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Top coaches like Siri Lindley and Brett Sutton have their athletes swim using a band nearly every practice. Swimming with a band around your ankles prohibits you from kicking, and mimics the stroke you need in open-water swimming—a quick tempo and deep (not long) entry into the water. “It forces someone who’s a non-swimmer to find a way to keep [his or her] legs afloat,” Lindley says. “It ups your stroke rate, and in order to keep the legs afloat you have to have a strong finish.” Your catch has to be strong enough and turnover fast enough to avoid sinking legs. If you haven’t tried using one, start at level one and progress to level three to incorporate strength sets into your pool workouts.
Just like any new training element, begin gradually. Use the band in combination with a pull buoy to start, and do only 25s or 50s. Try a set like 20×25 on 20 seconds rest. “The good thing about 25s is that you get to reset and get your mind thinking about what you want to do,” Lindley says. “Try to perfect swimming as efficiently as you can.”
From there, do every fourth 25 fast to increase your stroke rate. Be careful not to lose your strong finish when you increase cadence, which you’ll notice if your toes are dragging against the bottom.
Once you’ve mastered the pull buoy and band, get rid of the buoy for an added challenge. “As you perfect that, you can seriously see a relationship between getting better and stronger at band work and your speed and efficiency while just swimming,” Lindley says.
Lindley’s athletes, such as Jodie Swallow and Mirinda Carfrae, tie a towel to their bands to add more resistance, which other athletes also do with a sponge. “The towel soaks up water and makes it harder and heavier,” Lindley says. “Along with reinforcing a good catch and stroke rate, you’re also building a lot of strength.”
Get a flat on your bike? Save that tube! Tie it into a small circle tight enough to hold your feet together so you can’t use them to kick.