Coach favorite: the pull buoy

by Coach Sam

Pull buoys are a great tool for beginning and advanced swimmers alike. These floating training devices can be used in a variety of formats and functions to both aid and advance a swimmer’s ability. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to it for use while working on freestyle.

When choosing to purchase a pull buoy, I would recommend any of the soft foam formed versions over the two cylinders and a rope type, like what Purdue has. If do you have to use one of these, make sure that the rope is adjusted so the buoy nestles comfortably against the legs, but does not move or wiggle as you swim down the pool.

Types of pull buoys. Image credit:

The basic function of the pull buoy is to allow the legs to float without kicking allowing the swimmer to focus entirely on their arm strokes. The buoy should be as high as is comfortable between the legs and the swimmer should not kick. Kicking with a pull buoy in place often leads to a habit of kicking from the knees so that the buoy remains in place. If it is found that the legs are dragging with the buoy in place, recheck the head and torso position and see if the problem can be corrected through rebalancing either by looking down at the bottom of the pool, or pressing the chest into the water.

Beginning swimmers, especially triathletes who race with wetsuits, can become too dependent on the buoy to keep their body position, often saying, “I don’t kick during a race, I don’t need to in my workouts”.

Using the buoy should really only ever take up 30% of the workout at the most; swimming should take the majority of the time and distance, while kicking, pulling and drills should generally be in the minority. A good body position without our swimming toys is the foundation for a fast and efficient swim, but using those toys can help the body learn what that position feels like, and that is a good thing!

Swimming with the buoy allows the swimmer to concentrate on their stroke and body rotation. With the extra buoyancy, a swimmer now has extra energy to focus on the catch, pull, and finish of the arm stroke.

Because  the feet are still with a pull buoy, body rotation becomes dependent entirely on core strength and can show inefficiencies in the swimmer’s form. As coaches, we are looking that the rotation occurs around the spine like an axis and the feet don’t waggle side to side behind the body like a shark’s tail. Keep the core engaged and work to be on the edge of your body as you pull through.

Another drill to do with the pull buoy is to switch its position. Place the buoy between the knees or ankles to create a different feel and balance to work with. Finis also makes a pull buoy that is designed to go between the ankles and is much easier to hold in place since it attaches onto the ankles.

The Finis Axis buoy is easy to hold in place because it attaches to both ankles. Image credit:

A pull buoy is an excellent tool to help any level of swimmer improve their technique and power. When used correctly and regularly, the buoy can build core strength, stroke awareness, and an appreciation for a consistent kick, leading to a stronger and faster swim.


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