Outside the Box Training: Must be the Shoes


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Swimming with… shoes?!

It’s a training exercise some programs have used, and continue to use (with permission from aquatics facilitiesshoes (medium) managers, of course). It sounds as simple as it is: Just grab an old pair of shoes, pick a main set, and go swimming.

While this unorthodox training exercise is a fun change of pace (most swimmers will love it), it’s also quite a workout for your legs. When you put on shoes then swim, your feet can’t catch the water as well – so they spin, sometimes twice as fast. You feel like you’re kicking in place.

But the shoes also fill with water, effectively creating mini-sandbags on your feet. It’s similar to swimming with a drag suit. It’s a drag suit for your feet.

At my club team in Michigan, the head coach at the time, Mike Brady, was one of the first coaches I’d heard of utilizing shoes in practice. We put them on, and it was almost like a completely different sport. You had to really work your legs to get any sort of balance and body positioning. After the regular monotony of lap swimming, wearing shoes was something most of us looked forward to. It was hard, sure, but it was also tons of fun.

Here are some more tips:

• It’s probably not recommended to wear for an entire practice, the same way you wouldn’t wear a bucket for an entire practice. Pick a short set. Or divide a main set in half – one half with shoes, one half without shoes. Your feet will slip in the water, but when you take off the shoes, you’ll really “feel” the water.

• Wear old shoes. Chlorine will likely ruin new shoes, and your parents will be mad at you. Or your spouse. Or someone. You can probably find old, cheap shoes at any local thrift store for around $5.

• Concentrate on nailing each flip turn. Wearing shoes is great for sprinters. The shoes create added weight to your feet, so when you flip, it’s more difficult to get your heels up and over. After practicing flip turns with shoes on, when you take them off, your feet will fly. Wearing shoes and flipping works the motion even more – again, imagine that they are like sandbags for your feet.

• Focus more on the long-axis strokes. Breaststroke with shoes on is difficult, and there are better devices out there (like breaststroke fins) that help you work on your breaststroke kick more effectively.

But more than the exercise benefits, wearing shoes is just really fun. (And hard.) It’s a great way to pique the interest of swimmers who might be tired of another long-distance freestyle set, and it’s a fun method to “trick” swimmers into working hard without making it seem like they’re working hard. (Kind of like the infamous “Never Ending Relay.”)

So the next time you’re looking for a new training technique that’s fun, relatively easy to understand, and doesn’t cost a few hundred dollars for equipment, try grabbing a pair of old shoes you’d otherwise throw away. (Just make sure to get prior approval from the facilities manager!) Then go swimming!

Gives a new meaning to “must be the shoes.”