We think every swimmer should regularly use a pull buoy. Never used a pull buoy? Find out why you should in this article! If you don’t have good swimming goggles yet, consider reading our goggles review article first.
A pull buoy is an 8-shaped flotation device that sits between your thighs. Typical pull buoys look like the this:
We present 4 common reasons for using a pull buoy and the dangers of over-use. Finally we conclude why every swimmer should use a pull buoy.
Purpose 1: Fix Swimming Posture
By putting it between your thighs, it will help your legs float and improve your streamline (making your posture as straight as possible, reducing possible drag). The reason why this is interesting is, that your body should usually be in that position, with or without pull buoy. By having less surface come into contact with the water, less drag is created, effectively making you a faster swimmer. Mistakes such as a wrong head position or sinking legs can drastically slow you down.
By using a pull buoy, a swimmer can get a feel of what the correct position of the legs should be, high and streamlined. The swimmer can get an idea of what this feels like. After training with one for a while, the swimmer can return swimming without the training aid. It is important that the swimmer then tries to mimic the feeling of the pull buoy, by using their core muscles to keep their body streamlined like before.
Once the swimmer has been able to reproduce the pull buoy posture without the pull buoy, then the swimmer should effectively be able to feel the improvement in speed and ease of swimming.
Purpose 2: Training Upper Body
Another reason to use a pull buoy is that it can help a swimmer isolate their upper body. While it is possible to lightly kick with your feet when using a pull buoy, it is generally not possible to kick from the hips as the pull buoy would fall out.
This means that most of the power needs to come from the upper body. This is why pull buoys can put more stress on your shoulders and arms. That’s one of the reasons why overdoing the use of a pull buoy is not a good idea. We will discuss what can possibly happen when over-using pull buoys in the next section.With moderate use, this can be used to a swimmer’s advantage. It allows the swimmer to specifically train the arms, upper back and shoulders. By varying your workout with different training aids such as paddles, fins or pull buoys, every muscle can be individually trained.
Purpose 3: Focus on Upper Body
Aside from isolating the muscles that are trained, pull buoys can also be used to isolate your upper body for technique. While the swimmer does not have to focus on the lower body, more focus can be spent on the upper body for achieving the perfect technique. Alone or with a swimming instructor, technique flaws can be identified and improved.
Purpose 2 and 3 are about isolating the upper body. In order to do the opposite, isolating the lower body, kickboards can be used, which will be explained in an article in the future.
Purpose 4: It Mixes Up The Workouts
Imagine swimming freestyle in the exact same way every day for 10 years. While we love swimming, some variety is required to keep it exciting. Most swimmers including myself get really excited when able to swim with new swimming gear. It allows you to mix up your workout, for example one day can be spent on fixing the upper body technique, while another day can be spent for the lower body. It is simply more fun to be able to change activity once in a while.
It helps you plan your workouts as well. If the previous day’s workout was very intensive (intensive distance or speed workout for example), it can be good to use a pull buoy to take it easy the next day.
If you want to make your pull buoy training harder, squeeze it between your shins near your feet instead of your thighs. It will make the workout a lot more difficult, requiring even more power from your core and upper body.
Other training gears that can be used to mix up your workouts are for example paddles, fins, snorkels and posture correction gear. These will be discussed in a future blog post.
Pull Buoy Addiction
Although there are clear benefits of using pull buoys, the over-use or misuse of it is not a good idea. As explained in purpose 2, the use of a pull buoy puts more stress on your upper body (arms, shoulders). In order to avoid injuries such as the swimmer’s shoulder, one should not over-use a pull buoy, or put too much strength into the upper arms as to cause injury. Note that next to over-use/forcing the muscles there are other causes for shoulder injuries as well, such as bad posture (crossover arms or bad hands entry point in freestyle).
While the pull buoy is an essential swim training tool, it can become an excuse for making less efforts when swimming. A swimmer can become lazy by being dependent of their pull buoy. Make sure to not use it as an excuse, otherwise your workout could suffer from this.
Pull Buoy Types
Regular Pull Buoys
As shown in the beginning of the post, regular pull buoys look like this:
These are good, simple and basic pull buoys. They work, but there is not more to say.
2-in-1 Pull Buoys
Some pull buoys combine multiple functions in one. For example the Speedo Pull Kick combines both a Pull Buoy and Kickboard in one. I regularly use the pull kick, a product review will come soon 🙂 . These are useful as they take less space for two functions. Just make sure that the one you buy has two functions that work well!
Professional Speed Pull Buoys
These pull buoys will generally be more hydrodynamic, offering better speeds while using the pull buoy. Next to that, the quality will be higher and more durable.
An important thing to note about the more professional pull buoys, is that they are less buoyant and thus float less (easier to sink when pushed on)! This ensures that you activate your core while using the pull buoy and is good for intermediate to advanced swimmers. I have the Speedo Fastskin Pull Buoy which works well, a product review will be coming up soon as well.
Axis Pull Buoys
Some pull buoys are specifically made for putting between your shins, near your feet. These clip on around the legs and stay in place. These offer more extreme workouts. Make sure you have an advanced swimmer’s level before attempting to use these, as they will force your feet to float.
Pull Buoy Safety
Read the manual of your pull buoy well. Never rely on your pull buoy to keep you from drowning, as pull buoys will simply sink and cannot carry body weight. Make sure that you can rely on your swimming abilities before using a pull buoy.
Pull Buoys are used for different reasons. They exist in different materials and shapes, for various purposes (muscle training, technique). Every swimmer should regularly use a pull buoy for their workout.
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For beginning swimmers that can swim independently, we recommend a regular pull buoy with a separate kickboard.
For intermediate swimmers, we recommend the Speedo pull kick.
For advanced swimmers, we recommend the Speedo Fastskin Pull Buoy.