This particular drill was designed to encourage critical thinking regarding stroke technique. Word to the wise: it is designed to show swimmers why they don't want to do certain things. Swimming this way doesn't work.
That's the point.
This drill, which I call "Funky Chicken," encourages children to think about the way they are swimming and what effect each motion has on their speed and efficiency. In this drill, errors are amplified, so even the simple mistake of swimming with open fingers or a closed fist makes a huge impact.
The goal: the ability to break apart your stroke and ask, "If the effects of this action were multiplied by 5, would the action be making me five times faster, or five times slower?"
Funky Chicken Teaching Tool
1) ATTEMPT 25 yards or meters of freestyle with thumbs locked in armpits. If you're in a longcourse pool, at your discretion. THIS WILL BE DIFFICULT TO SWIM, SO BE PREPARED FOR IT. They often look quite comical.
2) As the swimmers. to name specific pieces of the drill that made swimming that way so ineffective/hard. As they come up with reasons, point out what error equates that particular challenge. I've gone further into detail about this discussion below.
3) 25 yards regular freestyle to gauge which skills still need work, then branch into other drills once target areas acquired. I find following up with fingertip drag helpful.
At the other end, talk to the kids about why they think this drill was so hard to swim. Have them break it down. I've seen people come up with as many as 10 problems. For each problem they come up with, point out which error is equivalent to that problem. Here are a few of the answers people have come up with over the years, and an equivalent mistake. These are only some of the answers. There are more. I'll do my best to give you the technical version, instead of the 9 year old friendly version, which can get pretty silly sometimes.
a) Recovery practically requires contortion (recovery not easy) - Contortion swimming and arm-watchers. Shoulders don't really do that. It hurts. Don't try to watch your arm as you recover, and don't stick it straight up in the air behind your shoulder either. It hurts. Finger tip drag a good follow up to this one. (generally only found in first year swimmers)
b) Hard to swim in a straight line- crossing your head during a stroke leads to wiggling. If you throw a ball like this (flop and round and finish throwing pointing at the floor) where does it go? Not where you want it to. Wherever you're pointing is where the ball will go. Well, guess what? Wherever you're pointing is where you're going to go. And if you're pointing one way on one stroke, and the other way on the next, it's going to take you forever to get where you're trying to go.
c) Wiggling is TIRING- Yes. If you wiggle while you throw a ball, it doesn't go far. The same thing applies to swimming. If you want to get any actual results from your actions, you'll need to tighten your core muscles.
d) Breathing was really difficult. Yes. Basically in order to breathe they have to breach like a whale. Equivalent to over enthusiastic rotary breathers and burrowers. Indirectly related to the fact that breathing forward partially closes your airway, so really, breathing forward barely counts as breathing.
e) Every time I took a breath I stopped moving, and then had a really hard time getting started again. - Again, yes to both. Equivalent to breathing forward and/or treading breath. Lifting your head up stops forward motion, and it's a lot easier to keep moving than it is to get started again. An object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an opposing force. On top of that, breathing forward allows a much smaller intake than rotary breathing, while still taking longer.
f) only using half your arm- shortened stroke and/or windmilling. The shorter wingspan equates to, among other things, the decrease in power generated by strokes without full extension or when the back half of the stroke is chopped off. It also illustrates what happens when you don't actually exert any pressure on the water during a stroke (i.e. windmilling) It's not the number of strokes you take, it's how much you get out of each one that matters. Long stroke strokes. Or, as I like to tell my kids, "You aren't trying to get to the bottom of the pool, are you? Reach for your destination. That's the wall, not the floor."
g) pushing with your elbow- nothing to push with - swimming with your hand in a fist or dropping either the wrist below fingertips or elbow below wrist during the pull. In any of those situations the force generated is all concentrated on a single small point (the fist, the elbow of the heel of the hand). Instead of meeting with resistance, the single point of pressure pierces through it, so that nothing comes of the action taken. A flat surface is more effective at pushing than a single point, which will puncture. In small children, the fist is the more likely error. In the middle age groups, the dropped elbow. In older children, the dropped wrist. Trying to swim with any of those is like forcing yourself to swim funky chicken...and why would anyone voluntarily swim funky chicken?
h) hole in between upper arm and forearm- swimming with open fingers, The water goes right through the holes in between your fingers. You can't eat soup with a fork.
i) I kept sinking. - This is a good one. Mostly it equates to burrowing, but it can be tailored to match the swimmer who says it. Because the kids are getting virtually no aid from their arms in this drill, their feet are doing all of the work. But because of the wiggling, it's hard to keep kicking; they sink a little, then run into several other problems, particularly problems A & D (contortionists and breach-breathers).
Basically any time you make one of the errors we just talked about, you're forcing yourself to swim Funky Chicken. And why would anyone ever voluntarily swim funky chicken?
This drill works especially well for wigglers, contortion swimmers, and frantic windmillers.