Lifestyle blogger Poppy Dinsey reveals how training aids have helped improve her swim training – and why these days you’ll always find a set of paddles in her kit bag.
In my last post I talked about my love of the humble kickboard. It was the first training aid my coach, Kerstin, introduced me to during my first open water prep lesson last year. But once I'd done my kicking drills (and realised I was no way near as fit as I’d thought), I was quickly introduced to two new training aids – paddles and the pullbuoy, which I got to have fun with during my half-hour session.
Getting to know the pullbuoy
Kerstin needed to review my stroke, so that she could coach me effectively on how best to improve it, and breaking down my legs and arms in to separate components was the easiest way to do this. I'd shown off my kick with the kickboard, now it was time to demonstrate what my arms believed front crawl entailed.
I didn't really have a clue what a pullbuoy was (a fancy float for under your neck so that you can laze about on your back, perhaps?), but Kerstin explained it was actually to go between my legs to support my lower body, meaning I wouldn't have to kick or really think about my legs at all. I could just focus on my arm movements.
I'd never swum using just my arms and it was a weird experience, but it made me really realise how important it was to get the crawl motion right. Then came the snazzy stat: 80% of 'the work' in front crawl should come from the arms, shoulders and back. I'd always presumed I needed to kick like crazy to propel myself.... and then wondered why I'd conk out after 100m. Suddenly it all made sense!
Paddles: My new best friend
As I was a novice preparing for three open-water swims (ranging from 1500k to 3600k), it was clear I was going to have to work on my arms. A lot. Having seen how I’d swum using just the pullbuoy, Kerstin put me in a pair of paddles so that I could work on my technique.
I'm happy to admit I'd never seen paddles before, but you basically strap them on to your hands to make them bigger!
And why is bigger better? Paddles increase the surface area of the water you catch, which in turn increases resistance, therefore improving your strength and endurance. Your arms, shoulders and back all have to work harder, so all in all paddles are a very simple, but very effective, training aid.
As well as building strength, paddles are mighty useful for improving your technique. Their design encourages high elbows and proper hand entry into the water, making your stroke technique more efficient, which is pretty vital when you're prepping to swim a long way. And trust me, that 2.25 mile swim I had looming upon me felt like a VERY long way!
Although I was doing the vast majority of my training in the pool, I was going to be racing in a wetsuit. Anyone who has swum in both a wetsuit and a swimsuit will attest to how different it is, but a wetsuit does add buoyancy which, whilst obviously not as dramatic as the pullbuoy, does help your lower body. Practicing with the pullbuoy was really helpful in preparing me for swimming in a wetsuit.
I knew as soon as I left that first coached session that I needed to buy myself a pair of paddles to be able to keep practicing in my own time and I’m pretty certain that I couldn't have completed my open water swims last year if it wasn't for all the paddle training I did. Kicking takes up so much energy, you really need your arms to be doing the real bulk of the work.
My paddles are always in my swim bag now and I even take them on holiday as they're so light. I can’t recommend the BioFUSE Power Paddles more highly – I’m so grateful that they helped get me across those finish lines!
Here's to strong arms! Popeye would approve. Poppy.