What is Resistance Swimming?

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  • Written By: Patrick Lynch
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 27 December 2019
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Resistance swimming is a form of exercise that involves swimming in place. The swimmer is either attached to a rope or a current is generated to swim against. Tethered swimming is the most inexpensive form of resistance swimming and involves tying a restraining device around the swimmer's leg. Swimming machines generate a current which allows the swimmer to stay in one spot, but this apparatus is very expensive. Hybrid systems combine both machine and tethered swimming practice, but open-water swimming is usually required for the best performance.

A prime example of resistance swimming is tethered swimming. This involves swimming while a restraining device holds on to the swimmer’s foot. This device allows the swimmer to exercise for long periods of time in a relatively limited amount of water. While he or she is restrained, it is possible to swim normally without having to worry about running out of room.

This form of resistance swimming is very popular with college teams and even members of the military. Tethered swimming takes some time to get used to because the feeling of swimming while restrained is a strange one. Tethered swimmers are able to swim at any speed, and this form of exercise is especially useful for sprints.


Tethered swimming has been in use since the 1950s. Originally, this form of resistance swimming consisted of the individual being restrained by a rope which was soon replaced by tubing. Tethered swimming has evolved to the point where practitioners can now be restrained by bungee cords which absorb shock and ensures a comfortable experience.

Swimming machines provide another method of resistance swimming. These variants are usually either propellers or jets which cause water to churn. The swimmer must then move against this current which causes him or her to remain in the same place.

Swimming machines were first used in the 1970s and were criticized for providing an unnatural swimming environment. Although the machines were useful, it was also found that they wasted too much energy. They were also deemed to be extremely noisy and were not significantly superior to tethered swimming.

A hybrid system combines certain elements of tethering and swimming machines. This often comes in the form of a small pool which allows an individual to swim in place with a tethering device attached to the foot. The main thing a hybrid system has in common with a machine is that it provides the swimmer with the same self-contained aspect of a machine except that there is no mechanical help. This means that a hybrid system is less expensive than a swimming machine.

Yet the same issue remains. Resistance swimming, whether in the form of tethered swimming, hybrid activity, or with a machine can be an ideal way to swim in a small area. It cannot replicate the conditions of open water swimming, however. Those who are engaged in competitive swimming still need to practice in circumstances closer to race conditions for optimum performance.


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