Hone your swim with the tricks and equipment used by the pros…
The swim leg of a triathlon is the shortest part of a race although training for it can sometimes feel like the longest part. You need to do so much training for such a small gain and time goes by really slowly if all you do is mindless laps up and down the black line. This is why ‘swim toys’ can be very useful.
Pro triathletes and top swimmers use various swim toys to get more out of their sessions in less time, while perfecting their swim technique. Here are a few of the swim toys we find most useful with instructions and a small session for each. Make sure you find out from your local pool what toys you’re allowed to use and when. In some cases, for health and safety reasons, paddles, fins and snorkels are not permitted in the pool, so stick to using them during club or open-water sessions instead.
Click through our gallery to check out some of the best swimming aids around, and advice on how best to use them.
A swimmer’s snorkel is a useful tool that allows you to concentrate on your stroke without having to rotate your body to breathe to the side. The snorkel straps to the front of your head, allowing you to breathe through a mouthpiece while keeping your face below the surface. It takes a bit of getting used to and a nose-clip comes in handy to stop water getting up your nose.
But it’s really worth the effort. As well as allowing you to focus on your stroke, a snorkel can also help alleviate pain while swimming for anyone with back, neck and spinal injuries. You can try teaming this toy up with fins or paddles for variation.
Do as part of a warm up or cool down
A pull buoy is used to increase the pulling resistance on your arms while keeping your body in a streamlined position in the water. Swimming with a pull buoy also mimics a wetsuit, where your legs are buoyant and there is a greater reliance on your arms. As a triathlete I like to use a pull buoy when my legs are too sore from a hard run or ride. For added resistance, a pull buoy can be paired with paddles and in some cases a band – an old inner-tube tied in a loop, to hold your ankles together.
1 300m easy with 20sec rest
2 2x 150m steady with 20sec rest
3 3x 100m tempo with 20sec rest
4 6x 50m hard with 20sec rest
In addition to the pull buoy use paddles for the 300m and 3x 100m and use only a band for the 6x 50m
A kick board is a useful tool to improve body position in the water. It helps you to develop a good kick, which can decrease drag by keeping your body horizontal in the pool. A kick set is best done before a main set to warm up the legs and establish a good body position. Think about kicking from the hips, not from your knees.
To add variety to your kick sessions you can also try kicking on your back, with the float on your tummy or held out at arm’s length. Learning to be a good kicker will ultimately enable you to swim a lot faster. Some of the fastest swimmers in the world can kick 100m faster than I can swim it!
1 4 x 50m easy with 5sec rest
2 4 x 50m tempo with 10sec rest
3 4 x 50m hard with 15sec rest
Fins can help strengthen your legs and improve your ankle flexibility while lifting you high in the water. They improve your kick by exaggerating your kicking technique, helping to stretch your ankles and build new muscle in your legs. Swimming with fins also makes your body more horizontal in the water, allowing you to make refinements to your stroke without fear of sinking.
For the same reason, fins are also excellent to use while doing technique drills. You can concentrate on the drill, rather than staying afloat. Try pairing fins with paddles or a kick board for a slight variation of these workouts.
1 16 x 50m sprint with fins. 20sec rests
To keep your training interesting, incorporate hand-paddles
Hand-paddles are a great tool for gaining swim strength and improving the ‘catch phase’ of your stroke. They really help give you a feel for the water. When you get it right, you can distinctly feel yourself getting hold of the water and propelling yourself forwards.
I would recommend a pair that extends no more than one inch from the ends of your fingertips. A paddle that adds too much resistance can give you shoulder problems as well as encouraging a poor swim technique where you drop your elbows. Use paddles as a main set for a strength workout or after your main set to gain strength through overload.
1 400m easy with 30sec rest
2 300m steady with 20sec rest
3 200m tempo with 10sec rest
4 100m flat out
The tempo trainer is one of my favourite toys. It’s a round clocklike device that’s small enough to fit underneath your swim cap or can clip on to your goggle strap. It helps to improve your stroke rate, which can make you swim faster and more efficiently. The tempo trainer works by beeping to the frequency at which you set it.
All you need to do is make sure each arm enters the water in time with the beep. You can speed it up or slow it down so that you can closely gauge your intensity during each part of your swim session. Not only does it help me structure my sessions, but it means that they fly by quicker too.
1 6 x 100m starting at an easy beep, making it 1 beep quicker for each 100m. 20sec rests