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by Sara McLarty

August 26, 2009

Swimming with your head up useful in open water

Swim and water polo coaches have long used the Tarzan drill to strengthen the trapezius muscles on the back of the neck and the back itself. McLarty points out that this is especially important for open water swimming, as the demands placed on the neck and back muscles due to the need to sight buoys, especially in rougher water, are much different than when swimming in the pool with your head down.

How To Do It:

Swim freestyle with head and face held completely out of the water; keep head/face pointing forward; don't rotate neck to breathe to the side; arch back to keep legs and feet near the surface of the water; engage a strong kick to keep lower body from sinking.

Suggested Use:

No more than 25 yards at a time for beginners, 50 yards for advanced swimmers; alternate laps with regular, face-down swimming; performed at easy and strong efforts to simulate race pace; example sets: 8x50 as 25 Tarzan Drill/25 Swim; 500 smooth swim where every 4th 25 is fast-pace Tarzan Drill.


The Tarzan drill is specific for Open Water swimming. Most swimmers and triathletes perform 90-100% of their swim training in a pool. On race day, there is no black-line on the bottom of the open water. All swimmers must lift their head up and look forward to sight for the turn-buoys. If the trapezius muscle on the back of the neck is not trained and strengthened, it will be sore and strained before the race is over. Incorporate the Tarzan drill into practice once or twice a week, even more often for open-water-specific swimmers. As a result, the trapezoids (and upper and lower back muscles) will be strengthened and ready for prolonged use on race day.



  • Technique and Training
  • Open Water


  • Drills