3 Ways to Improve Your Power in the Water

Erica Leary

This article was originally posted on yourswimlog here

Here are three different ways that you can incorporate resistance training in your next practice, and how to make the most of your time spent developing brute strength swimming power:

1. Swimming with a band.

For straight, sheer upper body strength this cannot be beat.

While most swimmers lean on their pull buoy to build upper body endurance and strength, it does come with it’s share of drawbacks.

While it can help build general upper body endurance (without your legs sucking up precious oxygen you can also pull longer than you would be able to swim), it’s not great for power.

After all, you can only really get your tempo up so high. On the other hand, the band around your ankles forces you to come to grips with developing a stronger, more powerful pulling motion.

The moment you strap on a band around your ankles your stroke rate has to go up—otherwise you are gonna stink, err, sink, buckaroo.

Swimming with a band will also have your stroke become more balanced, your high elbow catch improves, and your stroke tempo increases.

All three things are absolutely essential for developing a faster freestyle, especially you sprinters.

Training tips:

  • If you’ve never used an ankle band before, start off using a pull buoy and graduate to dropping the pull buoy.
  • Do short distances with lots of rest to start out with. If you aren’t doing it with proper technique stop and rest.
  • If you are currently on the DL with a brutal case of swimmer’s shoulderdo not try swimming with just a band around your ankle until you heal up and/or fix the technical issues that led to the injury in the first place. Swimming with a band around your ankles is brutal on your shoulders.

2. Swimming or kicking with DragSox.

I kick. A lot. I often spend half of my workouts on my kickboard.

There are lots of reasons why I like doing heaps and heaps of kick sets, not the least of which is that I hate having my stroke fall apart towards the end of my races (as short as they maybe), and to be honest, having a fast dolphin or freestyle kick is simply kind of awesome.

While I love using my swim fins to the point that I get gnarly blisters on my feet, I prefer using DragSox in order to build up the power in my legs.

They are my favorite for building crushing leg power. I have talked about why both in a post I did covering gifts for competitive swimmers, as well as in this essential swimming gear guide.

I’ll save you a click by reiterating why here again.

  • They give you a full range of motion. Power comes from loading the movement you want to improve. With a proper pair of DragSox (they come with various degrees of difficulty) the range of motion and even the tempo should match up to your regular swimming. It’ll be harder, but that is the point!
  • Improves feel for the water. The moment you take off the DragSox and perform a high intensity swim you will feel as though you were fired out of a cannon. I guess it’s something to do with an improved feel for the water, but it’s a feeling that you will want to experience for yourself.
  • Endlessly versatile. I lean on my DragSox for vertical kick work, particularly when the local lap swim is too crowded. Or I will combo them with fins to really get the lactate churning in my legs. I will do sprint swim and sprint kick work with them on. Options are endless!

3. Resistance tubing.

In this case, we aren’t talking about the type of stretch chords that you lasso around the flag pole, slip your hands into, bend over at the waist, and then wail away on. (Even though these do have their purpose.)

Nope, I am talking about the much funnier kind—the type which you knot up one end to the starting block, and then buckle the other around your waist and swim out against it.

Research that we detailed in another post that talked about whether resistance training improved 50m sprinting performance. In that particular study, elite swimmers trained with resistance tubing twice a week, for 12-weeks.

The athletes swam against the chord, which was tied up to a starting block, and also getting speed-assist training by being pulled back by the tubing.

At the end of the 12-weeks, the swimmers improved speed over a 50m versus the poor control group swimmers, who performed the regular workouts without the tube work.

There is one thing you will really notice when swimming against a stretch chord, and it’s something that is very hard to replicate otherwise…

The moment the chord goes taut and progress slows to a snail’s pace your body will naturally adjust into the most efficient position possible.  As it turns out, your body is smart—it will seek the most efficient means to get through the water when faced with maximum resistance.

Training with the tubing for short bursts followed by high rest ends up serving a powerhouse double-whammy; you get high-value power work in while ingraining efficient body position into your swimming.

Final Note: Contrast Your Power Work with Speed for Max Effect

The research mentioned earlier in the stretch chord section found that resistance training works best when you alternate it with speed boost sets.

In other words, don’t just pound out rep after rep of loaded sprinting—add some full swim sprinting, or swimming with fins, or with the resistance tubing—to get even more from your resistance training.

The speed-boost work will teach your body how to swim fastest with less effort more efficiently, which, when we think about it, is precisely the point of all of this!