Swimming has a bad rap for being one of the most monotonous sports you can do. Granted, the prospect of doing laps back and forth, staring at a tiled black line for thousands of meters on end, is not the most inspiring of workouts. But there is a lot more to swim training than that.
If you are familiar with the various types of training equipment available, you already know that a workout can be spiced up by using a pull buoy or kickboard. However, you may not know how best to utilize these tools to maximize your workout.
What follows is a quick and easy guide for how-to (and how-not-to) use the various swim equipment on the market, and which equipment may best suit your needs to help you achieve your goals.
The pull buoy is every swimmer's best friend. Consisting of a pair of foam cylinders connected by a nylon band, the buoy is clasped between the thighs as a way of keeping the legs from kicking. It thus enables you to concentrate solely on pulling with your arms, giving you a strictly upper-body workout.
While this is all well and good, the drawback to a pull buoy is that it is essentially a flotation device. Many swimmers mistakenly think they are challenging themselves while using a buoy because they are eliminating their kick while only using their arms. But a buoy provides a false sense of good body-positioning by propping you up in the water, and it makes swimming easier because it gives you added buoyancy.
For a more effective pulling workout, add hand paddles into the mix while using a buoy. These plastic disks attach to your hands and allow you to pull more water per stroke, thus forcing you to work harder as you pull yourself through the water.
Hand paddles usually have two bits of surgical tubing looped through them, as a way of keeping them attached to your wrists and middle finger. I have always removed the tubing at the wrists because that forces you to use the paddles correctly in the recovery part of your stroke (when your hands are at the tail end of their underwater pull cycle).
Without the wrist bands holding your paddles in place, if you cut your stroke short or make any other mistakes, the paddles will come flying off, indicating an incorrect recovery. This will force you to finish each stroke and assume correct hand positioning while swimming.
Using a buoy and paddles combined is fine in moderation but should not become a crutch; in fact, I only recommend pulling 20 percent of your total workout. Although pulling is an important component to developing upper-body strength, it can also be viewed as "recovery" in practice because it involves longer, slower strokes and unnatural flotation. A long pull set is best after your hardest drill or main set, because it allows you to lengthen out lactic-acid-plagued muscles while bringing your heart rate down with active rest.