Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Swim Equipment

As an aside, I am working on catching up with all of your blogs.  I'm up to Sunday's posts, but at this point have some 30 and counting blogs to read, so please be patient!

Also, a big THANK YOU for the well wishes.  I am certainly on the mend.  It's just going to take a few days for everything to fully clear out of my system.   I'll be back in action soon.

Remember how my awesome dad sent me a birthday present recently?, all the new swim equipment?  Well, I got into the pool Friday morning with it and I couldn't be happier.  Everything worked well and I'm pumped to start some real workouts (once I kick this cold that is).  Now I'm not aware of anyone out there that is primarily a swimmer, but there are some triathletes and I'm sure some of you spend at least a little bit of time swim training, am I right?

And yes, Katie, I am including you in this group as well; consider yourself inducted! 
(*evil laugh*
For those of you who don't know, Katie who runs the blog Run for the Bikini!
recently signed up for her first triathlon (read about it HERE). 

So for all of you people with any varied amount of focus on swimming, here's a review of my new swim equipment.  Please feel free to ask any questions you may have!  If you can't tell, I enjoy talking about swimming. 

1.  TYR Mentor Hand Paddles, size RED (link HERE)
In general, paddles help build shoulder strength (a big focus for swimming) and help fine tune your stroke technique and efficiency.  Small changes made without paddles may go unnoticed, but with paddles, small changes can be much more noticeable and you'll integrate those changes into your technique. 

From my years of competitive swimming, I was used to the TYR Catalyst Brites paddles.  In using the Mentor paddles, the main difference is finger placement.  The Catalyst allows for looping multiple fingers in one section while the Mentor paddles splits your fingers up more.  This really comes down to personal feel and most people won't mind either way; I don't.  As far as technique, I immediately noticed that my hand entry into the water was more precise, that my catch was made more efficient by bending my wrist, I was pulling further through my stroke, and I was turning more to each side as I pulled through each stroke.  After years without paddles, it is amazing how much they can really help you correct very small portions of your technique.  My form will thank me for using these even once a week for a short set. 

I would only suggest paddles for experienced swimmers.  No need to be a competitive swimmer, but for those just starting in swimming, paddles can be more of a confusing factor as far as technique goes.  Once your technique is decent, paddles are meant for fine tuning as well as shoulder workouts.

2.  Speedo Pull Buoy (link HERE)
This is one of the easiest pieces of equipment out there.  It essentially is a piece of foam meant to keep your legs from moving and afloat so you can focus on your upper body.  I would recommend this to nearly anyone.  BRAND new swimmers may want to focus on their technique, but for most people doing triathlons, you're comfortable swimming multiple laps, so immobilizing your legs won't be a threat to your life.  Pull buoys do much of the same thing as paddles but to a lesser degree.  By immobilizing your legs, you are forced to use your arms as the sole propulsion.  This gives your shoulders a more intense workout and gives you time to focus directly on your upper body technique.  It can also help you focus on using your hips as the primary point of twist in your body (it's an odd thought at first, but your hips should be the initiator of your twist when swimming freestyle or backstroke).  

I had always previously used the Keifer Basic Pull Buoy and to be honest, for regular use, spend the extra money and get a formed pull buoy like mine.  I've used the basic pull buoy for a good six years and if it moves around at all on you, or is held wrong, the foam material can be a bit gritty against your skin.  Long sets with pull buoys were not fun.  But with the Speedo Pull Buoy (and I must assume this also goes for the TYR Pull Float), the foam is much softer and easy on the skin.  Some people find the pull buoy hard to keep inbetween their legs - it does take some getting used to. 

I personally use the pull buoy 2 out of 3-4 workouts a week.  It's quick, easy, and a great way to work on your technique. 

3.  Speedo Competition II Kickboard (link HERE)
Of all the equipment, I was impressed the most by this kickboard.

A kickboard does exactly what you think, it helps you work your kick, both technique and strength ("who'd a thunk it?").  For triathletes, most of you are attempting to save your legs for the bike and run, so you most likely don't kick much to begin with.  However, for swimmers, this is more important.  It isn't until you take your upper body out of the picture that you realize how much or how little your legs are helping you when you swim.  But for a sport where hundredths of a second count, a powerful (and efficient) kick is important.  In triathlons, not so much; save the leg energy for cutting minutes off your bike/run.

The issue with most kickboards is that they stress your shoulders.  In swim practice, I always had to do an easy 4-8 lengths after a kicking set just to stretch my shoulders back out.  Because of this, they started coming out with kickboards like my Competition II as well as TYR's Streamline Training Board and Keifer's Sharkfin.  The triangle shape allows your shoulders to sit lower and the kickboard actually sits lower in the water (it's slightly less buoyant).  Both the TYR and Keifer boards are too short to allow your elbows to sit on the edge of the board which aids in releasing stress on your shoulders.  However, the Competition II gives you two hand positions depending on whether you'd like to rest your elbows on the board or not.  The key difference between the Competition II and the others is the two inner handles it has build in as holes in the board.  You may ask "why the heck is there a hole in my kickboard?," but if you're a competitive swimmer, you know a lot of kicking drills require you to kick on your side.  With any other board, this means even MORE stress on your shoulder or you grip the side and hope the buoyancy of the board doesn't pull it out of your hand.  Speedo decided to simply make hand holds for you.  Speedo, you're so smart!

Like I said, I REALLY love this kickboard.  For a competitive swimmer, it is extremely versatile/useful.  For a normal triathlete or any beginning swimmer, it's a bit overkill.  If you do want a kickboard (and aren't a competitive swimmer), I would suggest the Sharkfin or Streamline Board, but you could easily get away with a basic board I'm sure.  Just be sure to stretch your shoulders out if you feel any tension after use.  There's a reason why it's called "swimmer's shoulder!"

So there we go.  That's my not-so-concise review of my new toys.  If you have any questions about other swim training equipment (fins, bands, snorkels, goggles, plugs, caps, suits, drag suits, etc.), PLEASE feel free to ask.  I literally get a big happy "I'm five and you just gave me a lollipop" grin on my face every time I get to talk training, especially swimming. 

Off to make some fish and asparagus!  Yummmm....

1.  What is your primary sport?
I know we have a lot of runners out there and possibly a couple cyclists.  Is anyone a swimmer?  Personally, I was in the pool at 6 weeks old and swam competitively year-round from 9 to 18 years old before I became a triathlete at 24.  I'm a fish!

2.  Have you used (or do you currently use) any swim training equipment?
I've used paddles, pull buoys, kickboards, fins, ankle bands, hand mits, and drag leggings.

Stay fit.  Stay healthy. 


Richelle said...

1. Running is my primary sport, so when I can't run, it's pure torture for me. I do enjoy swimming, but I don't get to do it much. I'm looking forward to summer when the outdoor pool near my house will be open and I can swim laps.

2. I don't use any swim training equipment, but the items you reviewed look extremely useful.

5 Miles Past Empty said...

Thanks for the review of all the stuff!! Seriously helpful!! So is there a significant difference when using hand mits vs paddles? i have mits. Just curious.

Katie said...

Thanks for the shout :D

In the past I have only been concerned with having enough swim ability to pass my liferguarding certs each yr. This year I will definitely be focusing on getting faster. Thanks for the equipment rundown!

Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman said...

@ Amanda - I assume you mean swim gloves (the gloves with 'webbing' between the fingers). Those are very similar to paddles, just a less intense version. I personally prefer paddles because gloves tend move away from better finger positioning, but I guess that's more of a novice swimmer concern.

The mits I was talking about are things that ball your hand up in a fist so you can't use your fingers. Those teach you to bend your elbow more and use your forearm and wrist for propulsion.

@ Katie - Any time! Glad to have you on board the tri... wagon? (that just sounds southern).