Category Archives: Swimming Equipment

Back on the straps

Traveled this week and needed to find a way to keep up my swimming. Well duh! Thinking back to my days in Kyrgyzstan, I had the answer: Aqua Sphere Stationary Swimmer, in other words, straps!

I found two hotels with indoor pools, strapped myself to the “deep” end’s ladder, and swam away. I remember pretty much right away how boring it is. Ugh. However, it certainly is nice to not have to flip-turn for an hour or so. Sure can get a lot done, thinking-wise, while swimming in place.

Got two swims in during this trip. Better than not getting in the water. My shoulder feels worse than it normally does after just a little bit of swimming. I wonder if this pain is specific to my swimming on straps vice swimming free. Hmmm…something to investigate.

My playground this week!

Review of Ameo Powerbreather

I recently purchased the Ameo Powerbreather (fancy talk for a weird looking snorkel) for the sole purpose of preparing for my two-way Issyk Kul swim. I read reviews online on several different types of snorkels that allowed the swimmer to restrict breathing, to be able to do hypoxic sets to prepare for swims at a higher elevation.

Yes, there are studies out there saying these things do no such thing. Restricting the amount of air you’re breathing is not the same as breathing in air from 5000+ feet (lake Issyk Kul is at 5272 feet). Air at that elevation is less dense, or something. Breathing air at sea level, even if you only breath in half as much, isn’t going to acclimatize you to swimming at a higher elevation.

But the snorkel will do two things. One, it will work my lungs harder, seeing how I’m giving my lungs only half as much air as normal. But even better, as I learned after watching the video my wife did for me, the snorkel allows me to concentrate on my pull, watching my catch and pull without turning my head to breath.

I preach not crossing the center line when entering the water at the beginning of your pull. But wow, seeing myself on video shows me that I need to work on my pull. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been video-taped swimming, and even then I was videoed from the side. But I had no idea I crossed that line (mostly on my right). When I swim I try to concentrate on entering the water at about shoulder-width. I imagine I am. But apparently not.

All that aside, the snorkel is interesting. As you can see, it wraps around your head. You tighten it at the back of the head. I was warned to not turn to breath with it on. I made it a few workouts before forgetting and turning. But I stayed calm and simply put my head back and continued to breath…through my mouth. I’ve never scuba dived or snorkeled for any length of time. Learning to breath only through my mouth takes some work. But I’m getting used to it, slowly.

That was the hardest part. Apparently, I breath out and in a lot through my nose and mouth. Trying to “turn off” my nose with this snorkel on is difficult. There is a constant, slight feeling like there is water coming into my nose. Breathing through my mouth just doesn’t feel comfortable. But I can do it. Actually, this seems like the perfect time for a nose clip. Just, would I want to be seen wearing a nose clip?

Flip-turns, yikes. The Ameo Powerbreather suggests getting used to the snorkel before trying to flip-turn. I thought after four sessions of 500m each that I would be okay. I first stayed near the wall and dipped my whole head under the water, coming up and breathing out quickly to clear any water. Really very little water comes in. Then I tried to flip-turn.

That didn’t go well. I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden I was trying to breath in water through my nose. Gonna be a little bit before I try that again.

Honestly, I think the snorkel would be awesome while swimming on straps. That way I could concentrate on my arm pull and breathing, without having to stop to do an open turn at the wall, or, God forbid, a flip turn!

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Ten

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day ten: Saturday, 23 December. Lap counter.

If you swim by yourself in a pool, you need a way to keep track of the distances you’ve swum. Swimmers with a coach can simply follow the workout, and at the end know how many yards or meters they’ve swum.

But, if you’re like me and you swim without the benefit of a coach, you might need a way to keep track. For my long swims, a workout like 5 x 1000, I need a way to remember what lap I’m on. Especially in my tiny Russian pool where it takes 30 laps to do 1000 yards. Not to mention a longer swim like a 10,000 yard session, or 300 laps.

For this, I use the SportCounter Lap Counter. Simple piece of tech. It does one thing: it counts your laps. Well, that’s not completely true. It doesn’t automatically count your laps for you like some of those more expensive watches. This counter has a simple button you can press with your thumb and a small screen to tell you how many laps you’ve swum.

When I start my workout, I press the button (lap 1). Every time I return back to the “home” wall I press it again. If I get lost in the middle of the workout, day-dreaming my yards away, I can take a quick gander at the counter on my right index finger and figure out where I am in the workout. Easy peasy!

 

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Nine

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day nine: Friday, 22 December. Towels.

You can use the towel that your gym or pool issues, if you go to those sorts of places. But what about when you go to the lake?

Well, one thing you need to think about when you go to the lake is space. If you’ve got your handy rescue buoy with you (from yesterday’s post), you know you have limited space in there. No room for a nice, warm, fluffy bath towel.

Take a note from divers: chamois! These types of towels ring out and dry fast and can be crammed into a very small space, like your buoy. Being dry after your swim is important if you have a loved one who’ll sit in the driver’s seat of your car anytime after you’ve swum. Trust me on this.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Eight

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day eight: Thursday, 21 December. Rescue/safety buoys.

I advise all open water swimmers to use a safety buoy when they’re swimming, especially if they’re swimming alone. Your visibility is important. There are too many drunk boaters and crazy jetskiers out there trying their hardest to run you over. Along with your terribly bright swim cap, you should tow along a buoy.

My favorite is the ISHOF SaferSwimmer. Large enough for a towel, cell phone, car keys, flip-flops. Very large and orange for those drunk boaters! Simply put your items in it, roll the top flap over 2 or 3 times and clip the plastic brackets. Then you blow up the air pocket and you’re ready. I’ve even thrown my Garmin GPS watch in there and it has correctly tracked my swim throughout.

There are other buoys out there, but this is the only one I’ve used. No matter which one you choose, make sure you wear it while swimming in open water!

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Seven

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day seven: Wednesday, 20 December. Bags.

If you’ve read up to now, you’ve got all the basics covered for your marathon swimmer, except where will s/he carry all the stuff? In a swim bag of course!

You can go a few ways with this. For the true minimalist swimmer, you really just need a bag to carry your suit, cap and goggles. A small mesh bag, or a drawstring one suits just fine.

But some of us need more space. We might need room for clothing after the swim. A place for shampoo. A pocket for a water bottle. For this, you need a beefier swim bag. And there are many available.

My favorite is the Speedo Teamster bag. Shop around because if you don’t care what color you get, you can find some deals.

Ugly as sin, but half the price of the pretty ones

There is a middle ground as well. I have a locker at work, in which I have my basic equipment (pull buoy, fins, paddles). I never travel with it, so its ease of sitting on my shoulders matters not. But breathability is important, to keep mildew and stank away. For this, I have a big mesh bag. These are quite inexpensive, and come in many colors, as well!

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Six

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day six: Tuesday, 19 December. Paddles.

Like fins, you can get away with not having paddles. But if you really want to dial in your stroke, they are a useful accessory. And for my money, there is only one paddle worth your money.

Now I have a love-hate relationship with Finis, mostly due to some marketing decisions they’ve made in the past. Also for their shoddy electronics. But I believe so much in the Freestyler paddle, it wouldn’t be fair to not recommend it.

As its name implies, the Freestyler is for swimmers who primarily swim the crawl stroke. That’s 99% of us marathon swimmers. (Those 1% who find marathon swims too easy and complete them doing butterfly are, by definition, crazy. This paddle is not for them.) The Freestyler forcing your hand to make a proper catch and follow through. If your hand describes the keyhole shape many of us grew up learning, the paddle makes your hand slip in the water, giving you immediate feedback: Bad swimmer! Bad!

In order for this to work, you cannot cheat. You can see by their design, they are smaller near where your fingers will be. This makes it easy to cheat and wrap your fingers around the paddle. This negates the feedback you’ll get with an improper catch and pull. All you do is simply insert your middle finger through the tubing, hand flat against the paddle and swim.

There are other paddles out there, from small ones that fit in your palm, to monsters that dwarf your hand. (If you’re competing in SwimRun, may I recommend these monsters?) But if you’re simply looking to improve your catch and pull in freestyle, the Freestylers are the ones.

*So I guess this is a good time to mention that I am getting nothing from any of the stores that I link to. 

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Five

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day five: Monday, 18 December. Fins.

Fins you could do without. I did for quite a bit, but I finally realized their usefulness. They help you with efficiency in your kick (if you’re concerned with that). They, like pull buoys, help you with keeping your body horizontal. I use them when I’m doing stroke drills (6/3/6 for example) to keep my body aligned while torpedoing.

But the reason I use them is to get a feeling for what swimming fast feels like. Now wait, before you poo-poo that, hear me out. Even with shorty fins that only extend beyond your toes maybe 2-3 inches, you can get enough of an extra boost that you can feel what your body feels like when swimming fast. You learn to adjust your stroke to the increased speed.

There are various types of fins available from short (meaning the end of the fin is barely past your toes) to medium to long (like a scuba diver would wear). The choice is really yours, but be sure to check the reviews of the fins you’re looking at. Check for true-to-size comments. Many of these fins come in size ranges. I bought a pair recently that were 6-7 or 8-9. I’m an 8 so I bought the latter. You guessed it. A bit too big.

If you’ve done your homework and get the pair and they’re still slightly too big, you do have options (besides sending them back). There are little socks you can buy that will give you a snugger fit, with a bonus of preventing blisters. This is probably what I’ll have to do now.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Four

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day four: Sunday, 17 December. Pull buoys.

Pull buoys are important if you’d like to feel what your body position should feel like. When I started, my feet dragged in the water due to a weak kick. Using a pull buoy gave me a feel for the water that I then tried to emulate when I didn’t have the buoy between my legs holding my bottom half up.

When I swim now with the buoy it is so I can concentrate on my pull. I can ignore my legs and just work on my catch. But not all pull buoys are created equal.

My legs are heavy. The wimpy buoys that many pools have in a cage on deck usually don’t hold my legs up. I need a nice solid buoy. The one I like and use the most now is the TYR Stars & Stripes pull buoy. One, because I’m unabashedly patriotic. Two, it is large enough to hold up my heavy legs.

There are other styles of pull buoy out there. The old style two white Styrofoam version. The pull buoy/kickboard combo style.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Three

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day three: Saturday, 16 December. Goggles.

Of course the swimmer in your life needs goggles. They are an important staple in your swimmer’s bag. But oh so personal.

I would have trouble recommending to you which pair of goggles to get. They really are dependent upon face size, eye socket physiology, and probably more metrics I’m not even thinking of. However, there are other aspects of goggle choice to take into account. For one, color of lens.

I’ve been through various hues of lens: blue, black, mirrored, clear. Two basic colors make up the vast majority of my goggle collection. Clear and black.

Clear goggles I use in the pool. Indoor pool that is. I like to be able to see the pool, who’s pretending to drown in the deep end, where the lifeguard is sitting, what the pace clock says, etc. There really is little reason to wear dark goggles in a pool. I guess if the pool is so overly lit it hurts your eyes? Who knows. But clear is a go-to color.

And so is black. Or dark. Or whatever works best for you under sunny skies. One of the joys of open water swimming is the great outdoors, but as you’re doing lap upon lap around your favorite watering hole, turning to breath and staring directly into the sun will hurt, and you don’t need your eyes watering inside your goggles. Likewise looking up and sighting into the sun. Buy the darkest you can for those wonderfully beautiful days.

But what about overcast days? I’ve found that if the day is guaranteed to be overcast the entire time, I’ll swim in my clear ones. For a race. If I’m in the lake for training, I’ll throw a dark pair in my trunks in case the sun makes a lasting appearance. What I will never do again, though, is buy blue.

I had blue because I had read somewhere they were great for the not too bright, kinda overcast days. So I raced in them. And immediately discovered their liability: seeing blue buoys.

The race was in National Harbor, MD, and the buoys were blue-ish, or close enough that they pretty much disappeared as I looked in the general direction everyone was swimming. For that entire race (5K I think?) I had to rely on other swimmers to follow to find the buoys. That’s fine if you’re fast and you’re up there with other speed demons. But in the back of the pack with the recreational/amateur swimmers, we’re not all the best navigators. Maybe I’m following someone who also can’t swim straight and we both are going not on the best line to that buoy. All because I bought blue goggles.

A pair I got recently that I think I like have dark grey/light black on the main round part of the lens, but clear around the sides. I wore these a couple times in Strogino here in Moscow and I really liked them. Dark enough that I had protection when breathing and sighting, but the sides allowed some light in. I’m going to look for more like them.

 

This is a great time to talk about favorite products. If you find a piece of swim equipment that you like, much as I did with these Speedo Hydrospex goggles, buy many of them! Speedo has gone and “improved” the Hydrospex (now Hydrospex2) which, for my head was not an improvement. They added a button which allows one to tighten the straps easier, but for me that is not needed, and the extra plastic on the edges of the goggles had changed the goggle socket and now they leak. I’ve gone out of my way to buy the Hydrospex Classics whenever and wherever I see them, but I do know that some online stores are running low on stock.