One of the things I’ve always loved about swimming is that you don’t need to spend too much money on gear. You can, in theory at least, just wear a pair of trunks or a swimming costume and go for a dip (though I could never, ever swim without goggles unless I was doing heads-up breastroke).
But just recently I have become tempted by swimming aids – items designed to improve your technique, make you more efficient in the water and therefore go faster. So whereas before I went to the pool with an ordinary sized Speedo holdall, now I often pitch up with an additional mesh bag full of aquatic goodies, feeling more like a fisherman proudly displaying his catch than a swimmer about to take a leisurely dip.
In my defence, this has been largely practical – honest. I recently hired the services of a great swimming coach at David Lloyd in Finchley where I train and she has been helping me with my freestyle technique so I don’t embarrass myself in the open water swims I have lined up this summer. And although it has meant lugging more stuff around to the pool, and the consquent risk of leaving stuff behind (which I do all the time), I do think I have made several improvements in my stroke – even if my wallet is a little lighter.
So which accessories should you splash your cash on? I think the most essential item has to be a kickboard, like a posh float really. There are several designs and makes available, but I really would recommend Speedo’s Elite Kickboard. Costing £9.49 it is much more solid than other makes and also has two holes to put your hands through if you like. I like to hold the board out and keep my head down while I kick as hard as possible and just breathe to the side whenever necessary. But other people – like my son – can manage to to keep their head up for lengths and still kick really hard.
Using a kickboard really does strengthen your legs which is important when trying to get more out of your freestyle. And you can always flip over onto your back and practise your backstroke leg kick for a change of scenery!
Next up is the pullbuoy (not pool boy as some people like to call it ). I was a bit suspicious of this little blighter at first, thinking it might make my legs even more lazy than usual, but actually it’s really useful for getting your upper body working properly.
You put it between your thighs so it lifts your bum out of the water giving you a much higher position in the water than usual. It works by effectively removing your legs, allowing you to focus on getting your arms right. There are several models available but we would recommend the Zoggs’ Pullbuoy and the Speedo Elite Pullbuoy. Both cost £8.99.
Hand paddles come in various forms, small and large, but I bought the Speedo Tech Paddles (£9.79) on the advise of my coach. Although they feel very weird on your hands at first – like two giant dustbins – they are incredibly effective at correcting your technique. Basically they work by exaggerating your arm movement so if you have one arm that comes out too far, like I have, then they will exaggerate this movement forcing you to correct it. The only thing you need to be careful of is that they don’t put too much stress on your shoulders. Best to only wear for a few lengths during specific drills.
Finally, every budding pro-swimmer needs a pair of short fins – like mini flippers. Although it may be difficult to wear these down your local pool without seriously annoying the people in the lane next to you (as well as looking ridiculous on the poolside of course) they are very useful. Especially when re-learning Butterfly as I’m doing right now. You feel like a dolphin cutting through the water with speed and purpose or should that be porpoise (groan!) But take them off and your legs can feel like jelly especially at first. I would recommend the Speedo Biofuse training fins. They are available in various sizes up to size 47 (size 12) and cost around £20 – see here for more information.