Swimming Training

Improving Your Underwater Game

More than just streamline dolphin kick

The most important lesson from the elite race pool is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to technique, training, or racing.

One thing most coaches agree on, however, is that the underwater part of swimming has changed the sport. From the 15-meter rule to adding a dolphin kick to breaststroke to the Lochte Rule for breast-to-free transitions, a lot of things have changed.

To maximize your speed, you might want to look at how you do everything from the push-off to how long you streamline.


Except for the start, the push-off is fastest you’ll be moving through the water, so it’s critical to making the most of it. Here’s why and how to work on your push-off.

  • Why work on it. As mentioned, this is the fastest you’ll be moving through the water. And until you get to another wall, you’re managing how much you slow down. The goal is to maximize your velocity and carry as much of it for as long as you can.
  • How to work on it. A great drill to minimize drag and maximize velocity is the streamline drill. The drill is simple: Swim into the wall, turn and push off, and go as far as you can on a streamline with no movement. Repeat this a bunch of times. Another drill is the A to F drill. A is for amplitude (how big your kick is) and F is for frequency (how fast your kick is). Immediately after the push-off, use big powerful kicks, then reduce the size and increase the frequency on down the lane. This develops power, speed, and balance in your kick.
  • How to measure. For the streamline drill, it’s simple: measure how far you go just by where you stop. Repeating a bunch of times allows you to adjust little things and go farther. For the A to F drill, there will be a sweet spot where you have your best power and velocity. This is based on feel. Time it with the same fast amplitude and frequency to make sure what you feel is fastest. Keep in mind, this will change as you get better and stronger.


When to start kicking and how many kicks you do are also different from swimmer to swimmer. There’s been much debate over whether to glide or not to glide off the wall, and how far to glide if you do.

  • Why work on it. Again, the goal is to maintain your velocity after a strong push-off, so it’s a good idea to do something rather than just glide and let it dwindle.
  • How to work on it. Just like before, start with a good turn into the wall and a strong push-off. Then experiment with how soon you start kicking. Is it right away or after a short glide or after a longer glide? You would think that to conserve velocity you should get into kicking right away, but not necessarily. Whether you come off the wall on your side or your back or your front, you won’t want to start kicking until you find your balance. If you don’t have a good aquatic posture and balance off the wall, then you may end up on the bottom of the pool, spearing through the surface, or, worse, in someone else’s lane. A glide just long enough to obtain balance for an effective kick will ensure that you’re not wasting energy going in the wrong direction.
  • How to measure. It’s best to measure this at 5, 10, and 15 meters or yards. Just change the length of your glide and then record your times. Each attempt will be a little different, so multiple tries are a good idea. Just like the push-off, this will change as you get stronger and better.

Length of the streamline

Many swimmers were taught that the longer the streamline the better (within the 15-meter rule of course) but there are reasons to shorten the streamline. The length of your streamline will be determined by how much oxygen you need for your race.

  • Why work on it. If you’re new to swimming and racing, you might be faster on top of the water rather than under it, so it will make sense for you to break out and start swimming as soon as possible. But in practice, work on getting better at the underwater part of your race and then start incorporating it into your race-day strategy. In a longer race, conserving some breath on each wall is an important part of strategy, so shorter streamlines may come into play. Work on it and find what’s right for you as an individual and for your specific races.
  • How to work on it. Start by doing 25-meter or yard repeats, adjusting the length of your streamline, and repeat. Do this on feel rather than on the clock in the beginning. Increase distances and note the feel for longer and shorter streamlines. Make sure you only change one thing at a time.
  • How to measure. For this the clock does not lie. Repeat what you were working on above and see which is fastest for you based on 25, 50, 75 and 100 meters or yards. Working on it in practice will produce changes over time. Your streamlines might be longer in the opening phases of a race and shorter later in a race.     

Patience and progress

A great streamline requires strength and fitness. As a terrestrial creature, the best way for you to get stronger is by doing regular dryland exercises—you need resistance to build strength. Your fitness level is a function of frequency, intensity, and duration. So in addition to having a knowledgeable coach help with your technique and training, seek the advice of a qualified drylands trainer to build your strength. With patience and progress, you’re certain to improve your underwater game!

Original Post U.S.Masters Swimming

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