Improve Balance and Reduce Drag with VB AIR

[repost from AquaVolo]

The goal of every competitive swimmer is to swim faster. One way to swim faster is to reduce drag. One way to reduce drag is to improve your body position in the water by making it more horizontal and stable. A more horizontal body position displaces less water as you move forward. The less water is displaced, the less drag the swimmer has to overcome. What makes the body position horizontal, creates stability and reduces drag is balance. This balance is achieved by engaging core muscles and by pressing down the lungs. (Pressing down the lungs brings the hips and legs up, acting as a lever.) When one of these two components—engaging core or pressing down the lungs—is missing, the body position gets distorted, efficiency falls and speed drops.

I have mentioned in a previous post that when we learn a new movement, our brain generates new motor pathways that carry the signals from the brain to the body parts responsible for that movement. And that “the more a particular pathway is activated during consistent, purposeful action, the likelier it is to be stabilized [become automatic].”(1)

Let me summarize what I have just written:

1) one way to swim faster is to reduce drag;
2) swimming with a horizontal body position reduces drag;
3) balance is required for attaining a horizontal body position;
4) balance is achieved by engaging core muscles and pressing down the lungs; and
5) swimmers need consistent and purposeful training to make new movements automatic.

Based on these insights, we can assert that swimmers need to consistently and purposefully try to achieve balance by engaging the core muscles and by pushing down the lungs. We can also say the opposite, that swimmers need to minimize activities that distort horizontal body position and discourage engagement of core muscles. One activity that both distorts the horizontal body position and discourages the use of core muscles is kicking with a kick board.

Kick Board

The idea behind a kick board is to provide support for swimmers’ arms so they can concentrate on the kick. However, for many swimmers, especially younger swimmers and those with weak core and poor balance, kick board introduces serious drawbacks.

First, as the swimmer kicks, his hands press down on the kick board that is extended in front of him. In addition to adding pressure on the shoulders, pushing down on the kick board creates a lever that lifts up the lungs.

Arms Lungs Lever

Similarly, when the lungs go up, hips and legs go down (it’s the same lever effect).

Lungs Legs Lever

As we have already established, to have a horizontal body position the swimmer has to push down with the lungs which aids in elevating the hips and legs. The exact opposite happens when you kick with a kick board: the lungs go up and the legs go down.

Some might argue that the swimmer doesn’t have to press down on the kick board, which is a valid argument. However, due the physical properties of a traditional kick board, which is very buoyant and not easily submerged, there will always be some pressure from the hands on the board. The arms of a perfectly streamlined swimmer reside slightly below the surface of the water. When the swimmer places his arms on the kick board, which is on the surface of the water and is not easily submerged, he is faced with two choices: to press down on the board to try to attain a horizontal body position (which causes the lever effect outlined above) or not to press down on the board and leave the arms at a slight angle (from shoulders up to the surface of the water). In either case, there will always be some distortion in the body position.

Second, many swimmers use the kick board as a stabilization platform. They grab on the kick board and use its high buoyancy property to balance their body in the water to achieve stability. Instead of using the core muscles to stabilize and balance the body, they use an external device. When swimmers do this, they are discouraging the use of the core muscles which are essential for developing a horizontal body position. Swimmers that use the kick board as a stabilization platform never get an opportunity to learn how to use their core to balance and how to develop an efficient body position.

After we created VB AIR and started training with them, we discovered a latent benefit that we had not anticipated: VB AIR are the perfect split kick board. VB AIR and kick boards are made from similar materials and both are buoyant. However, VB AIR are significantly less buoyant and easily submerged, which makes them so great for kicking.

VB AIR Kicking

First, although VB AIR do provide support for arms, they are not as buoyant as the kick board. The weight of relaxed arms will submerge VB AIR just below the surface of the water, which is ideal for streamlined body position. Swimmers cannot press down on the VB AIR, as they can with the kick board, because the VB AIR will sink and the swimmer will lose balance. Hence, the lungs will not be pushed up and the legs will not be pushed down because there is no lever effect as in the case with the kick board.

Second, unlike the kick board, VB AIR cannot be used as a stabilization platform because they do not provide enough buoyancy to support the weight of the body.  As a result, swimmers must engage core muscles to balance themselves. If there is no external device to use as a stabilization platform, swimmers have no choice but learn how to use core muscles and lungs to balance themselves in the water.

To summarize, balance allows the swimmer to achieve a horizontal body position which reduces drag and results in increased speed. Balance is gained by engaging the core muscles and pushing down the lungs. As with any movement, to make the horizontal body position automatic swimmers need to consistently and purposefully practice by engaging the core and by pushing down the lungs. Activities that distort horizontal body position and discourage use of the core to attain balance, such as kicking with the kick board, need to be minimized. We believe that VB AIR are an effective alternative to traditional kick boards. Like the  traditional kick board, VB AIR provides support for swimmers arms so that the swimmers can concentrate on the kick. Unlike the traditional kick board, VB AIR force the swimmers to use the core muscles and to push down the lungs to achieve balance in the water. Improved balance leads to improved body position which results in faster speed.


Related Posts:
Introducing VB AIR

1. What’s Going On In There. Lise Eliot (2000)


VoloBlades: Strength Training for Triathletes

Today’s perspective on strength training by Luis Vargas on featured an image of VoloBlades. The image illustrates one of Luis’s recommendations–using paddles to increase strength. Thanks, Luis for emphasizing tools and methods for strength training!

XTri. VoloBlades

Do Finger Paddles Increase “Feel For Water”?

(originally posted at

finger paddles


Finger paddles, sometimes also known as sculling paddles, are frequently touted as paddles that help swimmers increase their “feel for water.” Evidence to support this claim, however, is never provided.

One way to think about the feel for water in this particular context is as a sense of the position and the movement of the swimmer’s hand in the water. This sense is vital when swimmers want to improve technique. For instance, if a swimmer tries to improve her hand entry and catch, she needs to be aware of the precise position and movement of her hand first. Once she has that awareness, she can work on improving it. In other words, she cannot improve something that she is not aware of. Mindful swimmers work hard to increase their feel for water so they can then refine their technique.

Where does this sense of the position and movement, or the feel for water come from? What events trigger this awareness? What information does the brain receive that allows it to create an accurate map of the swimmer’s hand position?

This information starts with the fingertips. Fingertips are one of the most sensitive regions of human body. In fact, “there is a hundred-to-one ratio of touch receptors in your fingers compared to your torso.”(1) The more sensory receptors, the more information reaches the brain. It is this information, originating from the fingertips and processed by the brain, that allows the swimmer to know her precise hand position and the movement in the water.

They key point to understand here is that when the swimmer presses the water, the fingertip receptors are activated. “These special receptors translate mechanical pressure into long-distance electrical signals” (2) and send them to the brain. The brain then processes this information and provides the swimmer with a sense of the hand position and movement, or the feel for water. It is important to emphasize that the source information provided by the fingertip touch receptors determine the feel for water.

Now that we have this insight, it is easy to see that the feel for water with the finger paddle will be quite different from the feel for water with bare fingers. When you press water with bare fingers, the water flows around, over and between the fingers. The finger receptors, having direct and unobstructed contact with water, collect accurate and relevant information and send it to the brain, resulting in the accurate feel for water. Inserting a finger paddle between the fingers and the water dramatically changes the information collected by the fingertip touch receptors: the sensory input from water, a liquid, is fundamentally different from the input from a solid paddle.

By shifting the fingertip touch receptors from water and placing them onto a solid surface, finger paddles deprive the fingertip touch receptors from registering as much crucial information necessary to increase the feel for water. In essence, you create a barrier between the sensory collector and the environment. It’s analogous to putting on opaque glasses to see more. Your eyes may register the inside of the glasses, but they won’t register what is beyond them.

In conclusion, to increase the feel for water, it is crucial to have unobstructed contact between the fingers and the water. Only when the fingers have unobstructed contact with water, the fingertip receptors can provide the brain with accurate and relevant information that will result in a more accurate feel for water. Inserting a finger paddle between the fingers and the water will only increase the feel for solid surface. In this case, swimming with finger paddles is more likely to increase the feel for plastic than the feel for water.





1. The Body Has a Mind of Its Own. Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee (2007)

2. What’s Going On In There. Lise Eliot (2000)

New on TRIResults: Search Triathlon Events

To make even more user-friendly, I added a new search option – Search by Event Name.  Now you can easily find what triathlon events are available on TRIResults and see historical results for each event.

From click the Search link at the top and start typing the event name in the form .  As you type the name of the event, the search results will be dynamically displayed below:

Click the event name that you are interested in and the next page will display all historical results for that event:

Let me know if you have any questions or post them on the TRIResults Q&A site.

Endurance Training and Coconut Water (and more)

For the long ride, I took 2 bottles, one with plain water and one with coconut water. A couple of years ago I discovered coconut water when I was looking for an alternative to the common sports drink. Coconut water is full of natural electrolytes and potassium that’s needed for proper fluid balance and muscle function. It’s also a natural cooling agent because the liquid form of potassium is quickly absorbed into your system and keeps all the great water in your cells to cool you down. That’s why people living in warm climates, like Thailand and Brazil, drink it. I also drink coconut water before going to bed when I’ve had a little too much red wine while out with friends – gets rid of that dry cotton mouth in the morning. 🙂

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