Band only swimming… love it, or (probably) hate it?

I’ve been doing a lot of strength work in my swimming of late. I can’t do speed – well, I try to but babybump drag means there isn’t much speed there now! However my main reason is that I try not to elevate my heart rate for too long so my sprints are limited to 25 or 50m. Instead I’m focusing on a lot of kick, pull, paddles, and band only work to work on developing a better more efficient kick (I have never been good at kick) and upper body strength.

Band only swimming (no pull buoy, ankles tied together) is something I quite enjoy, but I know a lot of people struggle with it and don’t particularly like it… no one really likes the feeling of sinking half way down a length and wondering if the lifeguards are about to jump in and attempt a rescue!

Band only swimming can really benefit your swim, but there are some cautionary points to be aware of. It can help develop an increased stroke rate, improved rhythm and timing, a strong catch and pull, and teach you to get that core engaged (my athletes will tell you I always go on about the core!), which is vital to good body position and a strong stroke. But don’t overdo it and approach the use of it in moderation; especially for beginners, using a band too much can promote poor technique as you struggle to combat the sinking legs. In addition, it is an intensive drill exercise so too much can put excessive strain on your shoulders and upper back. Start small with band sets. You can either make a band out of an old inner tube, or you can buy them from Decathlon, Speedo or Finis.

How to plan your band session

Band only swimming is challenging, no denying that! It highlights a weak core and if you already struggle with sinking legs then you will probably not make it past half way down the length. There is no benefit to be gained if you’re legs are dragging along the bottom of the pool and it will place too much pressure on your upper body, and potentially introduce bad technique. So if you are a leg-sinker start with a pull buoy between your ankles in addition to the band. (Pull buoy at ankles helps to work the core still, more so than with it between your thighs).

Band sets will only be a small part of your session. To start with try 4×25 with 15s rest. You will naturally increase your stroke rate with the band on to keep momentum up so think of the 25s as sprints. Progress up to 8, 10, maybe 12×25. If you are advanced and can keep your hips and legs up you could try 50s and progress up to say 8x50s (which is pretty advanced). I wouldn’t advise trying to do more or longer intervals. Think of band swimming as a drill part of your session, and then continue with some kick work, and then a full stroke main set.

Some focus points when swimming with a band

Stop the legs sinking – lightly pull in your belly button and squeeze your glutes to switch the core on. Try to avoid using dolphin kicks to get your legs near the surface

Exhale smoothly throughout the length – holding your breath will increase the buoyancy in your chest and make your hips sink

Imagine ‘swimming downhill’ to lightly push your chest down in the water and raise your hips and back end up. Remember it’s your chest you are pushing down, not your head

Aim for a good catch and high elbow pull through the water – push the water behind you, not down. Your palm should face the wall behind you as you pull, not the floor.

Here’s a strength focus swim set for you to try out

Warm up: 800 – do as 300 swim, 50 backstroke, 200 pull, 50 breaststroke, 200 50 fists/50 swim

Kick: 8×25 +10s rest – do as 1 length hard, 1 length easy

Main set:

300 pull +15s

300 pull and paddles +15s

300 pull and paddles and band +15s

12×25 +15s – do as 2x [4 band only, 2 sprint swim]

Swim down: 200 easy mix of frontcrawl and backstroke

Total 2.4km

Depending on ability half the distance of warm up and do 200s and 8×25 in the main set.