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CLOCKWISE TOP LEFT: ARENA ELITE PADDLE $19.95; FINIS ALIGNMENT KICKBOARD $19,95; SPORTI PULL BUOY $7.95; ARENA POWERFIN PRO $49.95; ROKA XI $27; SPEEDO BULLETHEAD SWIM SNORKEL $29.95; TYR RACER-X GOGGLES $29.99
Happy World Swim Day! This international holiday encourages people around the world to be more active through swimming. I certainly have been this fall, as I recover from a stress fracture in my foot! Swimming, however, is a regular part of my fitness routine. It’s the original total body workout – both cardio and strength building – with no impact on bones and joints. Plus, if you’re a gear junkie, there are all sorts of fun training tools to improve your form and conditioning – and break up the monotony of just swimming back and forth!
Fins, hand paddles, snorkels, and more! We spoke to Dan Daly, C.S.C.S, former all-American swimmer, senior Equinox Tier X trainer and founder of EQX H20, about how different pieces of equipment can benefit any level of swimmer. A special thank you to Arena for swagging me out with it all – along with an incredible collection of swimsuits!
Fins come in a variety of different sizes, from the short Finis Zoomers to the body-surfing style TYR HydroBlades. Daly says that fins create more efficiency in the water by extending the length of your foot. The longer the fin, the more force created. At the beginner level, fins can add some assistance to the kick. At the advanced level, they become a loading device, creating more power, but forcing the legs to work harder. Fins are also a great way to focus on stroke mechanics by aiding propulsion as you practice technique.
Hand paddles, as with all this equipment, amplify both the efficiencies and inefficiencies in your stroke. If you do something well, they reinforce it. If you do something poorly, they reveal it. Daly says that hand paddles in particular, “feed the mistake”, but they also provide the opportunity to correct your form.
Hand paddles are used primarily as loading device to strengthen the upper body, develop lats and shoulders, and work the cardiovascular system as well. Hand paddles come in a variety of different sizes — the larger the paddle, the more water they catch, creating greater resistance and building strength. Daly generally recommends a medium size paddle. You have to be quite strong for larger paddle, and most people are suited to something smaller.
Paddles come in a few different styles and shapes. The primary difference is straps or no straps. Traditional paddles like the TYR Catalyst 2, Roka Pro, Speedo Nemesis Contour, and Sporti Power Swim have a pegboard design in which you can arrange wrist and finger staps to your preference. The Finis Agility are strapless paddles for the more advanced swimmer, requiring proper hand position or they fall off.
Center mouthpiece snorkels have become a popular training tool and offer a number of benefits. The snorkel helps balance out your stroke. By not having to rotate to breathe, it allows you to keep your head down and focus on form and alignment. Says Daly, “Every time you take a breath, it disrupts the streamline and slows you down – even if you’re an Olympian.”
Something I’ve personally noticed is the snorkel restricts the flow of air, similar to an Elevation Mask, which trains your lungs to use oxygen more efficiently and build cardiovascular strength. All the major swim brands offer a center mouthpiece snorkel.
Pull buoys are generally used with hand paddles as a flotation aid, allowing you to focus on your arm stroke and technique without kicking. There isn’t much difference from brand to brand, although the TYR Hydrofoil Pull Float offers a more streamlined, ergonomic variation to the classic pull float. The Finis Access is used around the ankles, instead of between the legs, and forces you to use more core control.
Kickboards come in various sizes, shapes, and buoyancies – ranging from the traditional design, to ones that are more tapered and streamlined. Smaller ones are harder to use because you can’t hang on as much. Finis Alignment Kickboard looks like triangle, and has a stabilizing hand strap that teaches a proper streamline position. The Arena Pull Kick and Speedo Pull Buoy Kickboard conveniently double as pull buoys for less schlep!
Goggles are really all about personal preference. They come one size fits all, and you have to play with the brand and model to find the ones that work for you. I prefer a larger size that covers the eye-socket, like the Roka X1, to avoid those undereye-aging goggle indents! Competitive swimmers generally prefer something smaller, like the TYR Tracer X and Speedo Vanquisher 2.0, for less drag. Arena’s The One goggle falls in between and is one of the most comfortable I’ve tried.
There has been some technological advances in the goggle marketplace. The Magic5 uses an algorithm to scan your face, to create a custom fit nose bridge and rubber gaskets, and reduce those common complaints like suction and goggles marks.
Another piece of goggle tech is Instabeat, a small goggle attachment that displays your heart rate with three levels of LED light feedback and allows you to adjust your speed accordingly. Other metrics like pace, time, and distance can be downloaded with their app after your workout. I’m waiting for the goggle that can do it all in real time, and play music too! I have yet to find a waterproof MP3 player with headphones that stay in, or one that is easy to use underwater.
MySwimPro is the #1 training app for swimmers and one I really like. It’s like having a swim coach on your phone to prescribe daily workouts and personalized training plans targeted to your goals – along with instructional videos, and a log to keep track of your times and distances. MySwimPro is compatible with most training watches like the Apple Watch, Garmin, and Fitbit, putting those workouts right there on your wrist.