On Swim Equipment

In swimming, as in the rest of my life, I am torn between two competing desires. On one hand, I want to live my life free of the encumbrances of material possessions. On the other, I want cool toys.

Here is my advice about the swim equipment I use, in order of most to least necessary (or least to most frivolous):

1) Goggles

Goggles are one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century. I met a man at the Lowcountry Splash one year who swam for Clemson University in the days before goggles. He said that his eyes hurt all the time. I believe him.

I usually wear Speedo Hydrospex Jr. goggles. They are marketed as youth goggles. But they fit me — unlike so-called adult goggles, which are really goggles for men and their great big heads. You can buy goggles marketed to women, but you pay less for youth sizes, and they work fine for me. Ignore the labels; get what works.

If you swim inside, you probably need clear or lightly colored lenses. If you swim outside, you probably need darker ones. They also sell goggles designed for open water swimming, ones that supposedly give you a better range of vision; I’ve tried a couple pairs, but they haven’t made a difference to me.

2) Fins

I love my fins. Without fins, kick drills are dull. But put on fins, and not only are you getting a better leg workout, you are moving much faster — and having more fun.

There are all kinds of fins for swimmers: long, short, special for breaststroke, etc. I have short ones, TYR Burners. Don’t use scuba fins; they won’t encourage the right kind of leg motion for swimming.

I should say that while I love my fins, my fins don’t always love me, by which I mean that I can wear them for months without trouble and then go through a period where they chafe my feet. I’m in one of those periods now; one of them is trying to chew through my right big toe. I don’t know why. Love is strange.

Fins and kickboard, wet from practice. My photo. Mar 2016.
Fins and kickboard, wet from practice. My photo. Mar 2016.

3) Ankle band

Many pools — though for some reason not mine — let you borrow pull buoys, which hold your legs up and keep you from kicking when you are doing pull drills. But as I’ve noted before, I don’t like pull buoys. Every once in a while I try one out, just to confirm that, yes, I still don’t like pull buoys. My back end floats just fine on its own; it does not require extra buoyancy.

But pull drills are easier when your legs are immobilized, and that’s why I have an ankle band. You put your feet in it, you twist it around, and bam! your legs are tied together. When I was a kid, we would use an inner tube for this purpose; if you weren’t careful when you put it on, the valve stem would poke you in the ankle. Now manufacturers make bands for this purpose. — no valve stems.

The ankle band I have comes from Finis and costs all of $5.

4) Kickboard

You don’t need to have your own kickboard. Pools generally have kickboards for you to borrow. Nonetheless, I like my kickboard better. Because it’s smaller and less buoyant than the standard type, it keeps my arms lower in the water, which puts less stress on my shoulders.

I worry about my shoulders. They are the parts that are going to wear out when parts start wearing out. They should get a rest during kick drills.

5) My fancy pants sports watch

I have a fancy sports watch — a Garmin fēnix 2. It’s got five different buttons on it. It’s got an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass. It will keep track of your cycling and your hiking and your downhill skiing. I will never use 90% of this stuff.

The reason I have a fēnix 2 (as opposed to anything else) that it is one of the few devices that will track both pool and open water distance. For pool swimming, you input the length of the pool, and the fēnix 2 keeps track of laps. For open water swimming, you activate the GPS to measure distance.

I got the fēnix 2 in November, and so far I have only used it in pools. I hope to be trying it out in an open water swim soon. Once you get the hang of pressing the right buttons to activate the lap counter and drill timer, though, it works great in the pool. List price is $400, but it can be had for half the cost.

If you are looking for information on a particular type of equipment, you can check out US Masters Swimming‘s reviews, both in the Swim Bag section of their magazine (accessible online) and in their video product reviews.

Please tell me about the equipment you like in the comments!

8 thoughts on “On Swim Equipment

  1. Prescription goggles have made all the difference for me. I’m nearsighted, and while I can see enough to stay safe in the water, I am so much more comfortable when things are clear. Also, for open water, I can actually enjoy the views, which turns out to be about 80% of the reason I do it, like hiking. I use Speedo Vanquishers and I buy 2 pairs at a time, one for each eye, and then reassemble them into the combination I need.

    1. I didn’t realize that you could take apart and reassemble prescription goggles to get a custom pair! That’s terrific. I swim open water for the scenery too.

      1. You can with the Vanquishers, anyway. I have a 2.5 correction in one eye and 5.0 in the other, or something like that. It works really well… more than good enough for swimming anyway! And, since I have a terrible habit of dropping my goggles in the surf, this way I have the backups I need.

  2. 2 questions: First, do fins really give you a better leg workout? Here’s why I ask: I HATE using the kickboard–makes my legs hurt, I even get out of breath. With fins, it feels much easier. So I figure if it feels easy, it must be less good for me. Second: what do you think of those rectangular flat things you put on your hands to do freestyle with? I have no idea what these are called, but some people in master’s swim swear by them.

  3. Fins: do they really give you a better leg workout? Borrowed someone’s fins today in master’s so I’d go faster using the kickboard, which I hate with a fiery passion. Felt much easier with fins. Feels easier, must not be as good for me, right? And what’s your opinion on those flat rectangular things people wear on their hands sometimes? I’ve seen yellow ones, red ones…no idea what they’re called.

    1. I’m not sure about the feels easier means less good argument. And I’m not sure they are easier. Fins offer more resistance, which strengthens your legs. When I do fast kicking (6×50 on a minute is my usual set), I am breathing hard by the end.

      And I probably wouldn’t regularly do kick sets without them. Making kick sets fun is in itself a good thing.

      The flat rectangular things are paddles. I don’t like them much. I worry about shoulder stress with them too. But lots of people use them, and they come in all types now. Maybe I should give them a try again, and see if I’ve changed my mind about them.

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