A tool for developing your swimming technique or just cheating/taking the easy path? Kit such as this seems to divide opinion a little, I have had a pair of these for the last two years and they have seen plenty of use so I thought I would share my experience with what I have found to be an excellent bit of kit, which I now always take to the pool with me.
Now I am no great swimmer and had to learn when I decided to give triathlon a go 3 years ago. I did not like swimming at school and have never been much of a water baby, but I do aspire to become a better swimmer and am more than willing to work as hard as I need to achieve this. Problem is I also have 2 other sports I am trying to improve at along the way, a job and only so many hours in day, so a little help to accelerate this process is much welcomed.
Essentially they mimic the effect of wearing a wetsuit, adding buoyancy to the hips allowing a higher position in the water to be obtained. A bit like a pull buoy but allowing a natural kicking motion to take place. This makes a lot of sense to me, I always enjoy swimming more in my wetsuit and it’s also specific to most of the races I do, where wetsuits are mandatory (I am yet to travel to warmer climes to race J).
So how do I use them? Like I said before, I do not use them in an attempt to shirk the hard work in the pool, I use them sparingly and never for main sets, for me, they are a tool, like the buoy/paddles/fins etc that are widely used and accepted. This is my personal choice, but if wearing them makes you enjoy swimming and get in the pool more, why not?
Long Warm up/Long drill sets-
I will often use the shorts if I have along warm up set, I find they allow me to find a better position in the water and concentrate on technique more easily. When I take them off for the hard work, I feel more in tune to that position and it transfers across to the session. I also find them great for learning/practising drills, they allow me to concentrate on the aspect of the drill that is most important, leading to progression doing the drill without the shorts.
After those long hard sessions that leave your arms, shoulders and core completely melted, I put on the shorts and get a decent cool down done.
Preparing to race-
I find after a winter in the pool, getting used to swimming in a suit alters stroke mechanics slightly and I need a bit of time to adjust. Similarly it may not be possible to get to the open water and the pool might not allow a wetsuit to be worn. The shorts give an alternative to achieve this.
When the lakes get warm (sometimes they do honestly!) I find it much more convenient and comfortable to just take the shorts, lighter, less bulky, easy on/off and I don’t feel like I am going to slow cook in a full suit. The race I am prepping for is probably going to require wearing a suit, using the shorts keeps it specific and let me tune in my stroke.
Now I am no coach or expert as I have explained, but one thing I am sure of is that these shorts have been an excellent addition to my swim kit bag and allowed me to improve my swimming massively in the last couple of years.
I recently came across this great article by Brett Sutton on the use of swim tools, well worth a read, opinions and observations from years of coaching experience at the very highest level.
Article courtesy of Zone3 athlete Chris Stirling. To find out more about Chris head over to his blog