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Working with swim tools

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Trisutto Brett Sutton swimming pull buoy triathlon

One of the most controversial topics in swimming for triathletes is the use of swim tools. Biomechanist and human movement professionals talk about how detrimental to swim mechanics using such tools as pull boys and paddles can be. We have written plenty of articles on that topic. So rather than go over old ground, this blog is about showing where the Trisutto swim programs come from. We recently touched on several greats of distance swimming. Tracey Wickham and Steve Holland used vast amounts of differing pull apparatus. Now we will introduce you to other fantastic swimmers of old who's training regime consisted of large amounts of pull boy and pull work.

Hayley Lewis Australia World Championships 1991, 1 x gold, 2 x silver,1 x bronze Olympics 1992 silver 800m, bronze 400m Commonwealth Games 1990, 5 x gold, 1 x bronze I had the pleasure to observe Hayley's development from young skinny kid with a massive pool buoy to world champion. Her stroke and training venues changed over the years, however the one constant was that pool buoy. In her freestyle work it was ever present. As a junior she used to swim on the back of the slowest lane at senior squad - for the simple reason her older sister swam senior squad, and they lived too far away from the pool for her parents to make two separate trips! I'll add that her training partner Michael Mackenzie also went on to represent Australia numerous times and swim a 15 minutes 03 seconds for 1500m which was not too shabby in those days. His love of pull buoy can be best described that on entering the Australian Institute of Sport, the guys held a BBQ for him in which they BBQ'ed his pull buoy. That story speaks volumes of how much Michael worked with his pull buoy.

The second athlete we will mention from the past is American Olympic gold medalist George DiCarlo. George DiCarlo USA Olympics 1984 gold, 400m, silver 1500m

George represents not only himself, but his coach who had a huge influence on my swim programming in the 1980's. Dick Jochums didn't produce just one swimmer, he had a conveyor belt of distance champions for the USA for over 15 years. Dick was the coach of the great Tim Shaw and George. Dick also trained Bruce and Stephen Furniss. Both were world champions in the early 1970s. Not many triathletes would know that the Furniss brothers were the founders of the biggest swim brand in the USA - TYR. A piece of nostalgia linking the swim equipment many of you carry in your swim bag, to the program that heavily utilised these tools. The brothers were fantastic swimmers for their time. However let's get back to George, and why he is so pertinent to our topic of swim equipment. He would swim up to 75% of his workouts using equipment. Mainly paddles, pull buoy and tube. At Trisutto we replace the tube with a band for age group swimmers. All of Dick's programs and athletes used great amounts of paddle work.

Watching swimmer after swimmer come out of the Dick Jochum's factory on to the podiums of the world, I just had to investigate. I met Dick three times over a span of those 15 years and there were 3 constants that never changed in all that time -

  1. The same base sessions on the same day of every week (base being the morning swims, designed to prepare the swimmer for the evening main swim).

  2. Paddles, pull buoy and tube was always the base of his programme.

  3. Training was 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes in the morning, and 2 hours in the afternoon. This was a strict rule.

At coaching clinics Dick would explain why - 'My wife puts the dinner on our table at 6.30pm. I had better be there, to make sure it is eaten hot, or I am in big trouble'.

He would follow up with -

'If you can't get enough work into your athlete's in a 2 hour workout, then you're doing something wrong. We believe in two things in my squad - Specific swim power; and more importantly I want my athletes to have time for another life outside of swimming.

Swimming is a labour of love, there is no money in it, you do it because you love it and to learn values of discipline for the more important race, that of life. You turn up 1 second late to my work out, you don't get in. And so when that clock ticks 6 I hold up my end of the bargain and everybody gets out, no matter where we are, my job is to get what I want from 4 to 6pm. We do no overtime'.

If you went to Dick Jochum's programme, you knew what you were going to get, when you were going to get it, and the time frame you were going to get it in!

Anybody from our squad reading this is already smiling, that is Sutto, and yes that's who I stole it from. Dick has helped me be the triathlon champion factory! Thank you Dick.

Being able to observe many of the world's best swimmers of their generation, using the pull buoy for nearly all their freestyle work, has helped me develop poor triathlon swimmers into having much better swim times. In fact, of those that I have told to use pull buoy or pull buoy band for most of their freestyle training, improvement has been the normal.

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