It’s common to see bags of stuff at the side of the pool when clubs and squads are training and to see swimmers using all sorts of toys. To be honest over the years I’ve used them all! Partly to see if they would help me swim faster, and also partly because I’ve got a short attention span – and I needed toys to make swimming more interesting.
As a Total Immersion Swimmer I don’t need to add variety because every swim has a purpose, and my brain is now properly engaged in improving my swimming. So I never get bored and I’ve also realised that most of these toys get in the way of efficient swimming.
My favourite toys are a Finis Tempo Trainer set to Mode 1 or Tempo in Seconds, a waterproof notebook and a pencil!
Next on the list is a front snorkel/swim snorkel. This is a great tool for learning head position without having to breathe, and also enables you to practice drills before having to stop for a breath.
Fist gloves are another favourite. These look and feel a bit weird but they’re great for teaching feel for the water. They really challenge your brain to figure out how to hold water rather than slipping or pushing down.
I find it useful to use a watch to record my swims because it will automatically upload to my training diary via Bluetooth. It saves me having to remember to complete my training diary but
I never look at the data it generates for me, because I’ll have been using my note book, stroke counts, pool clock and tempos during the swim.
These are not always useuful for triathletes and endurance swimmers. They reinforce bad body position as your arms will be raised holding the float and your head up. This makes your legs sink, and encourages you to kick from your knees (especially if you have stiff ankles).
Less than 5% of your overall propulsion comes from your kick and that’s if you’re a sprinter. For those
of us with stiff ankles after years of running and cycling it will be even less than 5%. So it doesn’t make sense to spend time on kick drills and if you’re a triathlete you’ll want to save your legs for the bike and run.
A pull buoy between your legs will raise your body position and keep your legs still so that you swim just using your arms. If you’re someone with sinking legs and poor balance then it might help. But it won’t teach you how to correct your balance and it will hide the cues your brain needs to figure this out.
If you’re someone with great balance then it might make you feel unstable – or in my case it just ends up hurting my lower back because I’m too high in the water.
But mostly a pull buoy will mean you can’t use your legs. Your kick is there to help initiate your rotation and make your swimming driven through your hips and core in a whole body movement. Removing your kick with a pull bouy disconnects your core from your arms and legs.
Swimming is 95% technique and unless you’re a professional swimmer or triathlete your performance is likely to be limited by your technique rather than your strength. So it doesn’t make sense to spend time with large paddles designed to increase strength. The risk of shoulder injury from using paddles is very high because of pressure it puts on the shoulder and this is much greater if there are any technique flaws in your stroke.
There are lots of smaller paddles available that claim to be technique paddles. I’m still not a great fan of any of these because they still hurt my shoulders. They encourage me to muscle through the water and also dull the sensations to my hands so I can’t feel the catch and anchor.
If you don’t get much propulsion from your kick you might be tempted to use fins to help you practice drills and stop you from sinking, especially if you’re just learning to swim front crawl. There may be a place for this if used in the right way.
I teach my swimmers to practice a short section of drill, followed by a few strokes and keep repeating in short sections. This avoids the need for a propulsive kick (and therefore the need for fins) and should help you imprint the skills from your drill much faster.
Fins will not help to teach correct kick technique and if you have stiff ankles they might actually make your kick worse. They dull sensations of your feet and legs, so it’s hard to tell if your legs are doing the right thing. If you have tight ankles and calves then they can also lead to cramp.
A final myth about swim fins is that they help ankle flexibility. Don’t forget that your kick is less than 5% of your over all propulsion so the impact of increased ankle flexibility is really going to be pretty small.
So ditch the toys and get back in touch with your swimming, and how it feels to be in the water. Fully engage in your practice and you will become a better swimmer.