Triathlon Swim Training Equipment

How much to spend on a wetsuit, the pros and cons of swimming aids like pull bouys and kick-boards, and much more.

If you are training for a triathlon some optional equipment for your swim training might be pull buoys, hand paddles, kick boards, and swim fins.

The Front Crawl

When you are first starting out in the world of triathlon and swimming in particular and are just learning the art of not sinking like a stone it can be confusing when it comes to what “pool tools” and other swim equipment you should be using.

Always keep in mind that however you begin approaching your triathlon swim training has a way of becoming a habit very quickly.

This can can work against you if the swim training habits you develop actually stall your progress and prevent you from becoming a better “natural” swimmer.


Like most guys who really wanted to be part of triathlon but couldn’t swim a stroke, I was under the impression that it was my muscle mass and lack of fat that always made me sink.

This was especially true with my legs. They always seemed to be dragging along behind me and it was such a challenge to stay “on top of the water” and not always struggling to have that ideal swimming posture that would make it easier to swim more efficiently.

So the minute I put a foam “pull buoy” between my legs I instantly had better form in the water and my legs were no longer dragging behind me.

Foam pull buoys

If I timed a 100 meter interval I would be almost 15 seconds faster with a pull buoy than I was without one. So there was no doubt that this swim aid made me remarkably faster. It spoke volumes about how important proper body positioning it to developing good swim technique.

The problem is, I started to get lazy and would began to do most of laps in training with one of these buoys keeping my legs up and not dragging behind me.

Another problem is that they won’t let you use one of these when the gun goes off for the Triathlon swim start.

It really was a detriment to my training and ultimately it was adopting the Total Immersion way of swimming that made me realize that by using proper technique there was no need for any swim aids.


Quite often these are used in combination with pull buoys. Hand paddles are attached to your hands and allow a swimmer to “grab” more water and as a result have greater propulsion.

Over-use of hand paddles can cause injury

Apparently the main reason for using these is to get a feel for “grabbing the water” and how it increases your speed.

Often hand paddles are used in combination with pull buoys and even the most incompetent swimmer can go amazingly fast by using these two swimming aids together.

However, like most pool tools there can be a serious disadvantage to using these swim training tools too much and should be used sparingly if at all.

As I said, the hand paddles allow a swimmer to “grab” much more water and “push” more of that water at the end of the stroke and as a result go much faster.

However, this puts much more stress on your arms and shoulders. I used these tools far too much and ended up with a shoulder injury that meant no swimming at all for almost four week once I was injured.

As with most swimming tools, hand paddles can give you a false sense of swimming faster and should be used sparingly if at all.

I can’t stress enough that if you can learn proper body positioning without swim aids and you will be much further ahead and less likely to injure yourself.


I just dreaded this piece of swim equipment. Maybe in about 5 minutes I could do one length in the pool, but sometimes I would actually go backwards. If someone ever tries to hand you one of these…RUN!! RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!

Ruuuunnnnn! if you see one of these

Is is so frustrating to be kicking your heart out while hanging on to one of these foam boards only to have other swimmers (mostly women) blowing by you like you’re not moving. Actually, you are probably “not” moving forward so I guess that explains it.

As Terry Laughlin, creator of Total Immersion told me “if you develop a proper form in the water you hardly need to kick at all”.

This was an important thing to grasp because the less you kick your legs in a longer swim like an Ironman 70.3 or full Ironman, the more you will save your legs for the rest of the day on the bike and run.

If your are swimming with a great natural body position all you will really need is a very light flutter kick out in the open water to help maintain that position.

This was very true as I eventually discovered for myself and it makes so much sense to kick as little as possible in a competition like an Ironman.

Kicking really is a small part of your propulsion but as a beginner triathlete of novice Ironman your goal should not be speed anyway, but finishing the swim as rested and relaxed as possible.

A good strong kick does add to your speed, but that’s best left to the pros who need to shave minutes off where ever they can.

They train full time in order to be able to accomplish this, but for the novice Ironman it really makes no sense to stress yourself way too much in the swim.

So don’t fret if you can’t get anywhere with a kick-board. You don’t really need to suffer through it and it’s not an essential piece of Triathlon swim training equipment.


Swim fins are perhaps the one piece of Ironman swim equipment that make sense and could be beneficial.

These can be useful when used at the proper time. When I was really concentrating on a particular drill, which sometimes meant slow forward speed, I would use swim fins.

black swim fins

Even Terry Laughlin encourages this if you are using the Total Immersion swim technique and doing some of the drills to develop your new, improved swim stroke.

However even swim fins are used very sparingly and every effort must be made to learn proper body technique and positioning without any swim aids at all.

Once you discover the proper way to swim and become more competent you will realize that you really don’t need any swim aids and that all the time you had all the tools within you and just needed to unlock the mystery of how to make the most of your natural ability.


I have tried all of these pieces of Ironman swim equipment in my Ironman training and would suggest you don’t use any of them except for maybe swim fins when working on your stroke.

Learn the proper balance and buoyancy without any swimming aids and you will be far better off.

I have no wish to undermine any swim coach or the training program that has been devised for you.

I am just passing on what I have discovered over years of doing all the wrong things in the pool. If you are happy with the program you are on, then you should stay with it.


Cheap swimsuits are the order of the day. Don’t make the mistake of spending big money on swimsuits. On average I went through about four pair in a training year.

If you are pool training(and probably most of you are)chlorine makes no distinction between expensive and cheap swimsuits. It eats them all equally.

Chlorine is hard on swim suits

They tend to fade and lose their form very quickly but it does extend the life of swimsuits if you rinse them in cool water after your swim and hang them to dry.


It would be wise to try several different types of swim goggles. When you find a pair that feel really comfortable, don’t leak, and don’t fog up—put them away for your triathlon.

I would recommend the large style of swim goggle that gives you wider vision.

Also I would get them tinted in case of direct sun or reflection that can be very irritating.

This is one piece of Triathlon swim equipment you want to be sure and get right. I’ve done an entire triathlon swim with goggles that leaked the whole time and its a nightmare.


Just to be safe, I always used this. It can’t hurt to be cautious. Put it on your swim glass lens race morning to “guarantee” you won’t have fogging problems.

Swim goggles that are tinted will help fight off glare

Even if your swim goggles are advertised as being “fog-free” I would still take the precaution of using some sort of anti-fog protection on them.

If there is nothing else around a thin layer of baby shampoo will do the trick. It will not irritate your eyes.


You can and should use these in every Ironman race, unless of course your first race is in Hawaii or some other tropical location. They do tend to give you more speed, because there is less friction, but the main function is to keep you warm.

They can be expensive, but I would consider giving the internet a try. There are many very good companies that sell quality wetsuits and are knowledgeable about their product.

The latest wetsuit to hit the market-place will put you back about $1200.

Do you have to spend that much?

Of course not. If your goal is simply to make it through the triathlon swim and you are not worried about shaving a few minutes off your time then a used $150 wetsuit or rented wetsuit is just as good for your purposes.


As a rule, wetsuits do feel a bit tight and constricting out of the water, but are more comfortable “in” the water.

Plenty of wetsuits to choose from

Don’t automatically think it is too small for you because it feels tight. Make sure your wetsuit is properly fitted by an expert as it’s a crucial part of your triathlon swim equipment.

If you are having concerns and problems with your swim training and swim technique for an upcoming triathlon of any distance, then I would strongly recommend you consider adopting the Total Immersion Swim Technique.

I was always a pretty crappy swimmer and Total Immersion made the Ironman Triathlon swim enjoyable and worry-free for me. I also came out of the water more relaxed and had far more energy left then I normally did with my old swim stroke. This was a huge advantage heading out on the triathlon bike course.

Total Immersion is offering all ironstruck visitors a 10% discount on Books, DVD’s, and all other TI teaching tools.

Simply click on this to the store page and type “ironstruck” (all small case)into the shopping cart coupon box and you receive your 10% discount automatically.

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