As a developing swimming coach I’m constantly hearing the Triathlete chatter about helpful toys. There seems to be around 900 varieties of - pull buoys, fins, paddles, contoured kick-boards, snorkels, alarms, bands, benches, arm bar devices – even that belt that has a ball-bearing on the back you need to keep happy – all whilst trying not to drown or get lapped every 100m by that damn 25kg 7 year old in the next lane...
My view from the water.
Swimming under an old coach we did lots of pull/paddle & snorkel work. It was boring but easy enough on the brain. In hindsight it was one of the worst things for my swimming - it stopped me from connecting with what my whole body was doing. My old coach explained it was for taking the stress off your legs from all of the ‘other’ training. Plus it mimic’s the fact we purchase our body position [floatation] off the rack in the shape of a neoprene batman suit (wetsuit!) Some even have little wings on the arms now!
My view from the pool deck.
I see a lot of ‘developing’ swimmers looking very flat in the water - rotating to breathe and stroke from the mid thoracic region. In most cases there simply isn’t enough promotion & practice of rotation & strength from knee to shoulder to allow for correct breathing or an effective set up for the catch/pull phase. I think long toy based swimming sets and programs (Pull/paddle/snorkel) can be in part responsible for this body position via disengaging the hips and legs from the upper body for too long in sets.
My contribution to the problem or solution…
Developing swimmers need to learn how to swim with the body they were given. In most cases we all have 2 arms and legs, even more often we have hips. Disengaging the hips and core for significant time during sets just doesn’t make sense to me. We don’t look at running as an isolated lower body only exercise. We don’t try and take the upper body out of running via wrapping some helium balloons around our waist to disengage it – NO we learn to engage and use the upper body correctly in our running to assist with activation, stability, cadence, momentum and timing to improve torque (speed).
I am not anti-toy, however I think the key to developing a better swimmer should contain some of the following elements:
1. Learn to swim with the body you were given – good bad or other!!
2. Vary your toys, don’t get stuck doing 75% of your set as ‘pull/paddle/snorkel.’
3. Learn to rotate in the water to assist with better breathing & stroke mechanics.
4. Learn other strokes – they do actually assist with your freestyle.
5. Put as much effort into your swimming as you do your bike & run. This includes testing, touch and recovery times, pacing, video feedback etc.
6. Take the $4000 for new race wheels to save you 30 seconds on the bike and put it into some coaching, physio and strength exercises that will improve your swim saving you minutes - far more than the race wheels.
Remember you can’t win the race in the swim ....
You can sure spoil it though.