Paddles and Pull Buoys: Useful Swimming Tools or Crutches?

Reader Alfred R. wrote into the Swim Speed Secrets Facebook Page with a question about paddles and pull buoys. Here’s the gist of his question: Is it okay for swimmers to use paddles and pull buoys?

Many swim and triathlon coaches question their use. Some view these tools as crutches. Others believe they can benefit swimmers when used properly. Still others think that tools can help or harm swim technique depending on the experience level and technique of the swimmer.

Alfred asks: As a beginning swimmer, I figured the pull buoy would help me focus on the catch and pull rather than concentrating on body position.

He also asks about paddles: If I’m focusing on the high-elbow catch and the pull, will using hand paddles help me build strength in the same way dry-land swim tubing?

And Sheila replies:


A pull buoy is a good option for working on the high-elbow catch some of the time, and paddles can be fine for the more experienced swimmer.

The concern I have with paddles is the same with fins — paddles interfere with your feel for the water rather than allowing you to search for traction with your own hand and forearm.

So, I am in favor of a swimmer using pull buoys for a few sets, but paddles should be used only by more experienced swimmers who already understand resistive friction with their own limbs. Once a swimmer has developed a feel with his/her own limbs, paddles can be added to some pull or swim sets to train power and strength. I just do not want a swimmer to use them as a crutch to feel water.

Only use a pull buoy for some of the sets (maybe half the sets). Try to get the high elbow without using the pull buoy, which will require you to hold tone in your body core, even if you do short sets (400-500 yards/meters) or short repeats (25s or 50s).

I’m working on a new book Swim Speed Workouts (coming early spring 2013) that will give specific guidance on swimming workouts to develop the technique described in Swim Speed Secrets. Swim Speed Workouts will explain the high elbow and feel in more detail, features workouts to develop technique, and will lay out the next steps of body tone and core power.

I am glad you are enjoying the Swim Speed Secrets. Cheering for you!

Sheila T.

In Swim Speed Secrets, 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, and triathlon world champion Sheila Taormina reveals the swim technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers. Find new speed in the water with Swim Speed Secrets.