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by Cokie Lepinski

September 1, 2014

Companion drills for technique feature, Sept-Oct 2014 issue of SWIMMER

Be sure to read Coach Cokie Lepinski's full technique article "Get Hip With Your Hips," in the September-October 2014 issue of SWIMMER, and the companion video here at and on our YouTube channel.

Drills to Develop Hip Action

There are three drills I recommend for freestyle and backstroke that promote learning and controlling hip action. These drills build upon each other for both strokes and work best if done in the sequence shown. Although you might be tempted to use fins, I encourage you to master these drills without them. It will give you a much better feel for swimming freestyle and backstroke. When doing these drills, do them slowly; don’t race to the other end of the pool.

Head-Lead Balance


For freestyle, kick face down with hands on your thighs. Start out slightly riding one hip at roughly 45 degrees, eyes looking at the bottom of the pool, employing a steady compact kick. Now rotate from hip to hip about every 6 to 10 kicks. Drive your rotation from your hands (which are resting low on your hips) with a quick move that gets you to the other side. Never stop kicking!

The key to breathing in this drill is to turn your head as little as possible. Instead, rotate your body for the breath. Don’t lift your head to breathe. After each breath, go right back to your position and find your balance. I like to breathe every third rotation. How little rotation can you manage without being (incorrectly) flat?


For backstroke, kick on your back with hands on your thighs riding one hip at roughly 45 degrees. Rotate to the other hip after 6 to 10 kicks, keeping your head completely still, eyes looking straight up to the sky. Drive the rotation from where your hands rest on your thighs. Again, can you control the amount of hip action?

Arm-Lead Balance


For freestyle, start on your right side with your right arm extended just under the surface and pointed to the end of the pool. Keep your hip angle at roughly 45 degrees with eyes focused on the bottom of the pool. Your left arm rests on the side of your left thigh. Kick lightly and rotate your body just enough to breathe, but don’t lift your head for that breath. After 10 to 12 kicks, take one stroke and rotate over to the other side with your left arm out in front. When you’re about to rotate, make sure that lead hand is anchored just under the water line. Do not allow that lead hand to wave or move in the water to balance you. Your balance comes from your core.

Once you can smoothly rotate side-to-side, begin reducing the time you spend on each side to 6 kicks (or count to 6). Keep your hip angle at about 45 degrees and make sure your hips engage immediately as you begin to pull through the catch. The arm pull and hips rotate together. Find your balance as quickly as possible after rotating, just like you did with Head-Lead Balance.


For backstroke, start on your side with your right arm extended to the end of the pool where you are going and your left arm resting on your left thigh. Point your chin at your left shoulder. Remember to pull your ribs in and engage your core. Your lead palm should face the bottom of the pool and you should present a long, lean line from head to toe. Don’t let your hand waver—hold it steady. Rotate sides with a single stroke every 6 to 10 kicks (or count to 6 to 10). The goal is to find your balance as quickly as possible after each rotation.

Three and Glide


Swim three strokes of free. At the third stroke, leave the arm out in front of you (Arm-Lead Balance position) and glide while kicking for a slow count of 6. If you do this correctly, you’ll be gliding on opposite sides every three strokes. When you’re in the glide position, try to hold an angle in the water that is roughly 45 degrees. Be careful not to over-rotate to 90 degrees and be sure to keep your eyes looking at the bottom of the pool. Breathe only when in the glide/kick position and not while stroking.


For backstroke, initiate three strokes and glide/kick on the third stroke, counting slowly to 6 before rotating to the other side. In the glide position, you should be in the same position as in the Arm-Lead Balance Drill for backstroke. This drill helps you feel the core rotation into and out of each stroke, helps you build a strong kick, and heightens the feel of the catch on your stroke.


  • Technique and Training