The Other Reason You're Faster With A Pull Buoy

Most (but not all) swimmers find swimming with a pull-buoy between their legs faster or easier. The main reason is that the extra buoyancy helps keep your legs higher in the water, reducing drag. But there is second reason why.

Swimming with a pull buoy forces you to keep your legs together and so stops scissor kicks occurring when you swim. Swimmers with a scissor kick very rarely appreciate they part their legs in this manner but doing so creates a huge amount of drag akin to opening up a parachute behind you:

This is a very common problem but is sometimes missed by coaches on the pool deck as it happens so quickly within the stroke and the low viewing angle from the pool deck can make it difficult to spot. In fact on our recent clinic series 48% of swimmers had a significant scissor kick in their stroke that was easily spotted when viewed from overhead video analysis.

Fixing Scissor Kicks

A scissor kick is caused by a loss of balance, normally whilst breathing. The loss of balance is caused by your lead hand crossing the centre line in front of the head:

The scissor kick stabilises you again a fraction of a second later and stops you rolling onto your back. You probably won't even be aware you're parting your legs because at that moment all you're thinking about is 'give me air!':

The key to fixing a scissor kick is to remove the crossover of your lead hand whilst you are breathing. An excellent drill to work on removing the crossover is kicking on your side with fins on, drawing your shoulder blades together and back to bring the lead arm straight. You can find out more about that exercise on our DVDs and in our book, or on this blog post.

Once you've removed the crossover the scissor kick can sometimes linger on as a habit, so as you swim visualise keeping your legs straight and toes pointed, kicking from the hip. As you kick, make sure the big toes brush past each other in a nice rhythm 'tap tap tap'.

Give these exercises a go even if you don't think you have a scissor kick in your stroke. You may be surprised at what you find!

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

Why do I find the opposite? I really struggle to stop my legs sinking with the pull buoy and find that by the end of the 25m my toes are scraping along the bottom of the shallow end.

Adam Young said...

Hi Wayne, did you have super muscle-y legs? Also, what's your ankle flexibility like, if you can't point your toes this will add a lot of drag and pull your legs downwards, even with a pull buoy.

John G. said...

By coincidence, I noticed something similar this morning. While alternating 200s pull and free focused on bilateral breathing (I am diligently trying to break the single sided breathing habit), I noticed that squeezing my legs gently to hold the buoy in place kept my legs more streamlined and helped better engage my core. It was one of those rare flashes of swimming insight (for me anyway) and gives me one more thing to focus on when swimming freestyle.

By the way, I have both of your DVD sets and recently purchased the book. They, along with your blog, are very helpful tools. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Can you tell me what is the optimal distance that the feet should be apart at the end of the kick through the vertical plane.

Adam Young said...

Hi John, great keep up the good work!

Hi unknown, it depends a bit on the individual and what distance you are swimming and how hard you are choosing to kick. Also whether you are using a two beat or six beat kick - the former tends to have a wider amplitude. Anywhere between 8 and 24 inches as a guide.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment Adam, I have been a runner for years and because of this my ankle flexibility is terrible. I think I could also describe my legs as 'solid'. I have been trying to improve the flexibility with fin drills but now you mention it I am probably less likely to try to point my toes when using the buoy. Something to consider during my next session. I also get no propolsion from my legs when using a kickboard!

Coach Brad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coach Brad said...

I am with Wayne on this. I have started to attain some slight propulsion, but not nearly what the swimmers get. It is a little better after continuing to muscle through kick-board drills. At least I no longer go backward. LOL!

Adam Young said...

Hi Ian and IronGoof,

Both you guys sounds like you'd also benefit from a little kicking technique work too. You're not looking for propulsion, just to give you some lift at the back of your stroke and to avoid creating drag.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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