What are pool toys and how to use them to improve your triathlon swim
Have you ever noticed these weird objects at your pool and wondered what they are and how to use them? Well, today we’re going to explain how these pool toys can help you train for your triathlon. (FYI: “Pool toys” are just what many triathletes call these swim training tools)
*All of these toys should be used in moderation (1-2 laps per workout) especially since you can’t use them during the race! And make sure you swim a few warm up laps first.
What is it? A kickboard is a foam board that can be used as a floatation device. It is a good way to for beginners to build confidence in the pool. A kickboard is a useful tool because it keeps you afloat so that you can focus on effectively propelling yourself forward in the water using your legs.
Why use it for triathlon training? Using a kickboard is a great way to isolate your legs so that you can focus on your kick. Having a good strong kick is important because this helps keeps your butt and legs from sinking while you swim.
When you kick, make sure your ankles are floppy and loose– as if you were wearing flippers– this will propel you forward and help you swim faster!
It’s also a really good low-impact way to strengthen your legs. After a few laps using a kickboard, you’ll feel the burn!
How to use it – There’s 2 main ways to use a kickboard. One way is to keep your head out of the water while you kick and the other is to keep your head in the water, focusing on building your lung power and taking a breath only when you need to.
If you’re just starting out, hold the side edge of the board with your hands, resting your forearms on the kickboard. Then, practice swimming laps by kicking from one end of the pool to the other.
When you’re comfortable with that, hold the top edge of the board with your hands and extend your arms above your head so that your face is in the water. The kickboard will help keep you afloat while you practice your breathing techniques and your kick.
What are they? Hand paddles are plastic paddles with two bands that hold your hands in place. They are one of the more advanced pool “toys”, so don’t use them until you can swim the freestyle stroke well. (See Trainer Tip)
Why use it for triathlon training? Hand paddles are a great way to strengthen your swim specific muscles and to help you get a feel for the water. They’re also really fun to use!
Make sure you only swim a few laps once or twice a week using hand paddles to prevent shoulder soreness. It’s also important to have the basic freestyle swim stroke down before you use hand paddles to prevent injury. Hand paddles will exaggerate both correct movements and incorrect movements so you can tweak and improve your stroke.
When using hand paddles, you’ll notice that you swim slower. The point of using hand paddles is not to improve your speed, but to focus on technique and strengthen your swim muscles. Ultimately, hand paddles can help you become a more efficient swimmer which means you won’t tire yourself out during the swim and you’ll have plenty of energy for the bike and the run!
How to use it – Put your hand through the large band so that the strap is around your wrist. With your palms touching the paddle, place your middle finger through the smaller strap to keep your hands in place. Swim normally focusing on the part of the stroke when your arm is in the water (catch, pull, push phases).
It feels weird at first– like you’re trying to swim through mud– but when you take the paddles off, you’ll be amazed at how strong you feel.
*Trainer Tip – To help you get a feel for the water with less risk of shoulder soreness or injury, simply swim with closed fists. Another option is to hold two tennis balls while swimming. These 2 drills will improve the catch phase of the swim by encouraging you to “catch” and “pull” the water with your whole arm instead of with just your hand, making you a more powerful and efficient swimmer.
What is it? A pull buoy is a curved piece of foam that is placed between the thighs to help your hips and legs float.
Why use it for triathlon training? Pull buoys are a great tool to help simulate the buoyancy of a wetsuit. When you wear a wetsuit during your triathlon swim, you’ll notice that you float easier. Pool buoys mimic that buoyancy and will help you train for your open water swim without having to wear a wetsuit.
*If you’re going to wear a wetsuit during your triathlon, but make sure you do a few swims wearing it to make sure that it fits properly!
How to use it – Put the thin part of the pool buoy between your thighs so that the wider round edges are sticking out the front and back of your thighs. Wear the pool buoy as high as possible. The closer it is to your knees, the harder it is to hold. Engage your core and swim without kicking, letting your legs float behind you. Make sure you still rotate your hips.
Focus on keeping your upper body low in the water by looking down rather than forward. This will help keep you parallel in the water so you swim forward rather than “uphill”.
There are some triathlon and swim coaches refuse to use pool toys because they think they give swimmers a false sense of balance and confidence. While that may be true, we think it’s more important for beginner triathletes to do whatever it takes to make the swim part of their triathlon less intimidating! So if a kickboard, hand paddles and pull buoys make swimming more enjoyable and give you confidence in the water, then use them!