A swim parent asked me a simple question last week for an upcoming session with her daughter.
"Is there any equipment she should bring?" she asked.
"No" I replied.
"Wait, none at all?"
The answer was unexpected, and up until recently, I still used a fin or two in the course of coaching swim practice. Now I don't, here's why.
When I arrived at Georgia Tech in 2009, for whatever reason the default setting for any "pull" set was to wear paddles. It took me months to realize that whenever I put a "pull" set up on the white board, I had to specify if I did not want paddles involved.
I don't blame the swimmers for jumping to the assumption. Pulling is much more fun with paddles on! Likewise, kicking is much more fun with fins on! I once coached a swimmer whose taper ritual was to do a 50 for time with fins and paddles on.
I dropped fins and paddles pretty much simultaneously with stopping doing "pull" and "kick" sets. Why did I do that? Well let me make my answer frustratingly short: I didn't see the value in separating out kicking and pulling from the act of swimming anymore.
I also started to coach a team where we had 5.5 hours a week in the water, so the time was preciously short. I suppose if I had more time to waste I would do these kinds of sets, but I probably won't ever go back to having that much time to waste either.
Fins and paddles are one category. The stuff that makes you float, kickboards and pull buoys and whatever else people can dream up, is another.
Again, they become less necessary when you don't do kicking and pulling in your practice. But long before I left kicking behind, I ditched kickboards. Why? Because I saw no correlation between ability to kick with a board and actually being able to use your legs to aid in moving faster through the water.
A wise old man taught me that "kicking" is a dirty word anyway, so now we call it "legging" or "NALP" (Natacion a las piernas, and yes I know it should be NDLP "de" but NALP Is more fun to say.
You know what were my favorite training modalities in college? At morning practice, I would grab a cinder block and do short bursts of vertical kicking in the diving well holding the block. I also loved the power tower. Oh and swimming against the band.
Bands were the only ones I ended up using in my coaching career. By the time I finished swimming, I saw little value in the tower. Again, I couldn't find a demonstrable correlation between this kind of resisted swimming and actually being able to swim fast, and in many cases I saw that the resistance favored poor form over good form, especially in breaststroke.
So, all apologies to Jake Shellenberger's book sales, which probably won't be hurt anyway because I see plenty of power towers around.
Bands I ditched after a traumatic incident where one snapped and injured a male swimmer in a sensitive spot. I don't know why I thought they were better than other forms of resisted swimming anyway.
The cinder block I chalked up to some of my own young male machismo. Besides, who thinks its safe to keep a cinder block hanging around the edge of a pool?
Just swim, baby
Look, I know the rest of this post sounds like a bit old hot bag of hate around swimming equipment. So let me finish positively: whatever you may think, you definitely don't need the stuff.
Swimming is a lot more simple than we often give it credit for. My departure from using equipment had a lot more to do with just focusing on, y'know, the swimming part.