I’m often asked about the different kinds of training aids for swimmers and which ones are the best to use. Here I’ve put up a brief guide to the different training aids and what they’re best used for:

1. Freestyle snorkel

This is my favourite toy for the pool. I first bought a freestyle snorkel 4 years ago and since then I haven’t looked back. It took a couple of tries to get used to breathing with your mouth in the water (believe me it goes against everything your body wants to do!) but once I got around the learning curve they are really fun to use. To start out I had to use the snorkel with a nose clip so that I didn’t get water up my nose. Depending on how well you can control your breathing you might not need to use a nose clip at all. I’ve now got to the stage where I can use the snorkel by itself.

What it’s best used for: Kicking with a board, some freestyle drills and long slow freestyle.

Why: The snorkel is designed so you can keep your eyes looking to the bottom of the pool without moving your head and throwing your body out of line. It’s really good for people who don’t have a great technique because it can get them to practice what it’s like to swim with a straight body line. I love using the snorkel when doing kicking with a kickboard. It allows you to keep the head down and work your legs harder because your not always coming up for breath. I know most elite swimming clubs use a snorkel when doing kicking with a board.

2. Kickboards

I must admit, I used to hate kickboards! They were awkward, they slowed me down and they were plain uncomfortable! When I was growing up we would always do kick on the side without a board. This served me well as I was still able to develop a strong kick but it was only 3 months ago which I learned why the best swimmers use a kickboard. I had always ignored the fact that swimmers like Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps used a kickboard in training. I didn’t want to believe that it was the best way to kick! Finally after 17 years of swimming I’ve come to my senses…

My father who is also a coach was speaking to Rohan Taylor, the coach of a number of Australian Olympic swimmers such as Leisl Jones and Shane Reese and he learned why kickboards are used. It’s to strengthen the core muscles (the stomach muscles) because thats where a lot of power is generated in swimming. Since I’ve found that out, I ‘ve been using a kickboard every session and it’s starting to become an enjoyable part of training.

What it’s best used for: Freestyle, breasktroke and fly kick. Strengthening your stomach muscles (guys who want a six pack and girls who want a flat stomach then eat your heart out!).

Why: Working on the fundamentals is crucial and it doesn’t get much more fundamental than kicking. Kicking is like the propellor on a boat, it’s where your speed will come from. It may not be much fun to work on at the start but after 2-3 weeks of solid training, you’ll find you might start to enjoy it…

3. Swim Paddles

Warning: only use if you’re a strong swimmer.

All the time I hear “I just bought a new pair of paddles! I can’t wait to use them!”. This is great if the swimmer is experienced and has strong shoulders and a good pull through in freestyle, but too often than not it’s a new swimmer who has gone out and bought a set of paddles because they look like a fun toy to use. I don’t blame them, I’d be exactly the same. Paddles look like fun to use but unless you can control them in the water they aren’t much use.

What it’s best used for: Strengthening your shoulders and developing a freestyle catch.

Why: Paddles are like a double-edged sword. They are great for working your shoulders and feeling a good catch in the water, but used incorrectly they can trigger a shoulder injury and send your swimming backwards. For beginners I recommend finger paddles.

4. Finger paddles

These paddles are my favourite. Beginners can use them and they force you to focus more on catching with the entire forearm and not just the hand. These paddles are used a lot with sculling drills. I’ve even seen some swimmers wear these paddles without hand straps and perform sculling drills, and the pressure of the water allows them to keep the paddles on their hands. Very cool.

What it’s best used for: Adding a little bit of power to your stroke. Sculling drills. An introduction to paddles for beginners.

Why: Finger paddles help you focus on pulling through with the entire forearm with the added power of a paddle on your fingers. For sculling drills it forces you to think about putting pressure on the water in the right position.

5. Pull buoys

Just like the name suggests, these bad boys are used for improving pull. They should only be used for freestyle and in some rare cases, breastroke drills. Pull buoys are popular among triathletes because it gets them to work on their pulling while conserving energy in their legs wich they need for the bike and run leg. For swimmers, pull buoys are a good toy to use but not too often. Some swimmers use a pull buoy for 2/3rds of a session and become reliant on a pull buoy. You don’t want to become reliant on a pull buoy. Used too often, they make you mentally switch of your abs and hips which are crucial to body rotation.

What it’s best used for: Raising your hips if they sink or are too low. Working on freestyle pull. Sculling drills. Triathletes.

Why: Pull buoys assist in having a good body position. They raise the hips which reduces drag and can help even the most average of swimmers achieve a correct body position. If you’re wanting to work on your freestyle pull in a particular set or session, pull buoys are a good way to single out your arms and a get you working on just your pull.

Hopefully that’s helped a bit with explaining some of the dozens of training aids out there. If you have any questions about any of the aids or if you’d like to know more about an aid I haven’t mentioned yet don’t hesitate to post a question in the comments box below. Happy swimming!

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