‘Off-Label’ Uses For Your Everyday Swim Equipment

Swimmers drag their bags of gear to and from the pool, day in and day out. Kick boards, snorkels, paddles – the latest and greatest in-pool technology to help us swim our fastest. Of course each piece of gear has its intended purpose, but what about thinking of completely different ways of incorporating equipment into your workout?

Let’s re-think some of our training tools and throw some off-label uses into our workouts in the name of changing things up, but with a purpose.

Kick boards

  • Sit-On-Board-Sculling:  Just as it sounds, swimmers sit on their kick boards, legs either dangling down or clutched together under the board, while sculling with their arms out in front. Swimmers can concentrate on feeling the water, while also necessarily engaging core muscles to stay steady on the board.
  • Rudder Drill: I’ve seen this called ‘sailboat drill’ as well. Swimmers put the board between their thighs, half in/half out, oriented vertically. Proceed with sets of 25s or 50s freestyle, feeling how your core muscles are engaged to help control hip rotation. The board actually creates resistance in your hip rotation, helping swimmers maintain the connection between their cores and legs.
  • Kick board Wars: So much fun, yet so much effort as well. Two swimmers face each other with a board oriented horizontally between them. Each swimmer has arms outstretched in a prone body position and they kick at maximum effort while keeping the board steady. In effect, the swimmers try to “push” the other swimmer in a backward direction or over the starting point to win the war. Try different time spans (a minute usually works well) and, depending on squad size, you can bracket the group down to one master champion.
  • Kayak Drill: Every time I see this drill written, it’s attributed to the University of Michigan’s Mike Bottom. The idea is to use your kick board as a paddle, whereby, while on his back, the swimmer grabs each end of the board and uses it to essentially push water towards the feet. The right arm enters the water first on when pushing water on the right and the left arm goes in first when pushing water on your left. Arms recover just as they would in backstroke. This is effective in reinforcing the core-to-arm connection.

Pull Buoy

  • As a Kick board: Simple enough! Don’t have your traditional kick board handy? Or want something a little smaller, say, if you’re travelling? Just outstretch your body behind your buoy and, voilá.
  • Flipturn Device: No matter if you’re a beginner or a seasoned swimmer, everyone can brush up on flipturn mechanics periodically to keep things sharp. Pull buoys can actually help in this area by keeping arms at bay during the flip. Try standing in the shallow end and extend both arms behind you, a buoy in each hand, with your elbows locked. Begin kicking toward the wall with arms kept extended behind you and simply flip straight over. Having your hands “buoyed” forces you to turn more with your abs, rather than relying on your arms to get around the tuck. If you’ve done the turn correctly, your arms (with buoys still in hands) wind up above your head.


  • Catch-up Tool: You may have seen drills where swimmers use either a short stick as a means to hold an arm out in front when performing the ‘catch-up’ drill. Well, in case the mood strikes to do an effective catch-up and you don’t have spare PVC pipe hanging around, just use your snorkel. Extend one arm out in front of your body while holding on to the snorkel horizontally. Then, as you continue swimming freestyle, switch the snorkel from one hand to the other at the furthest point of extension. If you’re doing this right, the NON-stroking arm is the one holding the snorkel. Having something physical to grab onto and let go of helps swimmers immediately initiate their catch early on.


  • Head-On Drill: Also referred to as the ‘top hat drill’, this involves swimmers placing a paddle at the crown of their heads and simply swimming freestyle, all the while pushing the paddle in front of them. In order to maintain water pressure to keep the paddle in front of your head, you’ll need to maintain a straight body and head position during your swim. You’ll get immediate feedback if you tend to lift your head while breathing, or if your head moves around too much while swimming, as the paddle will drift off and you’ll find it difficult to maintain control of it in front.
  • One & One: Change things up in the form of using just one paddle at a time, which is most effective with putting on just one fin on the opposite leg than the paddle. Having a paddle on one hand and a fin on the opposite leg helps work on core strength and enforces a balanced stroke. The fin helps drive the opposite arm into the water, helping the swimming feel his/her counter-rotation effects.

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About Loretta Race

Loretta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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