Using a pull buoy at Linslade Crusaders
A pull buoy is a float which is designed to be placed between the thighs or ankles to provide support to the body while swimming without using the legs. The buoyancy of the pull buoy helps the swimmer maintain a good body position in the water, leaving them free to focus on their upper-body technique. It can have a secondary benefit of allowing the swimmer to focus on timing and/or their breathing action, as well as isolating parts of the stroke.
For younger swimmers, you need to be careful not to use the pull-buoy too much because it places added strain to the shoulders. For older swimmers, it can also be used to develop upper-body strength.
Why use a pull buoy?
Where used correctly, it complements front crawl and backstroke. For breaststroke and butterfly, the added buoyancy in the legs can prevent a swimmer from effectively undulating (as the added buoyancy pulls them back up to the top of the water) and can make it hard to replicate the correct stroke technique. However, there are drills for even these strokes where a pull buoy can be used to improve technique.
Does it matter what pull buoy I use?
Yes. A pull buoy is generally a figure of eight shaped float (but not always). If the pull buoy is too small it does not provide enough buoyancy, allowing the legs to sink. If it is too big it provides too much buoyancy, causing the upper body to tip over and the legs to come out of the water.
Girls generally require smaller pull buoys than boys. Older swimmers generally require bigger pull buoys than younger swimmers.
With basic pull buoys the number of lines is a good indicator of the buoyancy it provides. The figure of eight may not be symmetrical, so which way up may allow small adjustments to the buoyancy it gives.
You also need to consider the width of the pull buoy. If the pull buoy is too wide it will push the swimmer’s legs apart, increasing drag. The swimmer then feels that position is natural and may swim with their legs apart as their default position. This can cause them to drag extra water up the pool with them.
The pull buoy may also present a profile to the water. The more it sticks out from the swimmer’s body the more drag it will create. This may be seen as a positive, because the swimmer has to work harder. However, with younger swimmers the focus is generally on technique and slowing them down may make their legs more likely to sink.
There are various pull buoys which are designed to be more streamlined, a couple of examples of which are below.
Common mistakes when using a pull buoy
Using the arms without rotating the body: Rotating the body is key to both front crawl and backstroke for power through the stroke. The body should roll through the water, with the recovering shoulder raised out of the water and reducing drag. When using a pull buoy some swimmers do not rotate the lower body at all. Others may rotate the hips, but not the feet. As the hips rotate the legs turn sideways with one foot in front of the other instead.
When we swim front crawl and backstroke, the head should stay still and the body rotate from your shoulders through to your toes. When we use a pull buoy we still want this rotation.
How to fix it: Stretch from head to tip toes, lightly engaging the core, and rotate the whole body – a bit like a kebab on a skewer. Another good visualisation is to imagine you are standing with good posture making yourself as tall as possible, with your toes pointed along the surface of the water.
Kicking legs (this is definitely cheating): This can happen for a number of reasons including lack of knowledge of how to use a pull buoy, an inability to isolate the arms from the legs, an automatic reaction to a lack of speed or a feeling the legs are sinking.
How to fix it: Firstly, most swimmers do not realise they are doing it so often it can be cured by discussion and practice. Secondly, the swimmer needs to ensure they keep their core engaged (which goes back to making yourself as tall as possible…)
Disengaging your core: The swimmer over relies on the pull buoy to keep them up, which causes their legs to sink.
How to fix it: When using a pull buoy, stretch from your head to your tip toes, lightly engaging your core and allow your whole body to rotate – a bit like a kebab. If you’re unsure how to engage your core imagine you’re standing with good posture making yourself as tall as possible. Even though we’re not using them, keep your toes pointed along the surface of the water.
The back arches because the pull buoy is adding too much buoyancy: This tends to happen to swimmers who have a naturally good body position or whose pull buoy is too big. The pull buoy adds too much buoyancy and lifts their legs out of the water. To compensate the arch their back to keep the legs in the water. These swimmers find that by adding a pull buoy, it adds too much buoyancy. In order to keep their legs in the water, they arch their back. Not only does this promote bad body position but it can also lead to back pain.
How to fix it: Some pull buoys have more buoyancy than others – usually the bigger ones. Others, such as the swim keel, are designed to sit just under the surface of the water. A change of pull buoy is probably required.
The legs swing out behind the swimmer: This tends to happen where there is a lack of rotation, the core is dis-engaged or the arms are pulling too far away from the body line.
How to fix it: The swimmer’s coach needs to work out why the problem is happening and provide guidance on how to cure it.
Information on Using a pull buoy for our swimmers from Linslade, Leighton Buzzard and Bedfordshire