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Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why?
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Primarily a cyclist, I have taken up swimming for cross training in the past 6 months. I am now swimming about 2000 yards 3 evenings per week. I have found that I can only swim efficiently or reasonably fast using a "pull buoy" for reasons I am uncertain of. With the pull buoy, I can do 5 X 100 on 2 min. with each 100 around 1:22-1:25 and sets of 200 around 2:55-3:00 min. per 200. Not great for a real swimmer, but okay for someone like me. Without the pull buoy -- just regular crawl stroke with a kick, I am more like 1:35-1:40 per 100 and I get much more tired after each 100. W/o the pull buoy, I even have a hard time doing 200 with all flip turns. I usually end up skipping one or two to catch my breath at the wall.

I do some kick board sets and I seem to have a reasonably strong kick (not great, but adequate). But when I am swimming w/o the pull buoy, I seem to have a hard time coordinating the kicking properly with the crawl stroke. I think my legs are sinking too much and my swimming kick is too weak. w/o the pull buoy I seem to get almost no glide at all, either due to lower swimming speed or some other factor which makes for extra strokes, more work going into a flip turn and for general inefficiency.

Is it common or normal for non-swimmers to be significantly faster and more efficient with a pull buoy aid? I get why fins would be a big boost, esp. for avg. swimmers, but I am not clear why I can only swim well with a pull buoy.

Any helpful theories or advice?
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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the pull buoy provides some flotations to your hips and legs allowing you to get more streamlined reducing your drag in the water. Less drag = faster times


When your legs get tired, run with your heart
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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Poor body position would be my guess. Most triathletes have shit for ankle flexibility so that's probably causing your hips to ride low, the pullbouy holds them higher in the water so it masks the real problem. Post some video if you can.

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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [realAlbertan] [ In reply to ]
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realAlbertan wrote:
Poor body position would be my guess. Most triathletes have shit for ankle flexibility so that's probably causing your hips to ride low, the pullbouy holds them higher in the water so it masks the real problem. Post some video if you can.


X2

Lay off the pull buoy pretty much 95% of the time. Use it to 'feel' where your body is for a very, very short time and then swim w/o it and try to replicate that feel. Too many tri guys are addicted to pull buoys, fins and paddles. IMO, they use these b/c they can't make the intervals w/o them.

Jamie
Last edited by: JamieJ: Nov 9, 12 1:33
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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i hear ya man! Im a pool buoy addict too. Its pool crack, very hard to kick. See what i did there?
How fast are you in wetsuit swims? I find im about 17seconds/100 faster with a wettie in the ocean than in a pool with the buoy. Which is not the norm i believe?
Last edited by: coates_hbk: Nov 9, 12 3:11
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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As other posters have mentioned, its at least partially about body position. There is probably also another part of it which is that your kick is probably not very efficient or well coordinated with your stroke. The extra work of kicking takes extra energy and is likely not adding much propulsion, resulting in being much more tired. As an even more extreme example, when I do sets with fins, I am a bit faster, but much faster due to the extra effort expended on my kick. Ideally, you would improve your body position and develop a more efficient kick (perhaps even a repertoire of kick patterns). For example, a good two beat kick helps stabilize your stroke, provides a little extra speed and shouldn't tire you out much.

So how do you get there? For me, I found that Finding Freestyle targeted exactly this problem (and on the downside maybe not much more). Alternatively, you can search online for other drills that target some of the issues. For example, swimming with a band around your ankle (the equivalent of pulling with no buoy) may help you learn better body position/balance. Good luck.
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [jbank] [ In reply to ]
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pull buoy addict here as well.

my lower body sinks which i understand is quite common so i use the pull buoy to better replicate the buoyancy of my wetsuit.

i've heard "ditch it" as well as "keep using it".

I figure the times that I will be swimming I will be in a wetsuit so what's the problem.

just my $.02.
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [craig yannuzzi] [ In reply to ]
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Its hard to argue that working on your swim is not the best return on investment, especially if you only do wetsuit swims. Couple of counter points:

1.) You won't always have a wetsuit swim. For example, Eagleman a couple years back was non wetsuit legal after I believe >10 years of wetsuit swims in a row. It shocked me how much this threw people off.
2.) At least some of the improvements in figuring out how to swim w/o a buoy translate to wetsuit swims.
3.) Learning a variety of kick patterns can let you change speeds in a race, which is useful if you want to draft. You may need to go a bit harder for a bit to catch a pack for example. I normally swim with a two beat kick, but can add a four beat or six beat (at the cost of some energy) and get a bit of a speed boost without needing to change my arm turnover much (which tends to tire me even more quickly and screw up my mechanics).
4.) I personally enjoy acquiring new skills, swimming well is a pretty cool skill.
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [jbank] [ In reply to ]
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jbank wrote:

4.) I personally enjoy acquiring new skills, swimming well is a pretty cool skill.


I don't even do triathlons any longer, but my passion for swimming is at least as strong as my fervor for triathlon was 25 years ago. There are zero shortcuts to swimming well and fast, unlike the ability to buy some speed on the bike. Once I choked on my ego and started over like a total newb with the proper foundation it slowly b/c on par with cycling in 'want to do'. In point of fact I swim more frequently and longer than I ever did in the racing days.

I hear lots of friends and tri-geeks complaining about how they can't get any faster, yet none of them want to go to pre-school again and ingrain the proper technique. None of it is hard, just takes time and patience. 'Oh come on that is ridiculous I can't waste time doing that goofy crap.'
Last edited by: tigerpaws: Nov 9, 12 5:08
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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I was exactly where you are, and LOVED the pull buoy. Didn't start swimming seriously until I was 55 (now 59). But I knew it wasn't the correct path to getting faster, and eventually there would be a 70.3 that wasn't wetsuit legal (Kansas last year!). So I knew I had to wean myself off the pull buoy.

Like smoking and chewing tobacco (previously guilty of both, many years ago), the only way to quit is to quit. There's no weaning off or tapering or this or that; just say NO and decide to become a better swimmer.

I found it was about balance more than anything, and reading Total Immersion (the balance portion) was really helpful. Trying to get the feeling of swimming "downhill" was a good visual picture (for me).

Then we found that I was pulling down at the front of my stroke, so some focus on early vertical forearm (or high elbow) lessened the legs getting pushed down as a result.

And there was an element of power, too. I needed to swim more and get stronger. Simple, but effective. Without the engine, all the balance in the world won't make you go forward.

Now swimming 1:20s for most of the sets and know there's 1:15 in my future. n=1
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [ In reply to ]
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I'm getting to a point that I dislike swimming with a pull bouy. My turns are slower and by 150 yds the PB is near my knees anyway :(

Thinking of doing my pull sets (w/paddles) without the PB anymore.

The only time I do like using the PB is for cooling down at the end of the workout.

jaretj
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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It sounds as like those above have said similar things to what I'm about to say but I'll say it anyways. It's because you are terrible at using your feet to propel you in the water, instead of keeping them tight and on top of the water with a little push they are likely being dragged through the water like anchors. Back when I was attempting to do triathlon's I did some swim analysis with a coach what it came down to was a) Your upper body is perfect b) your legs look like they are dying a terrible death. Work on your kicking form more (I had the awesome ability to get on a kick board, kick vigorously and not move forward)

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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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No sugar coating.

Your body position sucks.

You, and I'd bet $500 on this next statement, probably have a crappy stroke as well.

The buoy can mask a lot of things, but your are only fooling yourself by using it.

Brian Stover
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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One of the best drills I ever found for body position is boardless kicking. Lie flat in the water, hands down at your side. Now, kick. You learn better body position and balance pretty quickly...or you drown :p Seriously, though...it helped tremendously, and I always did at least 100-200 meters of it every workout, just to keep that feel.


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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [joroshiba] [ In reply to ]
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I actually went backwards when I first tried a kickboard.
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [desert dude] [ In reply to ]
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desert dude wrote:
No sugar coating.

Your body position sucks.

You, and I'd bet $500 on this next statement, probably have a crappy stroke as well.

The buoy can mask a lot of things, but your are only fooling yourself by using it.

This should be put on a sticky and never leave the top of the forum.
Jamie
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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Get rid of the pull buoy, I've coached numerous triathletes that become toy addicts in the pool, buoy's, flippers, paddles, etc.... for everyone saying well you race in a wetsuit that aides in flotation so keep using your buoy they are addicts themselves. I've been swimming for 38 years, and I'm 40 yup since I was 2. Toys should make up no more than 10% of your workout. The idea behind pull buoy's are to isolate your legs when using paddles in order to maintain/teach proper hand/arm technique, that's it. They increase drag (no clue why people are saying they decrease it) So you are actually working harder using it. The fact that you're slower without it leads me to believe a few things, you're probably kicking too hard/much and too deep in the water from your knees down. A good flutter kick starts at the hips, with long straight legs and ankle/foot nice and pointed like a gymnast. Without seeing video of you I'd suggest finding a good coach to help with technique. Freestyle is 80% arms/shoulder/upper body, 20% legs... any more from your legs ends up in a waste of energy. Again, sounds like you need a good technique coach to help you out.

"You can't win the race on the swim, but you can LOSE it."
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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I agree with everyone else that the buoy is covering up body position errors.

Unlike others, I don't think the root of your problem has anything to do with your kick. It comes from lifting your head to breathe.

In order to lift your head to breathe, you push down toward the bottom with your leading hand, that in turn puts a torque on your body that makes your legs sink.

In my experience I can get someone with poor plantar flexion to swim with good body lines pretty easily, get them to keep their head low when swimming. But plenty of people with excellent plantar flexion have bad body lines because they lift their heads to breathe.
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [realAlbertan] [ In reply to ]
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How does ankle flexibility relate to hip position? I have been working on my ankle flexibility with stretching, but the changes have been slow. Are you supposed to feel the kick more in your ankles?

Swimming is worse than golf!
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [Kevin in MD] [ In reply to ]
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Kevin in MD wrote:
It comes from lifting your head to breathe.

In order to lift your head to breathe, you push down toward the bottom with your leading hand, that in turn puts a torque on your body that makes your legs sink.

Lightbulb moment ^^^^^
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Re: Can only swim efficiently w/Pull Buoys...Why? [patrickg] [ In reply to ]
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Original poster here again! A million thanks for all of the helpful suggestions. I am sure that my stroke AND body position suck in general. I am NOT a real swimmer. There's no doubt in my mind that I am faking it out there with the pull buoy. I try to warm up 500 y w/o it and do some sets just swimming, but I find it very hard to go back and forth between them. I am addicted to it now and my swimming technique ( as much as I have) seems totally adapted to the pull buoy.

I also agree that it must be a crutch for me that masks generally weak upper body strength or conditioning (although I can easily do a 100 mile type bike ride solo over 20 mph avg). As a former competitive cyclist, I am built almost totally opposite to the classic, long, lean swimmer whose upper body is way more developed than his legs. Since so much of my body mass and strength is in my legs (relative to my upper body which is fairly slight), I am guessing that I am either sinking below the waist too much in the water line w/o the pull buoy or it just takes a lot of aerobic energy to keep them afloat by flutter kicking.

The point one of you made about the head/neck position being wrong is also interesting, since I was definitely battling some stiff neck issues when I first got back into swimming (but less and less since I rely on the pull buoy).

I am only swimming about 6,000 y a week total also which is not a huge amount. I would like to up the yardage and decrease the intensity, but I find that in my longer or low intensity (in cycling we might call it "tempo") sets, I get bogged down at too low a speed which seems really inefficient (and boring!) and I don't feel like my stroke is any better when I am consciously swimming slower w/o pull buoys.
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