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Fitness Booster: The pull buoy ... the 'go-to' piece of equipment in the pool

The use of pool and training equipment is widespread in the swimming community. Ollie Baker takes a look at the pull buoy, the ‘go-to’ piece of equipment in the pool.

Very often you will see swimmers, divers, water polo players and synchro athletes using various ‘tools’ to improve their swimming.

These include paddles on their hands and forearms, pull buoys between their legs, fins on their feet or pieces of land equipment like resistance bands and suspension straps and many more. 

Whilst all these pieces of equipment can be very useful, it is important to make sure you are using the right one for your age, ability and phase of physical development and training you are doing.

First and foremost, you need to know exactly what it is you are trying to develop and improve. Here, we look at the pull buoy and how it can be used to develop you in your training. 

Pull buoy can be very effective

One of the most commonly seen pieces of equipment for swimmers is a pull buoy. 

These figure-of-eight-shaped pieces of foam are often an indispensable piece of equipment for many serious swimmers, but they can play havoc with your body position if they are not used properly.

The purpose of pull buoys is to create extra buoyancy for your hips, to bring your body position in line so you are more streamlined. This can help you to focus on the rest of your stroke, build core strength, slow down your stroke – and a whole host of other useful things to improve your overall swimming. 

If you’ve just done an intense set and your legs are tired, or you are a triathlete who has tired legs from a run or cycle, then you can continue to train and perfect the upper body movements of your stroke without having to use your legs. 

A pull buoy being used

If you slow down your stroke to practise breathing elements, or arm entry position, especially as a beginner, your hips and legs can begin to drop through the lack of momentum. 

This will render the drill useless and encourage bad positioning. Again, a pull buoy can be very effective here.

However, if the pull buoy is too effective, you can end up with your hips too high in the air, which is detrimental to your streamlined position and can actually build bad technique and form.

If you have a weaker kick but you think you need more power in your arms, using a pull buoy could end up making you too reliant on your upper body and not help your performance, because your kick is still the weaker element. 

The important thing, that is very often overlooked, is choosing the pull buoy size that is right for you, knowing exactly what you are trying to focus on improving – and the way that the extra buoyancy complements this – before you start using it.

Great tool for developing body alignment

Kevin Brooks, head coach at Wycombe District, said: “I think pull buoys are the go-to piece of equipment for many people – but I think they are a disaster for young kids. 

“It throws their body line out and makes them very reliant on using their shoulders and upper body, when actually they need to develop their kick and body position a lot more. 

“For swimmers under 16, I would recommend the smallest pull buoy they can get, a three stripe pull buoy. 

“For senior swimmers, pull buoys can be a great tool for developing body alignment, but also power in their stroke and core body strength. 

“They need to understand why they are using it, not just using it because everybody does.”

It is very important that you don’t overuse the in-pool training equipment. 

Training aids like pull buoys should make up no more than a quarter of the session. 

Using these tools can be great to develop yourself as a swimmer or triathlete, but using them too much can make you reliant on them. 

This will cause the other elements of your stroke to deteriorate and leave you in a worse position than you were when you started. 

As with all good things, they should be used in moderation.

  • A version of this article first appeared in Swimming Times
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