These two pieces of kit probably create more debate in the world of Triathlon than any other. ‘I need my legs for the bike and run, why would I use them in the swim?’ I hear that a lot. Also. ‘My legs are tired from a bike session this morning; can I use my Pull buoy?’ The way I see it, yes we need the legs for the bike and run but to overload the arms in a race will equally leave you quite drained. Try to pull a long distance FC swim and despite the arms creating more effective levers at a lower energy cost, if they work too hard they can elevate the heart rate. You definitely don’t want a bad kick working hard, that definitely will leave you tired on the bike. I like the idea of the whole body contributing to a balanced body position and forward momentum so that no one particular area is working too hard. Things go wrong because it is so easy to get the kick wrong and create fatigue. On a daily basis during lessons I see people kicking badly creating drag and imbalance, using them to stabilise a poor body position. Most are horrified when we play back their video and they see the scale of the kick. 99% admit they had no idea their leg kick was so big. A good, narrow, streamlined kick within the full stroke FC should not fatigue you a great deal. Legs only for 25m will probably exhaust most and should not really be the measure of whether you spend the rest of your swim career with a Pull buoy between your legs.
My advice? make Your Pull Buoy part of your swim training, don’t let it become your swim technique. If you are tired from an earlier run or bike then ok, perform more pulling but don’t become dependent on it. Better still I would prefer you in a Swimthin Wetsuit giving a slight amount of added buoyancy to make your swim easier but still allowing you to perform the full stroke. Most senior coaches in the world of pure swimming put a limit of about 20% swim accessory usage into a swim session. I would say given how Triathlon is a sport of 3 disciplines and invariably due to constraints on pool time we need some more flexibility with this as most will always arrive at the pool tired.
With the pull buoy up between the thighs it is still possible to work the Hamstrings and kick from the knee. Many do this oblivious to drag and extra work being done. Occasionally mix up the pull buoy position and place it between the ankles (still with toes pointed backwards and not to the bottom of the pool) so that the legs really cannot kick. Adding a band around the ankles stops the legs kicking but if you rely on this too much you will never get to learn a correct leg movement. With a Pull buoy at the ankles you get the core engaged far more as you work to keep the hips up through focusing on your body position. There are also some nice movements from the world of Pilates and Yoga that can help learn the correct swim kick movements. Whether on Dryland or in the water, it all helps to overwrite a bad leg kick position and ingrain a new one.
Be careful of using both Pull buoy and Paddles too much though. I have heard how Top Age Group Triathletes in an attempt to hurry their swim development have been left confused when being tested on their bikes in the wind tunnel. As a result of too much time with both paddles and pull buoy, extra drag had been created since the last test leaving the experts confused as to where this had come from. Due to a lot of pulling with large paddles shoulder size had actually increased messing with their bike position and aero position.