How to use Resisted and Assisted Sprint Training in Swimming

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.

Resisted and Assisted Sprint Training (O' Linger)

Resisted and Assisted Sprint Training (O’ Linger)


Resisted and Assisted Sprint Training (O' Linger)

Resisted and Assisted Sprint Training (O’ Linger)






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.

muscle, vascular image - armPhysical 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.

Spinal imageAs 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.

Resisted and Assisted Sprint Training (O' Linger)

Resisted and Assisted Sprint Training (O' Linger)








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

Chris O' Linger, assistant coach, Incarnate Word swimming & diving. (Image courtesy of UIW)

Chris O’ Linger, assistant coach, Incarnate Word swimming & diving. (Image courtesy of UIW)


Girold, S., et. al. (2006). Assisted and resisted sprint training in swimming. Journal of

            Strength and Conditioning Research, 20 (3), 547-554.

About Chris O’Linger via UIW

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.

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Steve Friederang
7 years ago

This is a great article and a great discussion. I’ve used most of the speed assisted and speed resisted modalities and agree that there needs to be a balance, that both need to be progressive and most importantly they need to be specific to the athlete’s needs and strokes. Our newest product, designed by Randy Reese
is an example of a mechanically induced resistance that can be used for sprinters and endurance swimmers (the Reese version of the Power Tower we used to sell and use on my teams can now go 50 meters and one on each end can be swapped quickly to provide a lot of great endurance… Read more »

9 years ago

The website should work, however you may have to buy access to the site to view some of the articles. Most of the periodicals on tht site are published in the Journal of Sport Sciences, which you can find on various host databases.

I would love to have a CONVERSATION with Brent Rushall. I have read much of his work, and feel he is probably a tad not rehearsed than I, however I love the vote of confidence!

Thanks guys.

9 years ago

Chris, I would love to see you debate Rushall in regards to resistance pool training and strength development on land. Would be a great debate to watch!!

9 years ago

Alert – The web address does not work. At least not on my machine.

9 years ago

Personally, I think of aquatic strength/power and land strength based strength/power. They need to be in a relative balance to get the most out of a swimmer. If land based strength/power overcomes the aquatic strength/power you are left with a swimmer who sprays watts in the wrong areas.

With the correct tools, you need some measurements that you see fit to give a value to the two types of strength/power. To then see an area that is needed to develop deficient to the other. I have my own ratio based on certain lifts in the gym and times in the pool. However, the types of value changes for some of the different strokes, and between males and females.

9 years ago


I’m sure you have read that because I have, as well. A lot of it had to do with pulling patterns changing when there is an exceedingly large load carried behind the swimmer. I would not like to give away all of my secrets that we do here, BUT I will say that we mainly use a new tool that keeps resistance levels constant throughout a length, and we have food some changes in patterns concerning tools such as power racks and tightly wound stretch cords. We just make sure that resistance training is brought in progressively and they are monitored closely upon initial stages. We work very closely with our strength and conditioning coach, Erich Murphy, to ensure… Read more »

Reply to  Chris O'Linger
9 years ago

It sounds like as long as the weight isn’t too heavy, it can be beneficial.

Exceedingly large is ambiguous, and would vary from swimmer to swimmer. Does this mean no pulling with a bucket? What about a parachute? Does the fatigue from resistance reduce practice efficacy and if so, is it worth it?

It sounds like you guys have a pretty good handle on it though. I imagine you’ve found that every swimmer is a bit different and should use different amounts of resistance. I will try to find a variable form of this to let the swimmers try. How frequently are you doing this? I’d imagine 2Xweek to start is enough?

Reply to  James
9 years ago

We don’t use bucket, but we have used chutes-nothing against buckets, just don’t have any lol. Yea 2 x a week is plenty to start, specifically concerning sprinters. As far as reducing practice efficiency, we normally include some sort of blast activity in between rounds, most of the time. We re trying to play around with drag techniques where the origin is not at your hips. A lot of times postural strength is challenged through these. Not many options otherwise though. We do like to push the resistance sets hard once their comfortable with the distance and weight, and we’ve actually found great reaults from sprints immediately after (from a technical standpoint, not time wise.

Sports info…YES. I agree… Read more »

9 years ago

It is. Thanks Chris.

9 years ago

Chris – did you research indicate any noticeable change in pulling patterns when performing resistance training? I could have sworn I read that pulling with resistance altered both pulling pattern and muscle recruitment order, making it quite different from “just swimming.”

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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