Swimming With a Band Isn't Easy But Great For Your Swimming

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Improving Your Rhythm And Timing With A Band

If you've ever tried swimming with a rubber band around your ankles you'll know it can be hard work. But used in the right way - and with the right focus - it can be an insightful way to help develop your stroke.

Swimming with a band isn't supposed to be easy so you have to mentally set aside the difficulty of the exercise. Once you've done that, using a band comes into its own as it gives you immediate feedback as you work on different areas of your stroke. Improve your technique and you will feel the benefits straight away as your legs lift upwards and you pick up speed. In particular it helps develop good rhythm and timing in your stroke, perfect for triathlon and open water swimming in particular.

A band (sometimes also called a strap) should lightly fit around your ankles which will hold your feet together, stopping you kicking. It will also add some drag at the back of your stroke, which will pull the feet downwards in the water, making things more difficult than swimming normally.

You can buy bands from swim shops (such as this one from Finis) or make your own by cutting up an old car or bike inner tube:

Swimming With A Band

A band tends to pull your legs downwards which in turn can reduce the amount of rotation in your stroke. Higher drag and reduced rotation can increase the load on your shoulders so we strongly suggest limiting the distance you swim whilst wearing one. 8x 50m is a sensible maximum for a single session, even for advanced swimmers.

Treat swimming with a band like a drill, swimming over short distances of 25 or 50m at a time. The idea is to swim quickly with good rhythm and focus on areas of your stroke which will stop the legs sinking lower in the water. We suggest starting with 4x 25m with 15 seconds rest between each 25m, building up the distance slowly as you become more competent wearing it.

Watch Paul demonstrating how it should (and shouldn't!) be done below. Paul makes this look quite easy but that's because he has a good stroke technique with good rhythm and timing :

 Try focusing on the following areas yourself:

- Make sure you are exhaling smoothly into the water to reduce the buoyancy in your chest and help bring your legs upwards.

- Try breathing less frequently than normal (e.g. every 5 strokes) to give you more time to get rid of the air in your lungs.

- Stretch through the core, lifting your rib cage away from your hips. This will improve your core stability and hold you higher in the water. More on doing that here.

- Point your toes behind you and turn your feet slightly inwards so the big toes touch.

- Keep your head low in the water when you breathe, with one eye under the water, one out. We sometimes call this the "split screen view" as you should be able to see under and above the water at the same time:

- Focus on a good catch, pressing the water back behind you with good rhythm. A poor catch presses downwards on the water (or forwards and away from you), this lifts you up at the front and sinks your legs.

- Swim with a continuous rhythm without any deadspots or pauses in your stroke. A pause will cause you to stall in the water so that you start to sink (you can see this happen in the clip of Paul above). More continuous propulsion overcomes the resistance of the band and keeps you moving forwards effectively, just like it does in open water.

Some men (particularly Arnies) have very lean muscular legs that are very sinky in the water. If this is you, try placing a small pull buoy between your legs whilst wearing a band to rebalance you slightly. Make sure it's a small pull buoy though, a large one will make things too easy and give you nothing to focus on to improve, defeating the object of the exercise.

When To Use It

Swimming with a band is a good exercise to add into a drill set or open water skills session. When you become proficient at it you can use bands in group exercises too, drafting close to other swimmers and racing over short distances. It's not easy but can be very beneficial to your swimming, particularly if you want to perform better in open water.

Swim Smooth!


Exergenie® Swimming said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Exergenie® Swimming said...

Your advice to swimmers to 'stretch through the core' when swimming freestyle goes against all the latest research on the topic...
Recent research by Dr. Tim Henrich (presented at BMS 2010 in Norway) found that contracting/ stretching the abdominal muscles when swimming decreases pulmonary function.

Pioneering work by Dr. Jan Clarys (one of the world's leading biomechanists for over three decades) showed that more skilled swimmers only used muscles critical for an activity, while less skilled swimmers also activated nonessential muscles.

An increased effort is more likely to improve performance if there no negative aspects from actions that increase resistance or fatigue.

Exer-Genie® Swimming

Paul said...

Ah Tony, we "meet" again!

I see you have repetitively put up and taken back down your comments about training with bands "not being anything new" and that you're "still waiting to see something new from us" - whilst these are rather egocentric comments from someone who's last blog post on swimming was over 9 months ago, you'll actually realise that nowhere in the above article do we claim this to be new...we're just trying to offer useful insight to swimmers around the world who might not have seen or heard of this before. You even agreed that you used them yourself in one of your first soon-to-be-removed posts:

Quote Tony Macguiness: "Swimmers have been using bands in their training since the late 60's this is not new.

My swimmers use bands on there own or to anchor their pull buoy in place which is known as "pull-buoy low" swimming.

Still waiting to see a post that is new from you guys! Bet you will not dare publish this comment!"

...seems I didn't have to worry about that - you took it down yourself...twice!

Criticise away by all means if that serves to boost your own ego, however, with the average "lifespan" of a triathlete within the sport being somewhere between 2.5 and 4 years, even though bands HAVE been around since the 60s, there's a good chance many of our readers wouldn't know about them - I'm personally born in 1978 - was I supposed to innately know about them when I started my competitive swimming in 1985? Of course not, how absurd! I learnt from my coach as he had learnt from his - passing on knowledge is what good coaches do mate and this is what we're doing week in, week out - how about you? As London's self-proclaimed swimming and coaching "specialist" Tony, what exactly are you putting "out there" to help the greater good of swimming??

On your more "useful" comment above about stretching through the abdominals going against all current research, I agree in part about stretching so tightly that a swimmer restricts their ability to breathe properly, however, as a beneficial coaching method and visualisation for a swimmer, we have seen this tip working literally thousands of times with our swimmers all around the world in clinics, 1-2-1 sessions and squad training practices. You'll forgive me then for actively promoting something which we've seen working empircally time and time again.

Research of course is useful if applied properly in a practical sense (you know that Tony as you claim to "focus on combining the art and science of swimming" on your website) but if you sit behind it incessantly at the detriment of ever offering anything of use to anyone then I'm afraid that I disagree with your high-horse standpoint. Sadly I saw this time and again on my Sport & Exercise Science degree course at Bath University ('97-'01) - research is fine if you can apply it (and more importantly *communicate* it) with those athletes that you are working with, but if you can't or worse still overly-complicate things, then in my humble opinion it's of limited use to anyone.

Can I offer a frank suggestion Tony? Rather than incessantly choose to criticise others with methods that clearly work for significant cohorts and has been used since 2010 by your own country's triathlon governing body as their entire swim coaching curriculum, you actually put yourself out there and offer something of use rather than trying to self-promote your own website with cheap shots which don't benefit anyone. So please, update that Blog, get writing more frequently than every 9+ months and hopefully some others will benefit from your insight too.



Anonymous said...

Wow I have never seen a more arrogant reply to a post before in my life and extremely defensive considering the post by Tony was doing nothing more than 'passing on knowledge from other coaches' that by the sounds of things would be beneficial to your current teachings.

Perhaps it is about time other coaches started posting comments like tony has onto your blogs! I personally am sick and tired of correcting strokes of those who are applying your teachings or have attended a swim smooth course, perhaps this is not you fault Mr Newsone as you can't monitor all coaches on your team!

A great coach realises that things change and tradition isn't what moves us forward Tony whom I have met many times is a firm believer of this.

There is t anything in the comment left by Tony that is being derogatory or rude it quite simply states that you may need to re evaluate what you have stated in the blog, yet you deem it appropriate to be slanderous towards a great coach!!

You have done a great job branding other people's teachings into a product and it makes my blood boil when someone like yourself comes back at annother coach with the comme t you have made.

I am from the westcountry and I am ashamed that Bath university, somewhere that I hold in great esteem, has produced a coach who can be so unsportsmanlike.

Advice to you no one is ever at the top of the game when it comes down to coaching because it is forever changing arena with new teachings coming out weekly, use comments like tony's to better your content rather than blooding people with smoke and mirrors

Paul said...

Hi Anonymous,

First, given the strength of your personal criticism towards SS/me, I'd really appreciate knowing your name so that we can discuss this personally. I think that's only fair.

> There isn't anything in the comment left by Tony that is being derogatory or rude it quite simply states that you may need to re evaluate what you have stated in the blog, yet you deem it appropriate to be slanderous towards a great coach!!

Unfortunately the comment-chain above is incomplete because Tony has deleted several inflammatory posts of his which I was responding to criticising Swim Smooth, how he's never seen anything new from us and then daring us to publish the comments (oh the irony, he deleted them himself).

You might also be unaware that myself and Tony have a little history where he has been extremely critical of our Swim Type system, claiming it is just a series of "barnum statements" or subjective validation rather than being evidenced-based in nature and how we should take down and rescind the whole system for his own methods. This despite it being hugely successful both in helping individual swimmers improve their swimming but also in spreading the idea of individuality in swimming across the swimming world. I'm personally very proud of the swim types model and the wider recognition it receives. Ironically enough Tony applied to join our Swim Smooth Coaches Network back in early 2011 citing how forward-thinking we were in comparison to other swim coaching outfits.

> I personally am sick and tired of correcting strokes of those who are applying your teachings or have attended a swim smooth course, perhaps this is not you fault Mr Newsone as you can't monitor all coaches on your team!

Again, please could you tell me your name, who you are coaching and specifically what you have seen with the swimmers so that we can discuss this properly.

> You have done a great job branding other people's teachings into a product...

Every coach is a product of the coaches that have influenced him or her over the years. I've always been very clear to state who my influences were (are) and equally how I have generated my unique ideas (i.e. Swim Types) based on my own empirical observations since I started coaching in 1997.

The blog is a huge amount of work to produce and we operate it totally for free. It's a great free offering and this is reflected in the fact that it has over 85,000 readers every week now. I can't reconcile this with the idea that we are branding things for our own benefit, we could easily charge for so much of what we give away for free if we liked. We never claimed to create or invent the use of bands, we’d just like to help explain to swimmers how to use them best with our reach and audience.

> Advice to you no one is ever at the top of the game when it comes down to coaching because it is forever changing arena with new teachings coming out weekly, use comments like tony's to better your content rather than blooding people with smoke and mirrors

The notion that we are in stasis because we don't change and respond to every new research article that is put out there is not ignorance on our part but considered evaluation of what we know will work and what won't within our program. Every good coach will take their influences and make sense of them in a manner appropriate to their own experiences on pool deck. No one has re-written freestyle - the fact that we choose to actively do something to pass on this knowledge using the blog is no different to a local coach making a living from passing on his learned wisdom to his or her brood of athletes.


Philippe V. said...

Thank you for your post, I found it very useful.

In your book I already read about the exercise with bands, but thought I’d wait a bit. I thought the exercise would be too difficult given my level.

This last week-end at a friend’s pool (10m long), I decided why not just try swimming without kicking, as I remembered the blog post, trying to simulate the exercise with a band.

What I found was that I had to keep my head lower while breathing for my legs not to sink too much. This is great! I feel breathing is what is holding me back most in freestyle, especially because of sinking legs.

I never expected this type of exercise would help me realise just how much I could keep my head low and still get the air I needed. I was forced to adapt and it worked! Can’t wait to try it with real bands in a 25 m pool.

Thanks again!


Adam Young said...

Hi Philippe,

Great - glad the exercise is proving useful to you! Let us know how you go with a real band. :)

Cheers, Adam

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul we love SwimSmooth here in the US. Not sure who this sour grapes MacGuinness character is, but was just sharing this blog link with a friend and read the commentary. I have 12 IM's under my belt and was stuck at a 55:49 best for my swim split, wetsuit aided. Until I fixed my body position with the aid of stretching through my core I was stuck pushing a half inflated raft through the water. My body line is elongated now throughout the entire stroke cycle and now I'm a kayak. Swam a 53:08 PR in May WITHOUT a wetsuit!

FWIW we had a swim clinic with 2 former Olympians whom I will not mention so as to keep out of this mud slinging brought on by this MacGuinness fellow. Both of the swimmers re-iterated a few different times how essential core posturing and elongating was to keep what they referred to as an 'aquatic posture' intact. Not that I didn't believe you already, but it drove home the point when a man and woman who swam at the top of the game shared the same sentiments. And they each had a medal to prove it!

David Carrington said...

Hi Adam/Paul - I don't know if you ever look back over old posts and don't blame you for avoid checking comments on this one.
I tried swimming 4x25 lengths with a band last week for the first time and didn't do very well. Towards the end of each length I was dragging my feet on the floor at the shallow end and learning how to drown at the deep end! I am probably the most sinky-legged skinny person ever to attempt the drill (6'2" 11 stone 5 ). The only way I could complete a length was to take a deep breath and burn the 25m while still holding my breath. I know you won't approve of that. Can you offer advice to help me and other sinky swimmers get through the drill.

PS I like the blog and read it and the Swim Smooth book avidly. Keep up the great work!

Cyndy@swimsmooth said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the compliments. This is arguably one of the toughest drills out there, as it requires a really good level of feel for the water, relatively high stroke rate, good core posture and flexible ankles to keep your toes pointed. Try to think about holding your core stable, squeezing your butt and pointing your toes to keep those legs up. With practice you'll get there!

Jane said...

Hi, thanks for this article (and the rather interesting posts thereafter :) ). I thought the idea of a swim band was to allow some kicking but with a smaller more controlled movement. I tend to kick out wide especially when I rotate to breathe and thought this might help prevent me from doing this but still allow me to kick. Looking at the video and reading the article, the swim band appears to prevent all movement. Please could you advise. Many thanks. Jane.

Cyndy@swimsmooth said...

Hi Jane,

Some people use the band to restrict their legs from moving, but really the point is being able to swim freestyle effectively without the use of your legs at all, and being consciously able to switch them off in this way. Still allowing some kick will not enable you to achieve the best results with this drill. As you get better at the drill and your catch and stroke rate improve your legs will naturally lift.

It seems you are experiencing what we call a scissor kick. You can read more about what causes that here from our blog a couple of weeks ago: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2014/03/scissor-kicks-are-caused-by-crossovers.html

Hope that helps and your swimming is going well!

Unknown said...

I know this post is a little old, but thanks for posting it. I am new to swimming and am trying to get in shape to swim greater distances. I had read articles that mention band training, but didn't know what it was (I was thinking Rock Band on the Wii!). Thanks for the details and the video, eventually I will try the band.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this post and it was really effective for my every night pool training.

It was not easy from the start but now we're like sweethearts that we missed each other whenever I take it off after 8 laps of 70m.

Namaste coach Paul!


Unknown said...

Hi Robert- Keep working on your catch and pull through and you'll soon find using the band gets easier! Give it a go!

Hi Anonymous- You're welcome, glad you two are becoming acquainted! ;-)

scott said...

Just failed at my first attempt to use a band, and found your article. Thanks for the tips. Next week I hope it is easier.


Unknown said...

HI Scott,

You're welcome, just keep your arm turnover nice and fast and your catch and pull through strong, with the distance small!

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

Hi Paul and SS,

I've been following your websites and videos and I found them very useful.
Thank you so much!
Today I was referred by my coach to try this drill and boy it was hard!
I was swimming vertically!
Anyway, I will try this drill again and hopefully I can get my legs up. In this lifetime I hope. :)

Once again, thank you.


Adam Young said...

Hi Guntur,

Yes it's not easy that's for sure. If your legs are very low you could try using a small pull buoy to bring them up a touch but it must be a small one!



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