Dryland: Building Quickness

Quickness and explosive power are essential to fast swimming, but it’s difficult to develop these skills in the pool because of the resistive quality of water. If you’ve ever tried to run across the shallow end of a pool, you know exactly how hard it is to move your limbs quickly. To develop quickness in the water, many elite swimmers turn to reaction drills done on land. Here are a few things you can do at home to increase your ability to go fast at the pool.

Jump Rope.  The quick hops help to strengthen your calves and thighs, and should lead to more power on your starts and pushoffs.  The rhythmic nature of jumping rope will increase your sense of rhythm in the pool.  Learn to listen to the rhythm of the rope.  Stay tuned in to the rhythm as you increase and decrease the speed of the rope.  Carry this sense of cadence to the pool with you. 

Wind Sprints.  Running is not usually a swimmer’s strong point (especially breaststrokers), but running short distances as fast as you can, allows the legs to move much faster than they can in the water.  A linebacker mentality is useful in this exercise.  When you first try these, just do some gentle, gradual “pickups” of 25 or 50 yards.  Or, you could try running for 30 to 45 seconds up a hill.  Don’t do too many of these at the start; three or four is plenty.

Box Jumps.  A great start requires explosive power.  How explosive?  Try jumping vertically onto a raised surface, and you will begin to understand.  Start small, and make sure your landing area is well padded.  Using a partner is a great idea, in case you don’t make it all the way up the 5th time.


Quick Turns.  This is a favorite of the University of Tennessee’s Ray Bussard, who was a legendary high school track coach before he became a legendary swim coach.   Coach Bussard used a cricket clicker to keep his swimmers on their toes.  He would have them line up in a football lineman’s stance, and each time he clicked the clicker, the swimmers had to hop or jump 90 degrees clockwise (or counterclockwise) as quickly as possible.  This is a fun drill that can be incorporated into any level of swim program – and it’s even fun to race friends and family and schoolmates.


Broad Jump.  Want a sure way to improve your starts?  And a good way to measure your improvement?   Broad jumps are the answer.  Start by drawing a chalk line on the driveway (a strip of duct tape works just as well, and can be used on a softer surface, such as grass).  Line up with both feet behind the line.   Crouch down and then leap forward as far as you can.  Mark where the closest part of the foot to the start line lands, and that’s how far you’ve jumped.  Repeat.  This extremely powerful move will help build more explosive muscles in the legs, and will increase your ability to start – and turn – faster.