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Training

Swim Training: Pull Buoy Basics

Learn how a pull buoy can help you become a better swimmer, which pull buoy to buy, and three of our favorite pull buoy workouts.

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Learn how a pull buoy can help you become a better swimmer.

What is a pull buoy?

A pull buoy is an hourglass shaped piece of dense foam, Styrofoam, or hard plastic that is held between the upper thighs while swimming. The correct term is “pull buoy,” not “pool buoy.” 

What does a pull buoy do?

The buoy is extremely buoyant and designed to provide flotation for your lower body and legs. The use of a buoy removes the need for kicking, so you must focus on your underwater arm pulls to continue moving through the water. It is easier to swim when wearing a buoy because the added flotation improves your body position, reduces drag, and allows you to move faster through the water.

What pull buoy should I use?

There are three sizes of pull buoys: junior (for small children), regular (most buoys fall in this range), and swimrun (very large and designed for swimrun races). Start with a regular-sized buoy made from soft, closed-cell foam. The most ergonomic design is an hourglass-shaped buoy with one side larger than the other. It is the easiest to hold between your thighs when worn with the larger side towards the bottom of the pool. Novice swimmers should master the basic version before using one with additional features like pull-kick, ankle buoys, or adjustable flotation.

Top three pull buoys for triathletes:

Why should I use a pull buoy?

The buoy is a tool for triathletes to improve stroke mechanics and strength in the water. Wear a buoy to swim easier and focus on your upper body technique: head position, breathing pattern, arm strokes, torso rotation, etc. You can swim slower and do stroke drills with a buoy while not worrying about sinking or overusing your legs. 

A buoy will reduce the amount of work your legs are doing so you can maximize the effort with your arms. This is helpful for swim workouts after big bike or run sessions when your legs are tired. Hand paddles are often used in tandem with a buoy to put even more emphasis on arm strength.  

The added buoyancy with a pull buoy between your legs also mimics the body position achieved when wearing a wetsuit. Many triathletes train with a pull buoy in chlorinated pools to prepare for cold-water races without overusing their wetsuit.

Three basic pull buoy workouts to get you started:

Pull Set #1

Warm Up: 

300 swim/200 with buoy/100 kick

Main Set:

200 easy with buoy, 4 x 50 fast swim

200 easy with buoy, 3 x 50 fast swim

200 easy with buoy, 2 x 50 fast swim

200 easy with buoy, 1 x 50 fast swim

Cool Down:

100 choice

 

Pull Set #2

Warm Up:

500 swim easy.

Main Set:

6 x 200 as 50 fast swim/150 easy with buoy

Cool Down:

300 as 50 kick/50 swim/repeat

 

Pull Set #3

Warm Up:

200 swim/200 with buoy/200 with paddles/200 with kickboard

Main set:

600 with buoy (300 easy/300 faster)

400 with buoy (200 easy/200 faster)

200 with buoy (100 easy/100 faster)

Cool Down:

100 non-free