Instilling the right technique is the single most important aspect of swim training programmes. You can cycle well without understanding what circular pedalling or adopting the aero position, but no matter how strong or fit you are, you can’t outrace bad technique.
Rather than focussing on the complete stroke, the creation of proper technique is built up from small sections, it might be getting the kick right or a good pull for example. This is trained through a series of drills which focus on the individual part of the skill in isolation. This often requires additional swimming training equipment and the most common are outlined below.
A word of caution though, most of these are designed for pool use and may not be suitable for open water sessions
Pull buoys have a number of functions but are predominantly designed to isolate the legs when swimming. This makes kicking difficult, putting more emphasis on the arms and upper body, and also simulates the buoyancy of the wetsuit.
To do this, the pull buoy is dumbbell-shaped and fits between the thighs. They come in different shapes and buoyancies, so getting on that fits and stays naturally in place will help. Some will have one end bigger than the other which changes the way they sit in the water.
Most people will be familiar with this from learning to swim as kids, and it’s essentially the same. The Kickboard is a piece of foam, shaped to be both aerodynamic and comfortable to use, that acts as a buoyancy aid, isolating the arms at the front of the body and keeping the head above water to make breathing easier. In this position, the only way to push yourself forward is with the legs, making it ideal for kicking drills.
The board can also be held against the side of the head when practising sidekick.
Most pools will have boards you can use, so don’t feel you have to buy one, but if you do, the only real considerations are a comfortable shape that lets you grab the board when swimming and that it’s a suitable size for you.
You can also use a pull buoy as a float in a pinch
There are a number of products designed to add resistance when swimming or to simulate swimming out of the pool. These are optional, and as mentioned above, the key is technique not strength, so these should only be used when you have a good, consistent stroke. Some are designed to wrap around the legs to make the kick more difficult, whereas others are designed to be attached to a fixed point on the edge of the pol, essentially letting you swim in place.
There are parachutes or inflatable drogues designed to add resistance across the whole stroke, attached the leg.
Finally there are swimming resistance bands for dry land use which allow you to simulate the swim stroke even when there is no pool. These can be useful for general resistance training as well.
Breathing is a complex matter in freestyle swimming and if the stroke is built around the breathing rather than the other way round you risk unbalancing your stroke, reducing performance and risking injury.
One way around this is to use a swimming snorkel to allow you to keep your head underwater all of the time, focussing on your stroke. These snorkels differ from diving snorkels because the tube comes straight up the centre of the face rather than to the side, which makes sure that you are not catching it with your arm.
These are a great tool if you are having difficulty with your breathing and stroke timing, but don’t forget, you won’t be able to use them in the race.
Swimming flippers are much shorter than diving flippers and have two, seemingly contradictory uses. Firstly they allow you to strengthen your kick by adding resistance and secondly they allow you to increase the propulsive force of your kick when performing drills. You need to make sure that they are not too stiff or big a this can lead to injury however