I haven’t blogged about swimming (or anything much, come to think of it) since I completed my open water challenge and met my fundraising target for Barnardo’s. But this week I discovered the amazingly addictive (free!!!) Speedo Fit app and I was back in my very favourite pool (well, my favourite if we don’t count the epicness that is Coral Reef in Bracknell) and it reminded me that I’d promised to write about swimming kit and the things you really should invest in to get the most out of your swim. Unlike a lot of sports (*cough cough* cycling *cough cough*) swimming doesn’t require a lot of fancy kit, but some things are essential – and whilst goggles may be obvious, you really should be using a pullbuoy and kick board too if you want to improve technique, endurance and burn those calories.
So here be the top ten…
1. A decent cossie (love saying ‘cossie’) or trunks…
I appreciate that swimwear is kinda obvious unless you’re at a nudist facility, but the emphasis here is on high quality technical swimwear. When I first started swimming at Easter I wore one of my Mum’s baggy no elasticity left swimsuits. Really. I quickly realised I needed one that, ya know, actually fitted and, importantly, would stand daily exposure to chlorine. Essentially you just need to look for words like ‘endurance’ on the label – you want a technical fabric that is chlorine resistant, keeps it shape after lots of wear and dries quickly. Swimsuits will inevitably stretch with time so I always start with a size down when I buy one. ‘Snazzy’ technical suits do exist – this Speedo mono design is £30. The fabric is amazing. BIKINIS ARE NOT AN OPTION.
If you’re swimming for fitness, I can’t see how you can swim without goggles. You can’t have an effective swim with your face above water so unless your entire set will be backstroke, invest in a decent pair that won’t leak. The BioFuse pair I’m wearing above are only £15 and never mark my face (important when swimming before meetings etc, as I often am) but for open water I do wear a spendier pair of light reactives by Zoggs – I resented paying £50 for goggles but they’ve become outdoor event essentials.
3. Swimming cap
When my coach first said I HAD to get a swimming cap I was immediately seven years old again, with a horrible teacher pulling a cap over my head at the local pool whilst seemingly ripping out half my hair. Nobody who had school swimming lessons as a child will have happy memories of swimming caps. I couldn’t see how a cap would improve upon just having hair scraped back in a tight bun but I did what I was told and purchased one and, suddenly, swimming seemed a trillion times easier. Speedo do a long hair silicone cap for £6 and I have a couple of these now…for open water events I always wear one of mine under the event hat I’m given for extra warmth. I usually double up with a bright flimsy one over the top for training outdoors too. Unless I’m in Nice of course, see above.
4. Kick board
Floats aren’t just for children learning the swimming basics or for clutching onto on hols whilst sipping a pina colada, a kick board is an essential part of training. They’re used to improve stamina, technique and strength and you REALLY learn how much work your legs do once you get rid of your arms! The first time I did a set of backstroke legs with a kick board I nearly died. They are my favourite out of all the pool accessories. (I like pain). Your pool should really have ones you can borrow, but if not the one above is £12.
5. Pullbuoy (pictured above is the elite – £11)
Again, a pullbuoy allows you to focus on a particular part of your body – this time the arms. It sits between your legs at your groin (not as exciting as it sounds) and supports your legs allowing you to just swim with your upper body as your legs float behind. It works wonderfully hand in hand with…wait for it…
I bloody LOVE paddles. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of my open water events if it wasn’t for all the paddle training I did. I’d never managed two lengths of front crawl (well, not since the 90s) when I met my coach but within my first session she had me in Speedo’s Tech Paddles (£13) and I quickly moved on to their BioFuse Power Paddles (£15). It’s the BioFuse ones that I’m ‘modelling’ above in Mallorca. My shoulders and upper arms have near enough transformed before my eyes since training with them and they’ve really been the key player in making me understand front crawl. Breast stroke with the BioFuse paddles is horrific in a brilliant way. You *might* roar in the pool.
7. Speedo Fit App
I was always jealous of the runners of this world with their smug mapped run tweets and positive re-enforcement from a friendly voice from Nike, but swimmers have apps too! I am very late to the game on Speedo’s (free!) Speedo Fit App but I am loving it already – and slightly overexcited about September arriving on Sunday so I can start a mammoth month of swimming. It has quickly replaced my dog-eared notebook that I used to document all my swims in.
The app allows you to find local pools, track your swims (with notes if you like), see who else is tracking their swims at your pool and – most excitedly – take part in CHALLENGES! I am currently escaping from Alcatraz…
8. A coach
I’m not being massively over the top when I say a coach is a good idea – even just for a one off hour long session. I found my amazing coach Kerstin through my local pool and she is the sole reason any of those dastardly open water races were completed! It really is worth investing in an hour’s session just to get some feedback on your stroke and tips for improvement. Coaching has been my biggest investment in swimming by far – and it does get expensive – but a one off session would no doubt help anyone.
Once you’re confident, there are loads of helpful videos online. I’ve never been one for tutorial vids (I can watch all the flicky eyeliner videos that YouTube throw at me, I’ll never be able to do it) but I saw some of Keri-Anne Payne’s tutorial videos and found them really helpful which quickly converted me. The whole point of the Get Speedo Fit campaign is to encourage people to see swimming as the awesome sport it is – often a much more effective workout than running and the like – but to have an effective workout you need to understand the basics of stroke technique, positioning and breathing…so if you don’t want to fork out for a coach, take advantage of the ridic amount of free vids online.
9. Aquacoach watch
Over the summer holidays the coaches don’t work at my pool, so I was thrown into a bit of a “BUT WHO IS GOING TO TIME ME AND COUNT THE STROKES’ panic. I’ve never really had a problem counting laps and converting laps to distance (swimming is basically just wet counting) but counting strokes per lap and tracking times is a different kettle of fish altogether. I can use the clock on the wall to time an entire set, but when it comes to splits I’ve always had my coach on hand to record all the times to the second. Speedo very kindly sent me their Aquacoach watch (£100) to try (after I begged them, admittedly) and it has been fantastic for tracking times, distances, strokes and calories. The face is clear and buttons easy to use in the water, it was very quick to set-up and can detect your stroke and works nicely with pushing off the wall AND tumble turns…which is good because I hate tumble turns if I don’t have a human coach making me do them.
Of course it also does normal things like tell the time.
10. Flip flops
This might sound like a silly thing to say is an ‘essential swimming accessory’ but ya know what? It is. Verrucas are RIFE at pools, no matter how fancy your pool is, so you really should have a pair of poolside flip flops for walking to the water’s edge. Obviously these shouldn’t be flip flops that you wear outside! I have a battered pair of Havaianas that I keep in my swimming bag and I only wear them in the showers and at poolside.
Anything you’d put in the top ten essentials that I’ve missed? I guess a good moisturiser to combat chlorine and a properly brilliant haircare regime are pretty essential too, but I guess shiny locks don’t really count as a necessity in the quest for swimming excellence…sadly!
If you’re still on the fence as to whether you wanna start swimming as part of your exercise regime then take a look at some of my other posts on the subject…
The Get Speedo Fit site mentioned before is definitely worth a gander too – safe to say the experts can guide you a lot better than I can! (And there are some very hunky men demonstrating technique).
Big swimmy splashy love! And a big thank you to Speedo for helping me out with kit this summer 🙂