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Mar 21, 2011

SaferSwimmer Float Review: Swimming safe without hindering your performance

Mar 21, 2011 Final rating: 5/5

The sport of swimming has seen many innovations over the last few years, some of which we have covered here on the Swimator Blog (new full body suits, technique improvement related swimming equipment or new insights on how to swim faster). However, one aspect of swimming that is being pushed to the background is the safety of the sport. When was the last time you heard about some new swim safety equipment being introduced around the swimming pools? If you think about it, there are numerous designs of life vests, floating rings from many materials, arm floaties (inflatable arm bands) for children, the long stick that a lifeguard extends to a swimmer in distress, lifeguard rescue tubes and swimming safety belts. All of these pieces of safety equipment are great to help a person to stay afloat, however, they all are either impossible to swim with or make swimming quite cumbersome.

Bottom line is that personal safety during swimming does not get as much attention as it deserves, even though drownings during the popular mass triathlon races are not uncommon, however, this is about to change. A new revolutionary swim safety device was introduced to the open swimmer community which keeps you safe if you need it to, but it also does not hinder your swimming capability as the other swim safety tools do. Say hello to the "SaferSwimmer Float (Swim Safety Device or SSD)".

What it is the SaferSwimmer float (Swim Safety Device or SSD) and what does it do for you?

I have already very briefly mentioned this product in the drowning prevention post earlier. As the name indicates, the Safer Swimmer keeps you or your children safer during most swimming activities (be it in the pool or open water). It basically works as an inflatable float which is attached with an adjustable belt to your waist and is carried in the current behind you. Now you might be thinking, well, that is not that revolutionary. You are right, this simply is not, however, the beauty comes in the fact that the device does not cause you to swim slower due to its resistance behind your body. When you swim, your body creates sort of a turbulent wave channel behind you with water moving in the direction of your swim. In more scientific fluid dynamics terms, this turbulent wave creates vortices which in turn produce a low pressure area behind the swimmer which causes the water to move along in the direction of the swimmer's swim. The swim safety device takes advantage of this water flow and is basically moved in the direction of the swim on top of the wave with very little resistance. It is very similar to the idea of when cyclists or swimmers are drafting behind each other in their road/open water races. The second cyclist/swimmer always works a lot less than the first who has to plow through the air/water to create the forward moving channel.

Apart from its main function as a safety device, it also has an in-build dry bag-like storage compartment. In this waterproof dry compartment you can store and take items with you for a swim that you'd normal have to leave behind in the car or on the beach. So, whether you bring with you your clothes, towel, phone, car keys, sunglasses, spare goggles, running shoes to run back to your starting place or sun protection lotion, they stay nice and dry and your mind can be focused on swimming instead of worrying whether someone is going through your stuff on the beach. If you are out for a longer swim, perhaps you might want to bring some nutrition and hydration products along, so you can replenish your energy levels and have a good workout. If you are into swim trekking or open water orienteering, perhaps a map sealed in a zip lock bag is in order, so you don't get lost.

Another great feature is the bright orange color of the Safer Swimmer buoy. Being seen in open water swimming is a must, so any boats will go around the area you swim in. Open water swimmers usually wear a colorful swim cap to accomplish being seen, however, those caps are quite small and with the head being low in the water and waves going around your body, this is not ideal. The SaferSwimmer with its 50cm long and about 20cm tall (when inflated) body makes a perfect statement in the deep blue since the orange color is hard to miss.

The Safer Swimmer does not, however, have to be used only for swimming. Since it floats in a wake your body creates behind you, it is bound to float behind your kayak or a canoe, so if you are running out of space in the boat compartments or you just don't have any or you simply want to keep your beer cool, why not take the swim safety device along, fill it with the items you need to keep dry and let it float behind your boat while you paddle to explore near by coves.

What are the specifications of the SaferSwimmer float?

The product is made out of very durable PVC material or for the roughnecks out there Nylon with TPU coating material which supposedly even withstands an adult person standing on it while inflated (I have not tried this :)). The inflation with your mouth is done via a small external tube which has a wonderful tight-seal opening which will hold air in very well. It is much better than the valveless opening like we see on most common air filled children toys. There is also a small handle on the float which can be handy when you are walking into the water or it is even more useful in the situation when you are using the float to rest during your swim. When you wrap your hands around the buoy, it could happen that you will slip if there is some slime built up on the float from the swim, however, if you grab the handle, you will get a much more firmer grip.

The Safer Swimmer buoy comes with an adjustable waist band, so one size fits all solution is present. The waist bend has two nice big buckles, so putting it on is easy even for people with bigger hands. It fits very well over your wetsuits as well. There is also a sliding clip on the belt which is attached to a short non-adjustable connector which in turn attaches the belt to the float. If you position the belt buckle to the side (instead to the front as normal), you will notice that you have a smooth path for the belt clip to move from your back to the front, so if you need to switch from freestyle to backstroke and vice versa, nothing is hindering your movement.

How to use the SaferSwimmer buoy?

To assemble and put into use the product is as simple as 1,2,3. It takes about 1 minute of your time, including filling the dry bag with your desired items. Here are the simple steps:
  1. Store all the items you'd like to keep dry in the bottom of the storage compartment
  2. Roll the top of the bag over a few times to create a water tight seal and buckle the main bag buckle. One thing to note here, make sure to start the roll of the seal towards the inflator tube, otherwise, the bag will have a bit more resistance since it won't be as smooth on the side which is in the water.
  3. Inflate the device with your mouth and twist the inflator cap to close
  4. Adjust your waist belt to snuggly fit above your hips as well as the distance you want to float to have behind you.
  5. Have an enjoyable and most importantly a safe swim

Storing the SaferSwimmer is very easy as well. If you swam in salty water, I'd suggest rinsing the float first, so you prolong the life of the material and not let the salt eat its way through it. Take your stuff out of the dry storage compartment, slowly deflate the buoy by unscrewing the inflator tube cap and when fully deflated and properly dried (ideally not on direct sunlight), fold it over a few times to get it into a manageable size. Now you have a very small, pocket size item which you can store in your car's trunk or a swim bag which is ready to be used next time you are out for a swim.

How many ways can you use the SaferSwimmer?

1) Open water swimming - if you are an avid ocean, sea, lake, pond or river swimmer, I'd strongly encourage you to check out the TPU (heavy duty) safety device as you never know what currents, cramps or other irregularities could occur in your swim. As they say, better be safe than sorry.

2) Swim lessons - if you are a novice or a beginner swimmer who is either afraid of water or not as confident, this device could be the answer to your uneasiness. Simply attach it to your waist and get into the pool to do your swim lesson exercises totally undisturbed by the floating device. When you feel scared or tired, just grab onto the buoy, roll on your back and start floating to gather composure.

3) Children safety - safety around the pool should belong to a basic education for any child during their younger years. Many swimming lesson programs do very well with teaching children about safety, however, nothing is 100%. So, if you are worried to let your kids swim on their own or if you would like to improve your child's swimming skills, the SaferSwimmer could be a good answer to this. Instead of your child using the arm floaties or a kickboard where they have a horrible positioning of their body for swimming, they could use the swim safety float and thus have a backup solution if they need to take a rest. However, note that you should never let your kids swim unsupervised if they are not good swimmers, no matter what floating devices they have on.

4) Snorkeling - now everyone can enjoy peacefully floating above the coral reef without the fear of not surviving a fatigue and drowning. Just strap the safety product around your waist and get yourself lost in the wonders of the underwater world without worrying a boat will run into you.

5) Swim trekking, island hopping, open-water orienteering - even if you are an advanced swimmer who is pushing the possibilities of the sport of swimming, taking with you the safety float is not a bad idea. Even if it is just for the sake of having some dry items with you, the safety feature could be just a plus as you never know what could happen.

6) SwimRun - the newer sport on the block is SwimRun. When you train for these races, it is important to keep hydrate and fed, so the smaller version of SaferSwimmer is a perfect solution to take with you. It can even be attached over the shoulder during your runs.

7) Group swimming - if the leader and a few other people in a group wear these buoys, it is easy for everyone else to navigate during the swim. The fastest swimmers will know where the end of the group is and the stragglers on the other hand will see how far ahead the leaders are.

8) Swimming and Triathlon events - open water swimming races have risen in popularity in recent years and with it also the danger of someone not judging their skills properly and entering a race they should not be in. The SaferSwimmer can be a good tool for the organizers to help keep a certain aspect of safety for the event as well as a nice memory product for the participants to take with them home after the race. I'd urge all event organizers to consider using these safety buoys to promote safer sport.

Summary: Pros and Cons

All and all, the SaferSwimmer buoy is a great addition to the swimming or snorkeling gear kit for anybody who wants to feel safe in the water. The float combined together with the Aquaspotter safety belt from GoatGear might just be the answers to the water safety needs of all open swimmers.

  • easy to use and assemble
  • no or very little hindrance on performance
  • waterproof dry bag feature addition
  • robust inflator air valve
  • large storage capabilities
  • the waist belt and float connector is adjustable
  • price is very reasonable $44.95 USD (if you live in Europe)
  • easily spotted colors (in addition to orange, now also in pink, yellow and green)
  • dry bag feature cannot be used on dry land with comfort as a backpack since there is no strap to be put around your shoulders
Final rating: 5/5
  • usability/effectiveness - 5/5
  • material - 5/5
  • look and feel - 5/5
  • price/value rating - 5/5

Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Mar 17, 2011

How to get the most out of your track start? (Top tips on improving your track start)

When it comes to learning your swimming start, there needs to be room for experimentation. Without trying new things, you will never improve. With that in mind, let’s examine some key aspects of the track start.

by Dust Mason
As I discussed in the grab vs. track start post before, the track start is becoming more popular than the grab start and one of the reasons could very well be, that it is a more natural and balanced position for us to use (staggered feet rather than feet together as in the grab start).

This article assumes you are already familiar with the basics of the track start and the basics of a good start and will build on top of that knowledge.

First key part of the start is the stand a swimmer (you) takes on the block. You should not feel tense and overstretched, so a bit of a flexibility plays a role here (hamstrings in particular). How far apart you put your feet is fully your preference, so play with the distance. It also depends how tall your legs are. Try to spread your feet a foot apart and then two feet and see the difference. Make sure you have a good grip on the block with both of your feet. If the blocks are slippery, feel free to wipe the block with a towel as well as the soles of your feet.

Now to the head. The head is not tucked under or watching where you go. Your head is just watching the toes of the front foot, so that is simple. Your weight is a bit of a different story. Your weight could be in many places on the block. Either on the front foot or a bit forward or in the middle, spread evenly to both feet or on the back foot (slingshot start). I suggest you try all of these scenarios and see what works for you. I personally like to be on the front of the block, leaning even a bit over the edge of the block, so on the starting gun sound I just explode forward without having to spend the time to travel the distance of the block like I would if I was in the slingshot position. That said, if you are in the slingshot position, it might take you a bit longer to get off the block, however, you will have a much more powerful dive. Another thing to note about the slingshot (lean back) dive is that you do not need to get into this position until the referee commands you to take your marks.

Finally, what you do with your arms? Hold the block as well as you can. Forget about pointing your elbows out to the sides, just grab the block hard.

Second is the actual take off from the block after the starting gun sounds. This is hard to believe for most swimmers, but your arms play a very important role in getting off the block as fast as you can. You need to pull on the block with your hands as if you’d want to rip it off the ground, this in turn will get your hips moving forward while staying nice and low. The use of your arms in this way is quite interesting and if you watch some of the top elite powerful sprinters, you can even see the block move as they do this motion.

Third would be the direction of the jump. Think of the jump as a forward horizontal motion, so all your power from your body should go into a forward motion. Since your arms are pulling on the block at the beginning they will be a bit behind you, however, you need to get them to your chest as soon as possible. The movement goes something like this. Gun sounds, you pull up on the block which causes your hips to move forward, your head is now on the way up (be careful here, don’t throw your head up too high, the goal is to stay very low), your back foot is pushing forward leaving the block. At the same time as your back foot is leaving the block, your elbows are rising to your side and are priming themselves to go into the streamlined position. Your elbows actually go up passed your body helping you lift your upper body of the block. Then as you use your front foot to finish your push off the block, your arms start moving into the streamlined position giving you more forward momentum and preparing you for the clean water entry.

Fourth and the last part is the entry. You have only a few seconds to get your body aligned in a streamline like position, so you retain as much speed that you gained while getting off the block. I already compared the water entry to a javelin getting stuck in the ground, but another analogy comes to mind. Have you ever competed in throwing rocks in the water with the least amount of splash? If so, you know that the rock has to be smooth and you have to throw it up very high, so it enters the water in a vertical position. You should focus on a similar effect during the water entry of the dive. No, I am not saying you should enter the water in a vertical position, but what I am eluding to is that you need to focus on entering as smooth as possible, so there is a very little splash. Small splash equals a perfect streamlined water entry after a dive.

Sometimes you can see swimmers bending at the hip and also bending their knees and then extending them right before they enter into the water. This is thought to create and extra push right when you enter, however, in my opinion this is bogus. Think of it this way. Your body is moving in one direction and then you take your tucked legs and shoot them in the opposite direction slicing through the air with nothing to grab on to. What you have done there is basically told the body to go back the other direction, so the force applied to your body is the other way. During this maneuver you are also most likely not going to be in a perfect streamline and if you watch these swimmers carefully, you will see two splashes. One small splash when they enter the water with their upper body and one huge splash after their legs enter the water as they didn't have enough time to put their feet upright.

Hope this helps in your path to a perfect track start. Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below. Happy diving!
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Mar 13, 2011

Which foot to put forward during a track start? (Make your track start a success)

Everyone is different, but some commonalities arise when it comes to right-handed or left-handed swimmers. Majority of us have one side of our body stronger than the other and this also shows during swimming specific movements and exercises, especially when
deciding which foot to put forward during a track start.

There is no real guide for knowing which foot to place forward during a track start. One could assume that if one is right handed (right arm dominant), the right foot should go to the back of the block as a dominant foot, however, foot dominance is sometimes something else than upper limb dominance, so it is not as clear cut as this study indicates. You could very well be right handed, but have a left foot as dominant and to top it off knowing which foot is dominant might also not indicate which foot should go back on the block. Below are a few examples on how you can determine which foot to place first on the starting block during a track start.

1) Hockey analogy - if for example you are right handed, but play hockey with your right hand on the lower part of the hockey stick (usually, right-handed people have their left hand on the lower part of the hockey stick), your left foot will more than likely go in front of the block and right foot to the back.

2) Snowboarding analogy - same goes If you snowboard and are a goofy style while being a right handed person (right foot forward). During the track start your right foot goes in the back part of the block. If you are a snowboarder with a regular stance, it could be the same, but also there is a chance it is the opposite (right foot forward and left foot back on the block).

3) High jump analogy - if you have ever high jumped, you always jump from the outside (take off) foot, so if you approach the bar from the left, you will jump from your right foot etc. Which strangely enough might not be your dominant foot. So in a track start, if you high jump from your right foot, you could try your right foot in front on the block and vice versa if you high jump from your left foot.

4) Sliding analogy - If none of the analogies work for you, why not put some slippery socks on your feet, take a short run and slide on your feet in a staggered position with one foot forward and one foot backwards (you can do this on ice in the winter as well). Then do it the other way and if one way feels more comfortable with balance than the other, place your feet in the staggered position of the LESS comfortable position. So for example, in my case if I slide, I have my right foot forward and left one back, so during the track start I’d put left foot in front and right one back on the block.

5) Push analogy - you can try the famous method where you close your eyes and have some one push you in the back and then whatever foot you put forward is the dominant foot you put in the back of the block when you practice your track start.

In reality, there is probably not one recipe that fits everyone, so if you don’t fit any of those supporting analogies above, just try it both ways and see which one feels more natural. Here is another discussion on the foot dominance topic. If you still can’t get the hang of it, perhaps it is time to try the grab start.
Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers

Mar 7, 2011

Track start vs. Grab start explained (Should I choose the track start or grab start for my races?)

Should I do a track start or a grab start? That is a question I get asked quite a lot. My answer usually is that it really depends on many things. Such things could be:
by wcn247
your body agility, what type of event you swim, how deep you want to go on a dive and what you feel comfortable with. If you are practicing your starts, you should definitely try both variations and then come up with the best one for each event/stroke/race that you do. It is possible that you will only do a track start or only a grab start, but it is also possible that you for example will do a track start for a sprint freestyle event and a grab start for a mid-distance breaststroke event. It seriously depends on many aspects of the swimmer and his/her ability to execute the appropriate dive. So, don’t worry if you are unsure. Many swimmers still haven’t figure it out. Here is a short comparison of what I think are advantages of each.

Grab Start
The grab start is the older of the two variations of starts and has been challenged as the number one start in competitions by the track start in the last decade or so. The grab start is thought of as a bit more powerful than the track start and it should allow the swimmer to use more force applied to the block.

The grab start is done with both feet next to each other, about 1 foot apart, and your toes curled over the edge to improve your grip. Your body is bent over with your knees slightly bent to improve your spring action off the block. When you bend over to grab the block and wait for the final GO, it is very important that you put your weight in front of your toes and not on your heels, so in other words, you should lean a bit forward while supporting your weight by holding the block. Be careful though, so you don’t loose your balance and get disqualified by an early start or by falling into the water. This lean forward technique needs to be practiced as it fully depends on individual preference and hamstring flexibility. If done properly, it will allow you for a faster reaction time off the block. So after the whistle, you just shoot out forward and not rock back to your heels and then back to your toes again. Just your toes. Your fingers should be wrapped around the block on the outside of your feet and if possible grabbing the block. Your eyes are looking directly at your toes, NOT behind your or NOT forward. So when you are all ready for the starting bang, you are bent over, leaning slightly forward, your head is lowered with your eyes looking at your toes. Pretend like you are a loaded spring, just about to explode when the starting whistle sounds. Right after the start your first movement should be with your arms and fingers. It does sound weird, but you should pull up and pull slightly back on the block to prevent you from rocking back to your heels and then to your toes again. This pull up will give you the starting momentum forward which you will then complete with the push from both of your feet at the same time.

Track Start
The track start provides for a faster reaction time. I am assuming, this is the main reason why it overtook the grab start in the elite swimmer ranks. You also will have a lot stable posture on the block than during the grab start, so if you get disqualified during the grab start for early starts too often, the track start is for you. There are a couple of major variations of the track start. One is called the leanback (slingshot or rear weighted) start where you lean as far back on the block as possible and one is in a similar manner as the grab start a more of a leaning forward start where all your weight is in the front of your block. Which one of these you will choose depends fully on your preference, but it is interesting to note that the leanback start is becoming a bit more popular as you can get a bit more propulsive force off the block.

The track start is done in a similar fashion as a running track start you see in the athletics (track and field) events. Feet are staggered one in front of the block with toes curled over the edge and one in the back (some blocks have an actual extra starting block pad in the back to help with the back foot placement). One common question here is if the feet should be staggered inline or a bit apart. You will get more power if they are apart, at least ½ of a your foot, so a bit closer than the grab start. The next question would be how far behind each other they should be. This is a very good question and I tend to lean towards a bit closer together than too far apart. So, I’d recommend, no more one foot between the front and the back foot. If you spread them too far apart, you loose the force of the back foot. So, now you may be wondering, which foot do I put forward and which in the back during the track start. I’ll let you figure this out and in the next few days will post a short article with some simple exercises which will help you determine which foot to put forward when you do a track start. The head and hand position during the track start is very similar to the of grab start where eyes are watching the front foot and fingers are curled over the block (if possible). During the start whistle, your first motion is the pull up on the block with your hands as in the grab start, but on this in some later posts.

Incorrect head position on both grab and track starts
Grab start vs. Track start - Which one to choose?
As you can see there are some differences between the track start and the grab start. I don’t dare to say which one is more conventional as the grab start used to be, but not it appears that the track start is in the mainstream. And how does this translate to what I talked about at the beginning where you should choose a start based on some characteristics of your body or event you are swimming. For example, a grab start requires quite a lot of flexibility as you need to grab the block below your feet and only slightly bend your knees. If you are not that flexible you’d end up almost with a 90 degree angle in your knees and this would just put too much weight on the back of the black. So, if you are not that flexible, track start is for you. Since the grab start is a bit more powerful you can also have a more deeper entry into the water which is beneficial for longer breaststroke or butterfly events as you need to be in the right depth under water to perform the right under water kick or pull. However, since underwater dolphin kick is nowadays also heavily swam in freestyle events, one could argue that if you are strong underwater kicker, grab start might be better, but if you are not that great at underwater, the flatter track start is the one for you.

As you can see the possibilities are endless and it really just depends on your ability to execute each of the different types of the start. Bottom line, however, is that for a sprint events you’d want to opt into the more faster reaction time start as oppose to more powerful start, but again you decide by practicing and playing around with the different swimming start variations. Happy starting!

If you are new to starts in swimming, perhaps you should first visit the learn to dive section to get some tips on how to learn proper starts to spice up your swimming and then come back to this section when you are ready.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start