Tools are useful for all sorts of training, right?
Well yeah, if you use them correctly. I very rarely use any toys while I’m swimming – or coaching – but here are a few bits and pieces that if used correctly, can be a really useful addition to your sessions.
I like to make a joke about how triathletes tend to use pull buoys as a crutch, but a leg float can be a really potent tool to use. The idea with the item is that you isolate your arm muscles and DON’T KICK. It kills me when I see swimmers with a float between their legs and kicking as per usual! If using one of these there are two elements at play – firstly you don’t have to worry about your legs (or body position), so you can really work on what your arms are doing under the water; Secondly you can build in some power and resistance (because the shape of the float sticks below the body, it adds to your frontal profile – the bit that causes resistance) and so strengthen your arms. Obviously in the long run this should make you go faster – but in no way should you be swimming faster with a float than you do without it! If this is the case you really need to think about your BODY POSITION!
One way of getting the most out of your pull buoy is to change the position that you hold it in – and even do some pull sets (i.e. arms only) without a float. This gives you the advantage of feeling your body position change in the water and having to balance yourself somewhat. Try placing the float between your knees, between your shins or even squeezing it between your feet.
Hand paddles are your real strengthening agent in the water. If you don’t have access – or time to go to the gym, using a pair of paddles (sparingly) can build the power in the lats and arms. They can also be used to focus on technique as well. I would always recommend to use paddles with out the wrist strap – or side straps depending on the brand of paddle – and solely use the finger straps at the top. The reason for this is simple: If you are fully secured to your paddle, then your hand can do what it likes underwater, potentially with no benefit to you, or maybe even increasing risk of injury. If, however, you were to only keep the finger straps on, you would HAVE to ensure that your paddle/hand and forearm are always engaging pressure on the water and causing the paddle to stick to your hand.
Using paddles adds to the water and resistance you can push – so will make you go faster while you are using them. But be careful of doing too much with them, you don’t want to over stress the shoulder muscles and the tendons around the elbow.
Swim fins are great for those with rigid ankles – potentially from cycling or running background – as they lengthen the foot and help to increase the range of motion within the ankle. This along with regular kick will help build up efficiency. As a competitive swimmer myself (and a strong kicker), my old coach went by the maxim that around 40% of our sessions should be kick! Now for the majority of Tri Coaching followers, that will seem like a lot, especially for triathletes who feel that they don’t kick much and want to save their legs for the bike/run. I would put it to you that you want any kicks that you do make, to be strong, efficient and propulsive, and giving a good platform for you to pull from; that doing a couple of hundred metres a session kick is really beneficial to your leg mobility and flexibility, as well as your swim power.
Front Mounted Snorkel
The last training toy is the front mounted snorkel. The reason that I picked this tool out is because it helps you as a swimmer to keep your head still. I regularly make the joke that breathing is overrated, but with regards to swimming, it really is. All the time that you keep your head down, your stroke remains the same, unchanged, constant. As soon as you turn your head to breath, that is when things start to change – and if you are swimming open water, where you are likely to go off course. By occasionally using the front mounted snorkel to keep your head still (and watch your hands come through under your body), you can ingrain some really positive strong habits.
If you feel like this is too easy, or you want to build up your lung strength, Finis also do a cap to go on the top to restrict airflow(!).
All these tools are positive additions to your sessions – potentially – if used correctly, if used sparingly. Unlike on the bike, where shiny kit can make you go faster in training and in races, swim tools will only help you in training, the benefits will only cross into races if you use them correctly.
You might notice that I haven’t mentioned kick boards/floats. The only time I ever use floats are with complete learn to swim beginners, and even then I try to avoid it if possible. By using floats for doing kick, the body becomes completely out of alignment and disrupts the use of the kinetic chain, and doesn’t allow efficient, powerful or propulsive leg kick.
Some great info from John
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