Swimming is all about technique. With proper technique you’ll be faster and more efficient in the water. A variety of swim training equipment exist to help improve upon or maintain your technique.
Swim training gear won’t neccessarily teach you proper technique. For that, I would suggest working with a coach. I also really like the book “Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier” which has a companion DVD with lessons so you can visualize the mechanics. (I can’t seem to find the book on the Total Immersion website, but you can find it on Amazon.) In addition to those resources, there are thousands of instructional videos available on YouTube.
Now, let’s take a look at the various types of swim training gear and how they can be used.
A kickboard is basically a floatation device. By keeping your upper body afloat and allowing you to focus on kicking, they are great for building leg strength. When using a kickboard you still want to focus on proper form such as staying horizontal in the water and kicking properly from the hips.
Pull buoys allow you to suspend and float your legs so you can work your arms as well as get a feel for proper position in the water. While working your arms, you will develop upper body strength and endurance as well as focus on the “pull” phase of the freestyle stroke. To use a pull buoy, place it between your thighs, relatively high near your groin, and gently squeeze your thighs together to keep it in place.
Swim paddles are used to hone your stroke. They help force you to feel the “catch” phase of the stroke. They can be used in conjunction with pull buoys. Paddles come in different sizes, so make sure you get the correct size. When starting out, you’ll want to get a paddle slightly larger than your hand. Since paddles increase resistance during the pull phase, they can place a lot of strain on your shoulders. Getting a paddle too large or using them too much can increase chances of getting injured.
Swim fins allow you to get extra power and force on your kick. Often they are used during kick drills with a kickboard or to help maintain speed during technique-based drills.
Like shoes, fins come in different sizes, so be sure to get the correct size. Also, be sure to get swim training specific fins, which are greatly different than those tradionaly used in snorkeling and scuba diving.
When working on proper swim form and technique there is a lot to pay attention to. Snorkels are useful because they remove the need to worry about your breathing. Not needing to think about when and how you are going to take your next breath allows you to focus on other things.
Make sure you get the center mouth type of snorkel, specifically designed for swim training, not the common side mouth snorkel.
While swim training accessories can help you hone your swim technique, they should only be used for part of your swim session.