Improve your Swim Skills: 6 Week Progression Using a Swim Band

Swimmers talking with their swim coach
December 13, 2016

Mike Ricci


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Swimming in a pool is unlike cycling and running where you can create situations to make the workout more difficult by adding things like resistance from going up hill, turning into the wind or changing gears (cycling). In swimming, we don't have the option to swim uphill, but that leaves us coaches with the opportunity to go into our little labs and tinker around until we come up with devious sets to get our athletes more fit in the water!

One of the tools I love to see our athletes use is a swim band, and at the end of this article, you'll find a video link from D3 Coach Brad Seng about "How to Make a Swim Band'". The swim band has been around a very long time and can be beneficial in a few ways. In this article I'll share why the swim band is helpful to your swimming, and I'll demonstrate a progression on how to use the swim band properly.

Once you've created a swim band, and you want to try it out here's what you'll do:

  • Swim a proper warm up of at least 300 yards (or meters).
  • Swim 6x50 yards/meters of drill for 25/swim for 25.
  • Then, you should be ready to give band swimming a try.
  • Put the band around your ankles. It should be pretty snug, enough so that you can't kick when you swim.

Now, if you put the band on your legs and just start swimming, you'll have a pretty big problem! Your legs will be drag along beneath you, and swimming will be a near-death experience. I tell you this through personal experience. The first time I used a swim band was in 2005, in Christchurch, NZ. The pool was 50m long and about 14 feet deep. I made it about way across before I thought I might actually drown. It took every ounce of energy I had to make it the final 25m to the opposite side! Of course I could have removed the band under the water, but the adrenaline had me moving toward the other end of the pool. I learned pretty quickly that I had a lot to learn about swimming with a band.

What I'd like you to do is push off the with both feet, and create some momentum toward the other end of the pool, with a very streamlined push off, and you should be much better off! So, bear in mind, there is a strategy to swimming with a band and being able to push off, to get those legs up behind you is key.

Once you push off, and you can't kick to propel yourself, all the power has to come from the front end of your stroke. You have two options here:

1. You can have a deep catch*, with a lot of resistance, and plenty of power or,2. You can have a shallower catch* with less resistance, and less power.

* Your catch is the power portion of your stroke. Once your hand enters the water, you catch the water with your fingertips pointing to the bottom of the pool, your palm facing the wall behind you and your elbow close to the surface of the water.

I know some will argue with me, but science tells us that drag (resistance) trumps power every time. So, do your best to keep your swim stroke shallow and hinge your arm at the elbow in order to move yourself forward through the water, with less power, yes, but also with less drag. Keeping this momentum going across the pool is a difficult task but this is where the pay off is. Once you have a better handle on swimming with the band, you'll see the power increase in the front of your stroke. Once you can get your legs to follow behind your body at the surface of the water, your body position will improve tremendously! It's much easier being a speedboat racing across the top of the water vs. a tugboat that is creating a lot of drag due to how deep it sits in the water. Tugboat or speedboat which do you want to be you choose.

Following is a six week progression for swimming with a band. Remember, start with at least a 300 yard warm up, and then a few easy 50s broken into 25 swim, 25 drill. This will get you warmed up and ready for the band.

Week 1 (work these into each swim this week):Main set and then:4x25 with band and pull buoy2x25, with band and no pull buoy

Week 2: (work these into each swim this week):Main set and then:6x25 with band and pull buoy2x25 with band and no pull buoy

Week 3: (work these into each swim this week):Main set and then:8x25 with band and pull buoy4x25 with band and no pull buoy 1x50 with band and pull buoy

Week 4:(work these into each swim this week):10x25 with band and pull buoy8x25 with band and no pull buoy 2x100 with band and pull buoy

Week 5:(work these into each swim this week):12x25 with band and pull buoy12x25 with band and no pull buoy 100 with band and pull buoy 2x100 with band and no pull buoy

Week 6:(work these into each swim this week):16x25 with band and pull buoy16x25 with band and no pull buoy 100 with band and pull buoy 4x100 with band and no pull buoy

Once you have moved through this progression you can start swimming longer sets involving swim paddles as well. Sets such as 3x300 with the pull buoy, paddles and band will help challenge you and help you to keep improving your body position and power in the water. In addition to these sets, create a goal such as swimming 1,000 yards with just the band. I's a tall task, but with proper progression you should be able to get there in a couple of months of dedicated band swimming! Good luck and if you have questions feel to e-mail me here.

  • Coach Brad demonstrates how to make a swim band.  CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO!

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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