So, this is by far the discipline you need the least amount of “stuff”, but it’s also the hardest if you’ve never competitively swam before. There is tons of technique and nuances you need to learn right from the get go.
What You Need:
Pool/Ocean/Lake/River – Yeah, no matter what anybody says, you can’t become a good swimmer without swimming. It doesn’t matter if you have a pool at home or joined a gym with a pool, get in there and start moving about.
Instruction – It doesn’t matter if you ask people at the pool, watch videos on the internet, or get a guide to swimming, they’ll all help at making you go from no swimming to ok a lot faster than you can on your own.
What You Might Want:
Goggles – Once you become a more proficient swimmer, you’ll want to be able to finally put your face in the water and get a sleeker profile to go faster. No need for scuba diving goggles, but something small for the pool. You may want a more robust pair for racing. I would suggest a tinted pair if your races start late enoughnin the morning and the sun is already up.
Swim Suit – To some coaches and triathletes it doesn’t matter what you swim in, because drag in training is good. I for one don’t like extra material bunching up between my legs and causing discomfort. You don’t have to buy a Speedo, but guys can get away with jammers. They look just like the spandex you wear on a bike in front of more people, so just get a pair. Ladies, I would suggest a comfortable one piece. You may have a sexy two piece you wear by the pool or on the beach, but that’s not gonna be good for mobility or higher speeds in the water. Remember the last time you were on the cliff dive slide at the water park? Last thing about suits, they can take a beating and wear out pretty quickly. This is when the higher priced items might be worth it because they’ll last longer depending on swim volume.
Ear/Nose Plugs – As you start, it may take a long time to get used to having water up your nose or in your ear. I personally use ear plugs while training and racing because I have a weird keep my ears clean fetish. Once you get better at swimming, you tend to not need these anymore.
Swim Cap – For those with hair on your head….not me…..you may want a cap to keep the chlorine/salt/brackish/or bog water from killing your hair. It also helps with gliding through the water more smoothly. In my opinion, it takes a good amount of practice to get these things on right. Just like tech tees and water bottles, you’ll get a new cap for just about every race you enter, so need to get more than one.
Training Guide – Swimming can be very boring. It’s best to have a training guide that can give you suggested sets and techniques to work on. Just showing up every morning and swimming for an hour will not make you a better swimmer.
What You Probably Don’t Need but Might:
Music – Like I said above, swimming can be boring. If you’re doing a big block of volume training, you may want music in your ears to stave off insanity. There are a few different types of swimming headsets now. Speedo makes the Aquabeat, Finis has the SwiMP3(which is bone conduction), and H2Audio has a bunch of iPod compatible things. If you had a LifeProof case on your iPhone with special underwater earphone, you could use that too. Every single one of these can be hit or miss though. Be careful and read reviews.
Hand Paddles – These are great for developing upper body strength through the entire stroke.
Kickboard – This can be used as a good warm up tool for your legs. People tend to overuse these though.
Pull Buoy – This is one of the best training tools for the pool, especially for the beginner and triathlete. It helps even out your body position and keep you focused without being too difficult.
Snorkel – If you have trouble breathing or want to help develop your lung’s strength (NOT capacity) this is a wonderful tool. Some people have a hard time developing a proper breathing rhythm, and this kind of takes that out of the equation.
Masters Class – Ok, so you’re new and don’t want to be terribly embarrassed about your swimming, then wait on this. Masters classes can be quite full with 3 to 4 swimmers per lane, and if you can’t keep up, that’s not good. If you are on your game and need a challenge, then jump into a class. It’ll be very worth it. Sometimes classes are run by coaches and/or trainers, so you might be able to get some extra instruction as well.