Article image

by Scott Bay

November 6, 2018

A pull buoy can be great for stroke feedback

Who doesn’t love a nice, long freestyle pull set? You don’t have to kick, and you can concentrate on your stroke. It’s almost meditative. But you should pay close attention because your pull buoy can teach you a lot about all of your strokes.

When you first try pulling other strokes, it might be awkward and uncomfortable. Some of that is you’re just trying something new, but another part of it is the feedback you’re receiving on problem areas of your stroke. Pay attention to this.

Here are some things to look for on all four strokes. 

  • Butterfly—When pulling butterfly, it’s hard to resist the impulse to kick. Avoid thinking about it and let the pull buoy do its job of keeping your hips stable. If you feel yourself going up and down, you have to think about where your fingertips and elbows are. Are you pulling forward or pushing down? It’s also good to think about your head position.
  • Backstroke—If you feel flat or like you’re sinking, there’s a good chance that you’re using your kick to rotate rather than your core. If you think about your hips and using your midsection to snap them over, you’re less reliant on your legs; the power center is the core so make it happen there. A few words of caution though: If you find yourself finishing your stroke with your hand palm down under your backside, you’re using your hands to rotate. If you’re one of those people who kick accidently with a pull buoy, consider using a band. This skill takes a while to master but really helps in getting the most out of your stroke.
  • Breaststroke—This is where many people find out where they’re putting pressure on the water with their hands. When you pull breaststroke, avoid doing a dolphin kick. The goal is to really hone in on just the front part of the stroke. The most common feedback that people get is the inchworm feeling. This is when they seem to be going up and down more than forward. To fix it, you need to focus on your fingertips and elbows. Are you pushing down to the bottom of the pool or pulling yourself forward. One movement creates more propulsion than the other. The second thing to think about is your head position. If you’re throwing it up and down as if bobbing for apples, you will have a similar up-and-down swimming experience.
  • Freestyle—Do you pull faster than you swim? There are many reasons why this could be the case, starting with your body position. If you carry your head high, your hips sink and you’ll plow through the water. Most folks counteract this with a strong kick, but is that making you go faster or just keeping your hips up? If you pull faster than you swim, more often than not, it’s the latter. Even if you have great alignment, an ineffective kick will actually slow you down and cost more energy.

Making Adjustments

For these strokes, it’s best to try pulling repeats of at least 100 yards. We can all fake it for a 25 and even a 50. You really get a sense of what you do with your stroke once you get just a little tired. The flatness in backstroke or the up and down in breaststroke and fly will show up.

You should avoid using paddles at first and maybe even altogether because they put extra strain on your joints. Make sure the movement is being done properly before adding any resistance.

Done with great care, the subtle changes you make based on what you learn from your pull buoy will eventually become habit.


  • Technique and Training


  • Drills
  • Breaststroke
  • Backstroke
  • Butterfly
  • Freestyle
  • Stroke Technique