Resistance Technique Part 1 – The Basics

The swim industry is full of thoughts on ‘resistance training’. The broad strokes of how most people refer to ‘resistance’ is the use of gear such as Power Bags, Parachutes, Pulleys/Power Towers, fins, and paddles. We feel the topic deserves a much deeper dive other than race full out with some form of gear. You can review our overview of the topic HERE. In that article, we divide the concept of training with resistance into 2 purposes: 1) to magnify the feel and muscle engagement required to improve swim technique, 2) to develop the power needed to race at your maximum speed.

In this article we will explore ways you can incorporate resistance into your normal sets without making extreme changes to your own unique training style.

Ensure purpose with every yard you schedule in your sets:

For example, warm up kick sets should be varied so that each day you are targeting different parts of the muscle chains. Social kicking may have its place, but it also encourages too much knee bend and does not replicate any kicking technique for any stroke. Try kicking with snorkels instead of kickboards… then add fins and Power Bags over the calves, or Power Bags on the feet, or ankle weights, etc.… We prefer kicking on the back over freestyle kicking and half of our kick warm-up sets are ‘flow’ (body dolphin on the back) with a variety of equipment changes each day.

When doing drills, change up resistive equipment so that the same drill is done regularly over a few months but each day you change up the resistive gear, so they constantly feel their technique differently. Make sure to limit the number of drills each season that you use for each stroke so they can fully understand what they are trying to obtain that each drill you prioritize.

Bilateral Power Engagement Problems:

Swimmers are not born from thin air. They are developed from scratch by training the most basic forms of a stroke and then slowly improved over time. However, ‘perfect’ stroke technique requires a proportional muscle ratio. True swim muscle chains don’t exist when they first get started (regardless of what sports they may have done prior to swimming) and must be developed in the water. All this means that most of the defects in technique occur because swimmers have to learn technique when they don’t have the muscle chains needed. We can slowly fix those technique flaws but some of the most chronic and often overlooked are related to a swimmer’s non-dominant arm (i.e. if they are left-handed or right-handed). A right-handed person typically has a very weak left arm muscle chain and thus develop a wide range of technique defects. When you combine a weak arm (say left arm) with a favored breathing side for freestyle (say the right side) you can end up with a ton of power engagement problems with the weak arm. This then causes the swimmer to instinctively use LESS power on their better dominant arm so they can swim straight. And now you have a swimmer with plenty of technique flaws related to their bilateral weaknesses.

First, you have to convince the swimmer (and their coach many times) just how bad this weak arm problem really is. Without resistance tools we find this can be nearly impossible to showcase so a swimmer become motivated to fix the slew of problems associated with their non-dominant arm. Parachutes or long cords combined with single arm strokes in which you measure time to a certain distance and stroke count will often showcase this problem and help everyone understand how much attention should be put into improving the weak arm. A pulley or power tower is the easiest way to showcase this problem, but few teams have those available. Once you have identified the severity of the problem and the range of problems associated with it, resistance such as Parachutes and Long cords can be the answer to slowly correcting the problems. We prefer single arm drills with time and stroke counts to record and track their improvement for each arm. The swimmer will have to focus on correcting the technique problems as well as engaging more of a ‘full body’ muscle chain on their weak side in order to match the weak side to the maximum potential of the dominant side. With freestyle, pay close attention to the ‘opposite arm’ when breathing to make sure the arm is not just ‘falling down’ as a lever to hold up the body while breathing. Instead, the arm should stay up near the surface until the face is rotating back down in order to maximize the power of the ‘opposite arm’. For Backstroke, swimmers very often neglect to rotate the opposite shoulder up as the pinky enters with one or both arms.

Power Utilization with Resistance:

One of our main obsessions is how to train swimmers to fully utilize their maximum power. On race day it is impossible to have more power than you currently own. The problem is that swimmers spend most of their time in practices moving through the water with the least effort. Even when we ask them to ‘race all out’ in a practice, they still rarely hit their true best times and most swimmers arguably never fully engage 100% of their available muscle chains. One of the best ways to train full power utilization is by swimming ‘all-out effort’ with resistance such as pulleys, parachutes, Power Bags, and Long Cords. Colleges and Olympians train this way during their peak season on a regular basis and all swimmers should be exposed to such methods regularly to help them learn to fully utilize the power they have. Without resistance, good technique will move you through the water with minimal effort. However, when you add resistance the swimmer much pull and engage their entire body. It is easy to remind them to ‘feel like you are pulling’ as they train a race pace tempo PLUS power engagement.

Combining Technique, Power and Tempo:

We call it the Trifecta. We train ‘Trifecta’ every day. We are constantly making sure that each yard is focused on 1, 2 or 3 of our Trifecta Skill (Technique, Power and Tempo). Without these 3 skills, no one can or will hit their optimal race times. But for us ‘Trifecta’ training is much simpler than it is for most… we use Headsets for every yard and every minute our swimmers are in the water. We have several articles (Headset Overview, Using Headsets) that help you understand the infinite uses and values of talking to your entire group for the entire session. They learn because they hear you correct their teammates. They become better coaches than most coaches because they are getting 10-20 hours of constant coach training every week (the average college class is 3-4 hours per week for just 1 semester, not year after year). But with headsets you can focus on Trifecta. You can fix technique with 1-2 comments per swimmer per 25 yards, whether they are doing drills, kick sets, or swimming ‘all out’. You can focus on power by reminding them to ‘pull like you are pulling the long cord’. You can focus on tempo by holding a metronome on your phone up to your mic and keeping EVERYONE on the same tempo, so you know who is on tempo and who isn’t. You can build tempo by making the tempo faster every 50 years or so. We lot to build our Trifecta with ‘25 Builds’ where they do a perfect breakout and then take a few strokes focusing on perfect technique, then ‘add power’ for a few strokes and then add tempo to finish super-fast. This allows swimmers to focus on the Trifecta without also worrying about ‘how long do I have to sustain this effort’.

When you use headsets, your swimmers know that you mean it when you tell them to ‘make every lap count’. When you dedicate your efforts into using headsets 100% of the time, they believe you and their focus and attention amps up to match you. Stop making excuses for why you aren’t using headsets. Get them and change your program forever. They are not for just your little kids or just your advanced kids or just for private lessons. They are for TEAMS and all ages.