You want to improve your swimming so should you use equipment to give your training a boost?
You use equipment like weights and bands and machines and gloves and all sorts of other things in other sports so what about swimming equipment? Does it really make you better?
The answer is Yes …. and No 😊 haha, you knew I was gonna say that.
If you want to improve, there’s one piece of equipment every swimmer NEEDS and that is a pool buoy (sometimes called a pull buoy).
You use it between your legs to focus on your strokes, where most of your go-forward comes from. Plus you can hold it in your hands as a kickboard as well.
A pool buoy raises you into the correct body position. Don’t kick when using it, not even a little bit. Cutting out kicking means you won’t get puffed out and you can focus on the strength element of swimming – the upper body movements, the arm strokes. Make each stroke count, make each arm stroke long and strong. Use the pool buoy regularly if you are serious about swimming.
Mostly it should go between your thighs, but for more advanced workouts place the buoy between your knees and even ankles for a really good strength workout.
Flippers / fins
These are more controversial because although they are very useful they can become a negative training tool – turning into a crutch or even making your kick worse.
The best flippers/fins for swim training are short and relatively stiff, not long and bendy snorkelling flippers. The long flippers can lead to too much bending at the knees and that’s a negative when you take them off again. The long flippers can help with ankle flexibility for learners but the goal for good swimmers is a small strong kick so shorter fins are usually best.
Firstly flippers/fins can help ease the pounding your shoulders take when you swim regularly, so that’s a positive, particularly if you have sore/injured shoulders or muscles in your upper body.
Secondly, they increase your leg strength and endurance if you exert some kicking effort when using them.
Thirdly they help with ankle flexibility – and this is all-important. Focus on the down kick and use them until your ankles start to ache.
Overall, yeah, give them a go but don’t use them all the time and use them properly, don’t put them on just to swim fast without trying hard.
The other thing flippers/fins do for swimmers trying to improve is raise their speed and their body position, so everything feels right. This is fun and a good learning opportunity. This is the feeling you want when you don’t have flippers on your feet, so feel it, then work towards it, but don’t be fooled by it.
Yes, you need to do some kicking and you can use a board or your pool buoy to assist. You don’t need a flotation device to practice kicking but it can help.
There’s two ways to hold a kickboard. Hands at the top and hands at the bottom. When your hands are at the top (front) of the board, your head is up, looking forward. This means you have to bend (arch) your back more to keep your feet at the surface of the water.
When your hands are at the bottom of the board, you can put your head down, look at the bottom of the pool and get into the correct swimming body position. You can even take an arm stroke to breathe on the side.
Hand paddles can be large or small, and come with straps or without. Paddles can help developing swimmers learn to catch and pull the water more efficiently.
Paddles can help good swimmers get stronger and use their swimming as a strength workout. I like the paddles that have NO straps because you have to use a correct technique or they will fall off.
The problem with swim training equipment
All swim equipment can be overused and can lead to us not having a clear idea of where our swimming is at.
In short, use all these toys, some of the time. But swim with no toys every time. So, you might put fins on for part of your workout sometimes, but never for all of your workout.
It’s easy to use fins/flippers too much. Beware of the strain they place on your knees and ankles and the false impression they leave you with about how fast you are.
I like to always use the pool buoy for a few hundred metres in the middle of my training sessions, but I never use it in the warm-up when I am stretching and not straining anything or the main set, when I am focusing on swimming at ‘race pace.’
Paddles are an occasional add-on to give me an extra workout.
The only equipment you REALLY need are goggles, towel and speedos. Have fun everyone.