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by Bill Volckening

March 23, 1993

Put away the pull-buoy. There's another toy for breaststroke pull sets. We call it the "barge". At first, it may appear to be an exercise in absurdity. Adults paddling around the pool in rubber tubes? As ridiculous as this idea may seem, it works.

Although it's not clear who first developed the concept, Peddie swimmers have used the "barge" since former Head Coach Chris Martin was working with Olympian Nelson Diebel. The 1992 Olympic 100m breaststroke final (where Diebel pulled-off a stunning upset victory) is strong testimony to the power of good "barge" training. In reviewing a videotape of the race, Diebel's colossal underwater pullout (off the turn) is convincing. Even more convincing is the final 15 meters of the race, where Diebel's upper body strength was the key. Ironically, while the television announcer comments on Diebel's kick, it is more enlightening to watch what his upper body is doing.

"Barge" drill is an effective method for breaststroke pull because it helps the swimmer achieve a comfortable, efficient and viable body position, while allowing the arms and upper body to work independently of the legs. Replacing the pull-buoy with an inner-tube changes the swimmer's center of gravity by shifting the flotation to a position above the hips. This change results in an ideal body position for training all types of breaststrokers, particularly those swimmers who are learning the principals of "wave-action" breaststroke.

The equipment is simple. Diebel used a small vinyl tube, no larger than 3 feet in diameter and about 6 inches thick. In more recent years Peddie swimmers have successfully used larger, black rubber tubes from a water-skiing supply store. These larger tubes are similar to the kind of tube found in a small truck tire, but the valve is concealed for safety. Try to avoid using tubes with exposed valves. When using the larger tubes, we usually under-inflate them to avoid having the body sitting too high in the water.

The "barge" drill was developed specifically for breaststroke pull and body position. When doing the drill we do not use the legs at all. Get into the tube through the center hole. Set the inside of the tube between the hips and the lower rib cage. While pulling forward, the legs and most of the tube will trail behind.

Pull with high elbows, bending the arms at the elbow. Try to keep the forearms at a right angle to the upper arms during the scull. Recover with the hands at (or above) the surface of the water. During the recovery try to lunge forward with the arms and upper body. The tube holds the hips high in the water, simulating an efficient body position, with the legs trailing behind instead of dragging. You'll know you're doing it correctly if you experience a killer forearm burn.

Remember, it may look ridiculous to others -- but it's much better to look like a fool in practice than in a race.



  • Technique and Training


  • Breaststroke
  • Drills