Tether Device Aims to Improve Swimmers’ Times, Go Beyond the Pool


Most spectators of competitive swimming know about the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle in events such as the summer Olympics.

But it’s not likely they know exactly what goes into a stroke or how swimmers adjust their style to make their way to the winners podium.

A University of Pittsburgh research team has developed a new device, called Impulse, which measures force production to aid coaches and athletes in determining better ways to improve performance and prevent injury. And they’re starting with students on Pitt’s Swimming and Diving team.

“There have been methods of measuring stroke parameters which have improved stroke mechanics in swimmers, but given a relationship between muscular strength and performance, there is a definite need to measure force production in water,” said Impulse researcher Elizabeth Nagle, associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Health and Physical Activity within the School of Education. “Determining force production could lead coaches to develop better methods to assess, monitor and develop training regimens for their swimmers that may contribute to faster swimming performances.”

At a demonstration at the Joe C. Trees pool in January, swim team members were tested using the Impulse system, which consists of a swim belt attached to a non-elastic tether linked to a force sensor anchored to a pole or starting block. The force sensor wirelessly transmits data in real time to a tablet or cell phone.

When the researchers were ready to record, Marc Christian, assistant coach for Pitt Swimming and Diving, gave his student team members the go-ahead signal.

The students swam as if they were in a competitive freestyle meet, racing in place while the Impulse device tracked their movements and relayed information via Bluetooth to computers nearby.

“We want to help athletes understand how they’re moving through water,” said Christian. “Analyzing strokes in swimmers is a bit of a black box because you’re relying on eyesight and not hard data.”

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Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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