How do you apply the “keep it easy” and “to be good at something, you must do it” principles to your swimming equipment? Recently, I wanted to buy some new training tool. Back when I was a competition swimmer we trained only with really basic stuff, but it worked. Hence, my two cents: if you can do without it, then you don’t need it. When I began swimming again some time ago I saw that everybody else’s mash bag in the pool was full with pool gadgets. Like a child, of course me too I wanted new toys. I am not talking about expensive equipment, usually swimming accessories are simple pieces of plastic. However, it’s better to use money wisely. So what can you fill in your mash bag that actually help you improving?
“Must have”, “nice to have”, and “don’t waste your money”
Paddles. Paddles are awesome. I always loved paddles. When I was a swimmer sometimes it happened that I cracked and crashed common commercial paddles in my hand while swimming, it didn’t matter brand or size. So the grandfather of a friend of mine made me a particularly thick custom-made pair, the best paddles I ever used. Anyway, I digressed. Paddles are awesome because for me they are the best swimming-specific strength training tool you can have. Today’s paddles come in any size and shape, but I like sticking to old style classic flat paddles with a few holes drilled in. They build strength, take care of your technique, they are cheaper and do the job as well as all those paddles with such futuristic shapes that seem coming from science fiction films.
Kickboard. Kickboard is another must have. Remember that if a chain is strong only as much as its weakest link, with a kickboard you can realize whether your legs are up to the par. Mines are not, I always struggled and I am still struggling with kick sets. Back in the past I used a big foam kickboard, thick, flat, wide and long. I loved it because you could chat easily with your kick buddy, it kept your upper body up quite well. Recently I bought a smaller one, sligthly hollowed in the middle, so that you can use it as a pull buoy as well. Now I think that it makes sense to use a smaller kickboard, so that your body is flatter and your spine doesn’t make strange curves.
Pull buoy. This is the last of the three basic pieces of equipment I consider as “must have”. As the name says, you use a pull buoy when you want to pull just with your upper body, without using the legs. It helps with buoyancy, so that you can focus on your arms and don’t need to thick about your legs. It can also be used instead of a kickboard if you really want to struggle with some kick sets. I did the mistake of buying one too thick, and it slips out of my leg after a few flips. If I use it with the ankle band (see below) it works nicely.
Goggles. I know that this is not a piece of equipment and also I know that this doesn’t need any explanation on the reason it is a “must have”. I listed goggles here because you can pick up yours among hundreds now. Big, small, hydrodynamics, with extra durable silicon gasket, mirrored, polarized, 180 degree view and many other features. Some goggles are quite pricey, well over 50 dollars. As for me, basic is better. I tried my first swedish when I was 11 years old I think, and I never went back. You just have to take care of the rubber band, otherwise they will last forever, well past your swim life. They are small so they are quite hydrodynamic too, they don’t interfere with your swim, you usually don’t lose them when you dive, you don’t feel them on, if somebody breaststroke kick you in the face, their lens is not going to break and cut you around your eye. And they are the cheapest goggles out there. So that you can have a mirrored lens pair for outdoor and a light blue lens pair for indoor swimming. I also found in a pocket that I have a third pair with brown lenses (also called smoked lenses I think), which is the one that actually I use the most, both indoor and outdoor.
Ankle elastic band. Since you just have to cut a piece of thick rubber, the cost/efficacy value of an elastic band is the greatest. I don’t consider it essential, but if you want to do some set struggling against the drag, then you must try this. It helps a bit with strength I feel, and I found also that you must be concentrate on your technique otherwise your legs will sink down.
Fins. I didn’t use fins back in the past. That’s because in most swimming pool in Italy, for some obscure reason, you cannot use fins. I ordered my first pair recently and I hope they will arrive soon, because I need leg strength. In fact I think that fins relate to legs as paddles to arms. The only reason I consider fins as “nice to have” is that if you do long distance races as I did and I am still doing, legs are not as important as upper body…legs impose more metabolic demand than arms, while still contributing less to speed. But I recognize that a strong and powerful kick always helps, especially with butterfly. That’s why I ordered mine.
Snorkel. I think that a snorkel too should be considered as “nice to have”. I talked to people who swear on the awesomeness of snorkels, and they are about to be succesfull on convicing me buying one, but I never had one and I got along without quite well. Would I have won a national champs I had trained with a snorkel? I don’t know, but I don’t think I am going to shave off heaps of seconds from my PB now if I had one. What I think it’s good about snorkels is that you can do kicks keeping your body streamlined as when you swim. People says that it also helps concentrating on your stroke technique by eliminating the breathing variable. My take on this is that you do have to consider the breathing variable: what happens if you have a perfect technique with a snorkel on, but you don’t know how to properly coordinate your breathing when you take it off? I think that a snorkel should be a tool for people who already have their technique on tracks.
Wrist trackers for swimming. This is on my “don’t waste your money” black list. If you have a pace clock on the deck, I really don’t see the reason of spending quite a consistent amount of money on a portable wrist swim tracker. Do you need to know how fast you come in? Glance at the pace clock. Do you need to know how many strokes it takes to do a lap? Just count it. Do you need to count your laps? Come on, everybody knows how to count. Do you need to know your HR? Put two fingers on you neck for 15 seconds after the end of a set. And also, if you are at a really high level, you will have a coach doing all the stats for you, if you really need it. If you are not at that level…well…a pace clock will do the job. If you don’t know how to use a pace clock, you have better learn first, because it’s basic knowledge.