Resistance training is a tool that can be very effective for developing skills. We’re going to explore how to use resistance in the pool to magnify the pressure that you’re feeling, helping you tune into what the water is telling. While you may think that you need access to fancy equipment to get these benefits, that’s not the case. There are an almost endless number of options you can use to increase the resistance you’ll feel. Here’s a small list of ideas-
Swim with a drag suit
Swim with board shorts
Swim with gym shorts
Swim while wearing DragSox
Swim with a parachute of any size
Swim with a weight belt
Swim towing a plastic bucket
Swim against surgical tubing that allows for forward progress
Swim against surgical tubing that keeps you stationary
Swim using a power rack
Swim using a power tower
Basically, any tool the you can buy, build, or think of is useful for the purpose of resistance training in the pool. One of the cheapest and most effective options is a parachute. Parachutes are also very portable, durable, and easily stored in a gym or swim bag. Using resistance gear is not required, just as any one tool isn’t mandatory. However, resistance training can be very effective in the right contexts. We’ll explore how in the below.
Why Resistance Works
Increased feedback. A large part of the problem with learning to feel the water is that the sensations the water is giving you are very subtle. It is a game of nuance, and more skilled swimmers are a lot more effective at picking up that nuance and using it to improve their swimming. For the rest of us, we need a cheat code to help make those sensations less nuanced. Resistance is that cheat code to better feedback.
When you move your arm through the water, there will ever changing amounts of pressure on your whole arm. If you’re using an effective pattern while swimming against resistance, you’re going to get a lot of resistance and pressure on your arms. If you suddenly start moving ineffectively, that pressure is going to vanish. That’s terrific feedback that your pulling actions aren’t as effective as they could be.
Likewise, if all of a sudden you get a huge increase in pressure, that means you just did something very right! In both cases, the use of resistance magnified the changes you might have otherwise missed if you weren’t using resistance. Once you have a basic awareness of what’s happening, you can start to pick up these nuances without the use of resistance.
Another example, let’s say you’re manipulating your hands and having trouble feeling the differences when you’re swimming with one paddle and one open hand. Throw on some resistance and all of sudden that feedback becomes crystal clear. You can’t miss it!
There is no cheating. The great aspect of resisted swimming is that if you don’t create effective propulsion you won’t go anywhere, or you’ll go there VERY slowly. Forward progress is only possible if you’re holding water. Effective and efficient progress is only possible if you’re holding LOTS of water. The resistance is unforgiving!
Occasionally, triathletes will try to swim more efficiently by gliding longer between strokes. That’s not going to work with resistance, as you’ll simply stop moving if you try to glide! Likewise, some triathletes try to swim fast by really increasing their stroke count, not holding as much water. That also won’t work because if you’re not holding water, you won’t go anywhere against the resistance.
Swimming against resistance magnifies the mistakes you’re making, and it’s unforgiving in exposing your attempts to get around these mistakes with. It keeps you honest and forces you to adjust your strategies. That’s exactly what we want. We want to be PUSHED towards better swimming with better, clearer feedback.
Novelty. While resisted swimming works for the reasons above that are specific to its characteristics, it also works because it is likely different from anything you’ve experienced before. If you haven’t done any swimming against resistance in the past, you’ll be able to experience the water in a unique way. What’s also cool about swimming against resistance is that just about every type of resistance feels differently. This further exposes you to novel sensations.
Beyond the novel sensations you’ll experience, swimming against resistance is also a novel addition to the entire swimming experience. It’s something new and exciting to look forward to if you’ve been doing the same thing day after day. That excitement alone can create progress.
In part II, we'll take a look at the guidelines for using resistance.