help improve this basic skills. 

There are 4 basic stages to developing this skill

1. Catch up arms with breathing

It is essential that your young athlete can swim 15m of catchup freestyle before you introduce them to conventional freestyle. Beginner freestyle develops the core and ensure the body is strong enough to kick and stroke at same time while maintaining good technique.

2. Conventional freestyle 

3. How to use flippers/bilateral breathing

We would advocate the use of flippers at this stage as a tool to help with stroke development but be careful they don’t become dependant on them and develop a lazy kicking action

4. Training to refine the stroke

Focus on the small things, body position, kicking and breathing. Make sure they are done correctly
Enjoy your swimming.

To enrol in Peter Hill Swimming courses contact Marie on 07708544044 our contact us through the website or Facebook pages


Deliberate Practice

Mastering any skills takes practice.

Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement.

It helps us perform with more eas, speed and confidence.

But how does practice make us better at things? 

This little video explains the inner workings if your brain and how effective practice makes us  better.

The talent code  by Daniel Coyle is also really worth a read


​For me swimming is a closed skill.  It is a skill that is not affected by external influences; it is just your body moving through water. We do not have opponents in our lanes or obstacles to overcome. A closed skill set can be practiced until the mechanics become second nature.  However, the danger when we say it should become second nature is, that you switch off mentally and just go through the motions.  I am not an authority on this by any stretch of the imagination, so I may be wrong, but I’m not entirely sure this is what we should be aiming for.

If we think of another sport for a second.  Rory McIlroy practices his swing every day for hours to achieve perfection and to make sure that it is repeatable multiple times. Has his swing become automated? It is definitely second nature but is it automatic?

The dictionary defines automation as:

1. The technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, reducing human intervention to a minimum.

2. A device that functions without input from the operator.

So, Rory steps up to strike the ball and halfway through his back-swing someone calls out and distracts him.  An automated swing would continue, strike the ball and mess up the shot.  However, he has the ability to stop mid-swing, step back, re-address and start again. 
To me this is not automated performance; this is a world class practitioner performing at the top of his game, being in the moment, entirely focused on what he is doing.  

Therefore, if we practice perfectly every session, and the mechanics of what we do become second nature, has our swimming become automated?

I don’t believe so, no.

I believe we practice so much in order to avoid automation.

Automation to me implies that the athlete has disengaged from whatever activity they are doing. I want my athletes to be actively in the moment at every stage. I want them to know how to react to every situation and have the ability to respond.

When we train or practice any skill we are seeking to operate in a sweet spot.  It does not matter if we are playing the piano, hitting a golf ball or swimming, we are striving for perfect practice. 

The way I interpret this is, we are looking to practice at the very limit of our current ability. 

With this in mind I actively encourage the athletes in my squad to fail. 

Now that may seem a bit of a strange thing to say as we automatically consider failure as a negative but, if we are practicing at the very limit of our ability, failure is not only a positive, it’s an inevitability. When a swimmer fails a set or a challenge, they analyze the failed repeat and find out why it failed.  They look at what was different from the successful repeats, correct it, and go again. 

So for me perfect practice is about working to the limit in everything (drill sets should challenge you as well, albeit in a different way), working to the point of failure:  pause, analyze, repeat.  This is continued to the point where the correct skill cannot be performed through fatigue and then rest. In this way you push the limits of what you can do and, over time, be able to do more.

So how can this be applied to swim training?

The simplest and easiest to understand why is in relation to Race Pace work. Race pace should be about more than achieving a time, it should be about the ‘HOW’ of that time, the correct stroke count and correct stroke rate. All 3 elements make race pace. So when we do race pace sets we might spend 30 minutes swimming at pace but if 1 of those 3 elements slips then we rest, reassess and then go again. This means that these sets become highly specific to each athlete. 

But it’s not just in race pace training that we can do this, if stroke count or technique fails during any set I am a big believer in stopping and assessing what is happening before returning to work. There is,in my opinion, limited value in performing at a level where technique has failed. Far better to take 30 sec and get back to perfect practice.

In my opinion, we, as coaches need to teach our athletes to think for themselves, to assess what they are doing in every set and actively learn from each experience. I don’t want them to become automated in their approach to training; I want them to learn that when thy are senior athletes, they will need to be able to react to unexpected tactics around them in racing situations to get to the wall 1st. 

I try to encourage every athlete in the club system to become more thoughtful in what they do, more considered in their approach and to try things. When they fail, they learn and they improve.


Swim technique – backstroke

I have been thinking for a whole about doing a little something on the competitive strokes. Kinda how I think about each stroke and a few ideas I try to implementhe.  A lot of it is textbook and I don’t pretend to be a revolutionary at all but it may be of some interest. 

I believe if you do the simple things very well you won’t go far wrong.

I may as well start on backstroke……seems as good a place as any.

The aim of every movement is to achieve the HIGHEST POSSIBLE FORWARD SPEED.  (This is true of every stroke)

In my head when I think Backstroke I think Lenny Krayzelburg so when I am thinking about models I want to (within reason) have my swimmers look like that. (Obviously a 5 foot tall girl will have to have some adjustments made)

The key points when I’m thinking about backstroke as a whole are

1 – avoid any unnecessation movements

2 – a smooth transition between relaxation and working on recovery and stroking 

3 – decrease resistance at all stages

4 – a transfered of power between stroking arms with correct timing.

Breathing on backstroke is very much and individual thing but if you think about a single arm stroke I like breathing in at start of recovery, holding breath during the entry and pull phase of the same arm then exhale during the push phase.

Arm movements

Remember the aim must always be to increase forward speed.

A few key thoughts

1 – each stroke should be soft on entry and accelerate to a finish

2 – I like the thought process to be that the push phase ends after the start of the recovery to help increase flow and stroke rate

3 – recovery should be opposite to the stroking arm through a fixed shoulderline (think kayaking)

4 – body position should be high and flat – there will obviously be some rotation but I am workimg on flattening this out to a degree (excuse the very bad pun 😊)

5 – 6 beat leg kick – kicking should be through the stroke (again I feel that flattening out rotation helps this a little)

6 – maintain a max distance per stroke

In order the achieve these things 

1- shoulder must be relatively high at the start of the pull

2 – catch occurs at the same time as the kick on same side

3 – the initial arm action must be, with a good catch, down and aside with a fixed elbow

3 – the opposite leg kick should be on a slight diagonal (though focus on kicking through the stroke not to the side) 

4 – the elbow and hand should be in line with shoulder at the mid point of the stroke

5 – there needs to be a ‘slow to fast’ movement through the pull/push/recovery phases

6 – entry on the recovery arm must be before the end of the push phase, while the recovery must be initiated before the pull phase of other arm

Overall the hand should be stuck to the water

So that’s pretty much it, like I said I’m not at all a revolutionary in my thinking on stroke mechanics I like the ‘keep it simple’ approach.

We only use 3 drills generally on Backstroke (on any stroke really)

1 – balance kick – with shoulder and hip rotation but aim for vertical leg kick

2 – single arm accelerating through push into recovery

3 – ‘lauries’ drill as a hesitation drill – hard to discribe so I’ll try post video at some point.

(We also use a speed drill on occasion)

After that we only change drills to correct any slip in technique.