Board Certified Sport Dietitian, Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, 2017 IM CHOO Amateur Female Champion, 12x Ironman finisher including 4x IM Kona finisher, Triathlon Coach, 25-year Vegetarian, Writer/Speaker
Benefits of pool toys for triathletes
Benefits of Pool Toys
Most age-group triathletes come into the sport with little to no swimming experience. Because swimming is very skill specific, most triathletes lack the proper body position, alignment and posture to swim efficiently for continuous efforts. Poor swimming technique often brings added stress and unnecessary energy expended, which may cause frustration, anxiety and exhaustion while swim training. Because every triathlete should be swim-fit in an effort to feel confident at the start of a triathlon, the use of pool toys may help improve swimming mechanics which can also help to boost swim fitness.
Pull Buoy - A pull buoy is a tool – not a crutch. A buoy provides assistance to help you hold horizontal alignment while also giving you buoyancy. When you swim with a buoy, pay close attention to what your body feels like with the added "lift". Let the buoy be an aid to teach you how to hold a more efficient body position without dragging your legs behind you.
Ankle strap - The ankle strap (also called an ankle band or ankle lock) is an effective tool to force you to be more “taut” in the water. By eliminating the kick from your freestyle stroke,you are forced to use your upper body, instead of your legs, to propel you forward in the water (the more efficient way to swim). The ankle strap also teaches you how to catch and hold on to more water as you push the water behind you. The ankle strap will minimize excessive hip rotation and will force you to swim with a higher cadence, which is important for open water swimming. Although the ankle strap may feel like torture at first, it quickly alerts you to poor swimming technique. If you struggle swimming 25 yards with only the ankle strap, start by using a buoy between your thighs (not ankles) or use the ankle strap combined with buoyancy shorts. Overtime, try to eliminate the added buoyancy and only use the ankle strap.
Paddles - Paddles are an added strength component to swimming so be mindful that paddle work is tough/exhausting and your paddles should not be much larger than your hand. You want to think of the paddle as an extension of your forearm position. Paddles like the Finis Agility Paddles help promote an early catch and early vertical forearm position. Because agility paddles do not have a strap, this requires a palm positive hand position to correct incorrect technique when your hand enters the water and pulls through the stroke. Paddles should be used wisely as poor form with a paddle can cause shoulder issues (or may exhaust you). Paddles are designed to help you increase pulling intensity and load but they can also help you improve your catch, forcing you to maintain a high elbow position under the water, throughout your entire pull phase. If you are feeling sore in your shoulder socket while using paddles, you are not using the correct muscles or your paddle is too large.
Fins - Sure, you may feel super-fast when you use fins but they are designed to help with swimming fluency in the water - not to help you become a better kicker. Fins for kick sets can help with ankle flexibility while teaching you how to kick from your hips and not from your feet/knees. Fins also help you move smoothly through the water when focusing on upper body technique. When you use fins, don’t overemphasize kicking. Save your legs for the land! Fins can also teach you how to kick with plantar flexion (pointed toes instead of breaking with your feet and pointing your toes to the ground). We recommend the TYR cross blade fins - rigid on the sides with flexibility at the end of the fins.
Snorkel - A snorkel is a training tool that helps you focus on your technique without the disruption of turning your head to breathe. Because many stroke flaws happen when you are tired or have inefficient breathing patterns, by using the snorkel, you eliminate the breathing part of your stroke and you are no longer interrupted every few strokes (or every other stroke) to catch a breath. Without the continuous head rotation from breathing, you can create good motor patterns regarding the symmetry of your stroke, alignment and body position. The snorkel also helps with body and head position and alignment. For good head position in the water, you should be looking at the bottom of the pool but slightly in front of you. Eyes should look in the direction you are moving. Your hands should be dropping in the channel between the midline and shoulder line of the body. If you struggle with the snorkel, suggest to invest in a nose clip to use with the snorkel.
To continue your triathlon swimming education, suggest to subscribe/listen to the Tower 26Be Race Ready podcast.