Speedo Q&A 4: Swimming with Training Aids


This lunchtime (1-2pm) we're joined by swimming coach Dan Bullock who'll be answering your questions about training aids - which ones work, when to use them and how to get the most out of them.

Dan Bullock has been coaching since 1990, and is Head Coach at triathlon swimming specialists Swim 4 Tri. Dan's swimming accolades include being National Masters Champion (2008, 9), a British AG Record Holder (800m), European Masters Medallist and he is also is a Double-Ironman finisher.

We're opening the discussion now Dan so can get answering your questions at 1pm (rather than having to deal with a rush of questions at once). 



  • Dan,

    I lost track of my questions when I read that you had finished a Double-Ironman - wow - what an achievement (not to mention the other accolades)!!

    Having regained my composure ... I hope you might be able to give me some tips on the most efficient way of improving the power delivered by my kick in FC.  I have limited time to devote to swimming as a majority of my training is spent running and cycling (in preparation for IMFL) but when I'm in the pool, doing leg drills, I seem to head towards the bottom of the pool faster than the direction I am pointed in.  I suspect there is an element of leg fatigue involved but your insight on how my technique, body position or just alternative drills that might improve the situation, would be gratefully received.

    Thanks in advance,

    Rob w

  • and another one ...

    At the 'pointy end' of the field for Ironman/triathlon would you also use your legs less than a standalone swim?
    Most of us lesser mortals would save the legs for the rest of the days activities


    *err ... training aids, oh yes  forgot that bit !!
  • I am struggling with any questions in relation to swimming aids .... I would say that I use drills more than aids, is this a better approach or is there no right or wrong answer?
  • Afternoon Dan,

    two part question if I may...

    is there anything out there which will help with developing good body roll?

    Same question, but for 'pointy feet'- I normally remember when I start to get cramp.


  • Hi Rob,

    Body position being upset by the leg kick is a common problem. Kicking from the knee while an effective movement on land does not work well in the water. Equally a fixed ankle position will also sink the legs.

    Basically you are looking for a straight leg up sweep of the legs towards the surface of the water which should come from the glutes more than the hamstrings.

    Even the added buoyancy of a wetsuit will only lift a bad leg kick higher. If you can straighten out the legs you stop the downward forces creating the sinking effect. Keep leg kick small and concise by feeling the big toes tapping against each other to a faster rhythm.

    The actual size of the kick will enviably be greater than you imagine it to be. Try to get somebody to give you some feedback.



  • Hi Kitten kat,

    If you are a weaker swimmer a set of Speedo fins are a great training aid to start with. A lot of triathletes will reach for the pull buoy very quickly but this will limit your ability to learn to swim faster. Fins on the other hand can help you perform a less frantic full stroke so, enabling you to incorporate a better technique.

  • Hi Meldy,

    Personally I think triathletes have been brainwashed into saving their legs for the rest of the race. An effective and efficient leg kick should not be overly tiring.

    Small leg kick will make you swim faster and if the whole body contributes towards forwards propulsion including the legs, faster swim speeds should be possible at a lower energy cost.

    If the whole body is involved- and all the muscles groups are involved then no one area is overly taxed causing excess fatigue. The muscles groups involved in a good leg kick are not the dominant muscles used for the bike and run.

  • Afternoon Dan

    I really enjoy open water swimming but the lake I use doesn't allow training aids. Last year I just got in and swam a certain distance each time, and hoped times would improve. Is there anything more useful I can do - is it worth trying interval-type efforts like you would do for running/biking where I just pick up the pace between two bouys then return to normal effort and repeat that?


  • Hi Meldy,

    It is difficult to be precise but a mix of the two would be ideal for rapid swim improvement. Swim drills restrict bad habits, encourage good habits or just interrupt the usual flow of the stroke to make you focus more.

    Some drills work better with swim aids and some drills are better without. Some swim aids due to their size are not suitable for drills and are better for resistance training so making you faster by taking a different line.

    In a well balanced fitness session we would swim drills- some without swim aids and we would swim full stroke with and without swim aids.

  • That makes sense Dan ... I have a comparatively good kick against my stroke and can swim just as quick with legs only so it would make sense to employ them once in a while during an IM
  • Hi Ferrocous-

    Point 1 regarding the rotation: We call it the torpedo drill. Basically start by standing in front of the mirror, head perfectly still and roll the shoulders forwards and backwards trying to reach the chin. Let the hips follow and the body is rotating through the long axis, basically the spine. It is essential to keep the head still.

    Take this movement on to pool side before each swim. Warm up with it. Even performing it whist standing in the shallow end in between swim sets while resting. Also the drill can be swam by engaging the legs in a horizontal position as you push off from each wall.

    Part 2- Warm up the ankle region on dry land ahead of each swim with some ankle circling. It's important to get some blood flow into the region and warm the area to try and prevent cramp starting. The leg position in swimming is very different to any dry land positions- walking, running and cycling- so the swimming leg kick position is quite aggressive.

    The best way to ensure toes stay pointed backwards is to feel the big toes tapping against each other. If the toes are pointed at the bottom of the pool it will be hard for them to tap against each other.


  • Hi Dan,

    I was wondering what you think of central snorkels as a training aid.
    I relatively recently learnt to swim from scratch (this included an endless pool session with a company you may know image) and think that using one of these may have helped.

  • Hi Dan

    1. My legs sink when using a pull buoy! Why is that?

    2. Where do you stand on those big hand fin things? How do they help you swim better without them?


  • Hi Dan

    I am a beginner swimmer and have been given a pull bouy, but am not really sure how to use it apart from sticking it between my legs and swimming!  I am not really sure where in my legs it is supposed to go.  Also do I just literally swim as normal with my arms and not use my legs?  They do not allow fins in the pool I use, so I am really just restricted to the pull bouy to use as a training aid so any suggestions would be appreciated.  I am in the same school as KittenKat in that I don't do drills I just swim at one pace up and down the pool, but I need to get faster.  You say further up that a pull bouy will not enable me to swim faster so would I be better off not using it at all?  I kind of thought that using it would strengthen my upper body more enabling me to swim faster when not using the pull bouy as I would be using my legs a bit; I take it I'm wrong in thinking that?

  • Hi Kitten,

    The swim element of a triathlon is often undervalued and while the race cant really be won from the swim - it can certainly be lost.

    I have just helped two very good duathletes with their swimming to the point they are now winning triathlons and one qualified for Kona.

    If your swimming is weak and the actual mechanics of swimming exhaust you then time needs to be put into this. If you can break 1 hour for a ironman swim it would be unwise to increase your swim training at the expense of your bike and run training.

    Most people fall somewhere between those two extremes so if you are starting the bike exhausted then some work should be done on the swim.

    It's entirely possible to learn to swim without swim aids. I don't think it is the most effective way to swim without swim aids. I think adults need assistance coming to swimming later in life. Awareness and feel swimming in the water are often limited and the use of swim aids can assist, supplement and accelerate learning development.

  • Hi Harier Half,

    Like any training aid if used correctly then benefits can be derived. The central snorkel is no exception but the coaches need to know what they are doing.

    I like the central snorkel in particular as it takes breathing out of the equation and eliminates the need to turn the head so we learn independent body rotation and focus on keeping the head still. You also get a longer period of time to watch and check the pathways of the hands as they pull under the body.

    When swimming with a colleague, feedback can easily be given as they can let you know if the snorkel is moving. Aim to keep the snorkel absolutely still.

  • Hi Sweetfeet,

    Part 1-With a pull buoy held between your thighs it is still possible to originate the kick to movement from the knees, which creates drag- which sinks the legs. Try putting the pull buoy between your ankles- this will keep the legs straighter and so create less drag, keeping them higher in the water.

    Part2 - Similar to regular weight training large paddles for the hands can make you stronger. Not necessarily is that a good thing as swim technique can be sacrificed. The larger hand paddles if technique is good create more work for the shoulders but also more stress. Early on in your swim development I would recommend a smaller pair for technique work initially. Speedo do some great ones.

  • Hi folks,

    I think that might be about all we've got time for today, I'm afraid. Thank you Dan for your expertise and tips - and thanks to all of you for your searching questions!


  • Cheers Dan image
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