From SwimSwam contributor Chris O'Linger, an assistant swim coach at the University of the Incarnate Word.
Most sprint coaches have beliefs about resisted and assisted speed training, and most of them are consistent. Most coaches agree that both of these forms of training need to be used simultaneously in a program to achieve optimal results. The topics in which coaches differ is when to emphasize which training method, and why. There have been several studies producing various outcomes pertaining to assisted and resisted training methods for sprinting success, but many of these studies separate the two as individual entities producing different outputs, and not focusing on how to ultimately combine the two for complementary results. Most findings point to resistance training producing more important enhancements in regards to a sprint performance, but much more research concludes that without the interrelation of assisted sprint training, the benefits from resistance training are minimal.
High Resistance Training
High resistance training results in muscular strength increases, but does not directly correlate with faster 100-meter performances, and high velocity training increases 100-meter performance without increasing muscular strength (Girold, et. al., 2006). In essence, resistance training improves elbow extensors and flexors in isometric and concentric conditions, respectively (Girold, et. al., 2006). This is important for increasing the length of ground covered per stroke cycle, and enforces technically sound pulling and pushing patterns during the underwater catch.
Assisted Sprint Training
Assisted sprinting exercises optimize the turnover rate, and allow the swimmer to develop a conditional ‘feel’ for the hydrodynamic position (Girold, et. al., 2006). Without assisted speed training, resistance training prescribed alone will result in a longer stroke length, but worse body and head position with a slower turnover rate. Conversely, assisted speed prescribed without resistance interventions will result in a high turnover rate, good body and head positioning, but poor muscular strength and a shortened stroke length. Swimmers who trained in a resistance-training program increased their stroke rate during the second 50 meters of a 100-meter race, and their stroke count rose (Girold et. al., 2006). Consequentially, swimmers who participated in an all assisted speed training program increased their turnover rate during the whole race, and demonstrated a consistent decrease in stroke length throughout their 100-meter performance (Girold, et. al., 2006.
Physical strength and a proper technical stroke are most positively associated with success in a 100-meter performance (Girold, et. al., 2006); consequentially pointing to a need for both assisted and resisted speed training. As discussed above, the extensors and flexors of the elbow can be enhanced through resistance training, but another overlooked by-product is increased strength of the hip flexors. Hip flexors require a more dynamic approach for strengthening utilizing elastic bands and plyometric exercises outside of the water for sufficient strengthening. Of participants who were engaged in a 2-month dynamic hip flexor strengthening program, men’s and women’s hip flexor strengths increased 11.4% and 14.3% respectively (Brady, 2013). Although the athletes were not asked to perform a sprint swim race at the conclusion, the strength and conditioning authors found a 4.4% time decrease in 40-yard dash in male participants, and a 3.2% decrease in time for women (Brady, 2013). The authors had previously found a positive correlation between swimmer’s 50 and 100 meter performances and their maximum hang clean, extended pull-up speed, and their 40-yard dash times (Brady, 2013)—of course with the wide variances of swimmer’s athletic capabilities, there are exceptions.
As far as program development is concerned, the beginning of a competition season is a perfect time for sprint coaches to implement an aerobic base building, strategically focusing on sprint technique. As the technical aspects progress, mid-season training should consist of a higher emphasis on resistance training (both in and out of the water), with quicker intervals and higher aerobic intensity (Girold, et. al., 2006). As championship seasons near, coaches should put a higher emphasis on assisted sprint training to increase their performing turnover rates while holding the strength gains from mid season to ensure a proper stroke length (Girold, et. al., 2006). It is also psychologically enabling for a swimmer to approach or exceed race quality speed prior to their competition. The body should be allowed to heal at a fast pace during their taper season, and should be lengthened or shortened according to the individual metabolic rate and depth of mid-season training. Both forms of speed training should take place at all times throughout the season, but should be done with developmental appropriateness, with the ultimate goal of optimal performances during championship season.
A final point of consideration pertains to the objective theories positing greater gains, from both a strength or speed perspective, when a drill implementation is new (Brady, 2013). In this sense, it will be a sole responsibility of the coach to incorporate a variety of new drills and resistance/assistance mechanisms throughout the season of competition and the career of an athlete. All of the results of theses studies mentioned above were from the incorporation of a newly prescribed program or a healthy addition to an existing program. The results generated from a new incorporation are significantly higher than that of a continuous program. At the University of the Incarnate Word, my staff and I are trying to incorporate resistance training that derives from a point of the body other than the athlete’s center of gravity (the waist). We are brand new owners of several dry-land tools that will directly strengthen the muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments necessary for fast-twitch communication and that will foster the enhancement of a stable postural position.
Brady, D. (2013). Assisted and resisted sprint training for speed and acceleration. Sports
Science: Research Supported Sports Performance (19 Oct. 2013). Retrieved
Brady, D. (2013). Hip flexor exercises for sprint speed. Sports Science: Research
Supported Sports Performance (19 Oct. 2013). Retrieved from
Girold, S., et. al. (2006). Assisted and resisted sprint training in swimming. Journal of
Strength and Conditioning Research, 20 (3), 547-554.
O’Linger is an assistant coach for the Incarnate Word swimming and diving program. He swam collegiately at both the University of Florida and University of Tampa. He earned a degree in social psychology from Tampa. He is studying kinesiology.