How to use a pull buoy for maximum improvement

Pull buoys, when used correctly, can vastly improve your swim performance. Top US swim coach Andrew Sheaff explains how…


Pull buoys are powerful swim tools, as they can make a big difference in how you move through the water. For those who tend to struggle to float effectively and keep their legs up at the surface, buoys can be wonderful.


The problem is that by using a buoy to keep your legs up, you’re never really learning to manage your position in the water. In that respect, using a buoy isn’t a great use of your time. You’re better off addressing the real problem.

However, that doesn’t mean that buoys are useless. In fact, they can be really effective when used in the right way. In this article, I’m going to show you two great strategies for implementing a pull buoy to improve your swimming.

How to improve your pull

Using a pull buoy helps to isolate the arms. It puts you in a great environment for focusing on the upper body, which is particularly important in triathlon swimming as you’re trying to save your legs for later.

However, simply taking the legs away isn’t enough. You need to take advantage of the isolated environment to maximise the benefit.

A simple way to do so is to focus on your speed and your stroke count while you pull. If you can take fewer strokes and move through the water faster, you’re improving your pull. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

Swim faster at the same stroke count

Perform a set of repetitions and take the same number of strokes each rep. However, you’ll want to swim each repetition faster. For example:

6 x 50m performed in 46 strokes, going 40, 39, 38, 37, 36, 35 seconds each 50m.

Take fewer strokes at the same speed

Now the goal is to keep the time the same and take fewer strokes each 50. For example:

6 x 50m performed in 40 seconds, taking 42, 41, 40, 39, 38, 37 strokes each 50m.

Now go golfing!

Add up your stroke count and your time. Aim to lower that number each repetition. For example:

6 x 50m #1 – 90 (45 strokes + 45 seconds); #2 – 88 (43 strokes + 45 seconds); #3 – 86 (44 strokes + 42 seconds), etc.

Create speed with your arms

In all of the examples above, you can perform as many repetitions as you want, and you can use whatever repetition distance that you want.

The great aspect about using these strategies while pulling is that you must learn how to be more effective with your arms strokes to accomplish the goals of the set.

The key is to learn to perform at a higher level by moving more water and creating speed with the arms. Because you’re putting concrete numbers on your skills, you’re getting clear feedback with each and every repetition.

How to set up your stroke

If you’re having trouble, having a good sense of how to set up the stroke can be really helpful:


Top image credit: Paul Whitfield