Triathlon Training – Swimming Training Tools

June 14th 2018

By Matt Hill
Categories: Triathlon Training

Triathlon Training – Swimming Training Tools

Training Tools for Triathlon

Training tools are available in every sport. Some are cheap, some are overly expensive! Selecting the right training tool for your needs will definitely help you progress but remember – you cannot BUY speed!

Clever marketing leads us into spending money on things we don’t need or things that promise a return for nothing – generally speed!

Any evidence of performance benefits that does exist is often very limited and biased. It is often funded by the manufacturer who want to present the results they want to present. The claimed benefits can result in poorer performance, and very often adversely affect comfort.

This is true of equipment across all three of the triathlon disciplines, from the simple and inexpensive swim “toys” through to expensive bike components (including the frame and wheels) and run shoes.

However, we take a quick look at swim kit here.

Swimming Training Tools

Swimming has an ever growing (polluting) variety of training tools. Even within the few “toys” that we use and recommend, there are 100’s of different variants (googles, paddles and pull buoys). Those we very rarely, if ever, use (fins, rotation tools, etc) have an equally vast range of models.

All these toys each come in a wide range of varieties; various shapes, sizes and promises to correct a very specific part of the swim stroke “problem”. In reality, the problem is that MOST tools DON’T work for most people.

Long story short, swim tools often derive from a need to correct a specific issue of an individual (often an elite swimmer) but cannot be used correctly by the average hobbyist athlete.

Why? Because even the best triathletes struggle with awareness in the water, the flexibility, the strength or necessarily the NEED to use that tool (see our swim toy essentials and enjoyment blog).

Pull Buoys

One of swimming’s basic training tools, but a triathlete best friend, the pull buoy, is nearly always too SMALL for the adult late-comer to the sport. Most commercial pull buoys are fine for a swimmer. However, they provide too little lift for the non-swimmer (most triathletes) and so are not ideally suited to their needs. There are companies that do make bigger pull buoys, providing a bit more lift, but are often overpriced.

How can you overcome this? By doing a little DIY!

Training Tools - Bottle BuoysDIY project 1 – Superglue

Buy 2 normal sized pull buoys and superglue them together! If it is too buoyant (which it can be for women), cut the second pull buoy in half.

DIY project 2 – The “Bottle Buoy”

Buy 2 x 1.5-2ltr water bottles and tie them together using an old bike innertube.

The Bottle Buoy is REALLY buoyant and especially good for men. You might get a few funny looks when you stroll on poolside, but those looks turn to amazement when you start powering up and down the pool! All because your legs are elevated, and you can use your arms more effectively.


Trainin Tools - PaddlesThe opposite to a pull buoy, paddles are often too BIG for the average person. The surface area places too much stress on the body. As well as being too big, the shape of a paddle has a big influence on what the arm does under the water. We explained paddle shape in one of our Facebook / Twitter videos.

Get or make a pair of neutral (symmetrical) or slightly tear dropped (asymmetrical) shaped paddles, they are all that’s needed. Wear the wrist and finger straps, while avoiding gloves or paddles that attach on only the thumbs.

They only need to be 0.5-1cm bigger than your hand size (smaller than hand size for newer swimmers). Bigger paddles will over stress the body.

As with pull buoys, you can easily modify your existing paddles or even make you own custom set (using cheap plastic chopping boards!). Relatively, swim kit is cheap and the consequences small (compared to customising bike equipment that is more expensive if something goes wrong!)

Ankle Bands

Training Tools - Ankle BandsFor the ultimate strength combo, make yourself an ankle band to use along with your bottle buoy and customised paddles.

Every triathlete has a spare innertube laying around. One that’s been awaiting puncture repair or one that has become obsolete thanks to upgrades to wheels. A single inner tube will make three ankle bands. One for an ankle band while using the other two for making a bottle buoy. You could even share them with friends (or don’t, if you want to keep this secret strength weapon to yourself!!).

The ankle band wants to wrap around your ankles with an approximate 5cm gap between your feet. This allows a small amount of natural leg separation and won’t cut the circulation off to your feet.

Moral of the story

Triathlon media, and even reputable coaches and coaching systems, “sell” the different toys either from a lack of knowledge/understanding or because of their own (commercial) vested interest! Investing in any new product should be for your benefit. Research into the products benefits while attempting to look behind the commercially derived / driven data! Simple is often best, it just not pretty or easy to sell when other items from another brand look “special” or promise more.

Assess what you have or are wanting to invest in and think about how it is going to benefit you. Remember “one size/shape fits all” doesn’t always work – you can modify to make things fit and work better.

Save money and build your own “personalised” training tools.