Weight Belt

In a nutshell

  • Make sure the weights face the right way on the belt and are slid near the buckle side
  • Challenge the body to fight for better body position, submerge the legs for good kick sets, and upgrade dryland and vertical training
  • Integrate into your favorite sets and create new ones to revamp your program and avoid plateaus
  • Use the weight belt to pressure swimmers on their weakness to force a change in their technique and race strategy

How to assemble/use

 1. Loop the Weight belt into the buckle as shown

2. Then lace the Two Pound Weights (as many as you like) onto the belt. Make sure the "2" is facing the outside, which is the same side as the lever on the buckle.

3. Slide the weights so they are arranged close to the buckle end of the belt, and place the weights on the outside of the hips. This will maximize the effort needed to rotate. Any odd numbered weights go to the back.


Why it works

Challenge, challenge, challenge. There really is no end to the possibilities a simple weight belt can unlock. Let's break it down by stroke and/or training method.

Kick sets- submerge the kick

The problem with normal kick sets is that the swimmer is so high in the water the legs end up halfway in the air (especially if kicking hard). Swimmers usually compensate by bending their knees or lifting their head, which is really not how we kick when we swim. This problem is even worse with breastroke kicking since swimmers have to really bend at the hips to keep their ankles in the water; very bad for normal stroke dynamics which require minimal hip bending. 

With the weight belt, the hips is angled downward, sinking the legs and allowing them to kick with unbent knees during free and back kicking. This promotes swimmers to kick from the hips both for forward propulsion and to maintain the body position they lost (challenge)! The extra weight also forces swimmers to kind of "lean over" their kickboard, promoting a downhill body position. (I would describe this as "engaging the core" but I really hate that statement since it is very vague and does not really describe what is happening).

The hardest part of training the 5th stroke is that it is so hard to replicate on a "volume" basis. Our best choices so far are to do a thousand 25s underwater and spend most of the time on the wall catching our breath or suffer kicking with a board and spending half the time kicking the air. Either way the training is either slow going or promotes incorrect technique. 

With the weight belt, you can dolphin kick correctly with a board. This allows specific training of the proper technique while being able to breath (works great with a snorkel too). In addition, the weights on the hips challenge the abdominals to really work hard to maintain body undulation. This develops a very powerful, abdominal initiated dolphin kick

Kicking with a weight belt is like adding the best part of vertical kicking, fully submerged legs, with the training of normal board kicking. (We will get to the problem ,at least my problem, with traditional vertical kicking). 

Drills- upgrade training

When swimmers are young, we use drills to force proper stroke technique. But at the same time it is very hard for those little guys to do those drills, and a stroke oriented workout is just as much a conditioning set as it is a technique set. Older swimmers don't have as much trouble with drills since their kick is powerful enough to maintain their stroke. That's where the weight belt comes in. 

Take experienced swimmers back to the days where they needed fins just to do the drills right. By adding weight, you "upgrade" the quality of technique work to include conditioning as well. This allows for training the last 25 of the race, instead of the first 25. This type of training promotes that swimmer's technique won't fall apart at the end of a race.


Long axis strokes- head position, rotation, and powerful kicking.

Head position is everything in freestyle and backstroke. It is the first thing we teach new swimmers and the first thing that falls apart during a race. We all learned body position is like a seesaw, to keep the hips up you have to press the "T" and swim downhill. The problem is that there are too many things happening at the same time during an intense workout to really focus on proper technique. The extra weight forces swimmers to adjust their technique and fight for a better body position. This happens naturally and builds a technique of habit and not of thought. If you think about it, that's the best kind of technique there is. Now swimmers can focus on the race and let the technique happen naturally. 

Like paddles helping you feel the water and build a powerful stroke, the weight belt helps you feel the hips rotate and build powerful rotation. With the weights on the sides of the hips, they force swimmers to work those rotational muscles in order the move the extra mass. The feeling you get when swimming is a sort of "tenseness," like you can't relax and are always struggling to hold it all together as the legs, arms and abs need to synchronize their movement in order to overcome the heavy hips. This really comes in handy when you are training for the last 25 of a race where everything seems to "fall apart."


If that's not enough, the dropped hip position requires a powerful kick to keep the legs from sinking. The weight belt is a great tool for those swimmers who don't kick at all or can't maintain it during a race. Under normal swimming, an experienced swimmer can usually get enough speed out of their arms that their legs don't have to kick to keep them from dragging. But if you want to find that one thing you can improve on, forcing your body to produce a driving kick without having to think about it is a step every competitive swimmer should make. 

Short axis strokes- Hips, hips, hips

Here is another example where the weight belt can help develop natural technique without the swimmer thinking about it. Forcing the body to fight against the weight activates the same motor patterns and muscles that are needed during breast and fly races. As those muscles get stronger and last longer, swimmers naturally start using them more and more keeping their technique from falling apart at the end of the race.

Verticals- stroke specific training

Here is my problem with vertical training. Vertical training consists of either kicking vertically for a long time or kicking very fast vertically for a short time. In either case nothing is accomplished. No matter how hard you kick you don't go any further or any faster than the person next to you. I'm not saying that kind of training doesn't have its uses, but it is limited... and boring... and it's easy to cheat.

With a weight belt vertical training can start to evolve. Since you now sink a lot faster, jumping off the bottom of the pool allows for training explosive dolphin kicks and high volume breastroke pullouts. There are a lot of advantages to training dolphins and pullouts this way. Swimmers have to fight gravity, drag, and weight by launching off the bottom of the pool and really chasing after the surface. Speaking of surface, it's nice to get a fresh breath of air every once in a while to keep the training at a high volume, especially with something like pullouts that are tough to train over and over. Here are some numbers to put in perspective:

Normal Breastroke

Weighted vertical pullouts

10x100 @ 1:30 breastroke 15x 5-10 vertical pullouts @ 1:00
4 pullouts per 100 5-10 pullouts at a time
40 pullouts in 15 minutes 75-150 pullouts in 15 minutes

The picture doesn't do much justice, gotta check out the video. Check the sample sets below to see an example of how to integrate verticals into your normal workout.

Instead of taking swimmers to the weight room and performing non-specific exercises like lat pull-downs and leg lifts, now you can bring the weights to your swimmers and develop explosive power specific to the swimming at hand. 

Dryland- adding a little flare

Younger swimmers who are not ready for the weight room just yet can really benefit from a couple extra pounds during dryland training, especially if normal dryland is getting easy. Not to mention performing some shorter, heavier exercises can really challenge and excite swimmers who I think all suffer from ADD. 

Planks, Russian Twists, Wheelbarrow races (my personal favorite), Long Jumps, Seated Jumps, Weighted Situps, lunges, and squats are great ways to motivate swimmers to challenge themselves in dryland and develop a little strength before moving on to bigger challenges.



Sample sets

Add a weight belt to all the stuff you normally do: kicking, distance, sprints, drills, you name it. BUT, the real power is to force swimmers to change technique at race pace and encourage better race strategy. Start with about 4lbs for strokes, 6lbs for freestyle, and add weight as you get stronger. 

Sprint training- 1:1 ratio of weighted:sprinting

The idea here is to load the muscles with the weight belt on the 25s to nail down good technique and a powerful stroke. Then take the weights off and let the "lightness" feeling motivate the all out effort. Swimmers feel freed from the weights and light in the water, mentally motivating them to chase after the speed they feel right as they take the weights off. With repeating rounds, technique can be built into the fast swimming stroke as a habit without extra thought. 

A couple tips, use a weighted parachute to change things up (mostly with freestyle) or add yardage for more of a distance set. Progress the set week by week and try to maintain the speed you are building.

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
3 rounds 4 rounds 5 rounds
8x25 on :40 6x25 on :45 4x25 on :50 Strong stroke with weight belt
1 min rest 1 min rest 1 min rest
4x50 on 2:00 2x75 on 3:00 1x100 on 4:00 All out without weight

Another idea is to upgrade broken races by adding or removing weights depending on what you want to work on. Let's say you have an IMer who struggles on the back-half of the race, adding weight to the breast and free part of the training can help train that part of the race.

Mix and match where you apply the weight based on the weakness of the individual swimmer.

8x25 drill IM order
200 IM Broken at 100, add/remove weight at the 100
8x25 drill IM order
200 IM Broken at 50s, add/remove weight at the 100
8x25 drill IM order
200 IM Broken at 25s, add/remove weight at the 100
Round 2 with fins


Distance training- behavior training for race day

Let's say you have two swimmers, a miler and a sprinter. Both need to be adept at the 200, but they race it in opposite ways. The miler goes out too slow and never takes a risk, while the sprinter looks great the first 25 and falls apart soon after. 

The weight belt can force both swimmers to train the worse part of their race. The miler should do the following set with the belt on during the first half of each race, while the sprinter will put the belt on during the second half. Now we are training the weakness of each swimmer in the manner that benefits them most. Apply intervals as desired, try to maintain the same speed during both halves (ex. 2x500) and try to get faster as the set goes on (ex. hold 1:30s on 500s and 1:10s on 200s). 

2x500 60s rest, belt on/off
2x400 50s rest, belt on/off
2x300 40s rest, belt on/off
2x200 30s rest, belt on/off
2x100 20s rest, belt on/off


USRPT- avoiding a plateau

USRPT can be a little repetitive at times. In addition, 25s on any interval or any speed can get a little mindless and swimmers can loose interest and focus, which is a big no no in any training method. By adding in some weight you can really challenge swimmers, even on a set of 25s.

Perform the following set with strokes, paddles, and differing intervals and distances based on your swimmer population. Remember to keep track of your times and rest when you fall off.

24x25s on :40 with weight
24x25s on :30 without weight
12x50s on 1:00 with weight and fins
12x50s on :50 with fins only


Integrating Verticals/Drills- putting it all together

Pullouts and dolphin kicks can constitute over half a race at times, yet we never seem to spend half our training on those parts of the race. The reason is that in the past, those parts of the race require a lot of time to train and getting in a high volume can really eat away at your yardage for the week. Here is one way training underwaters/pullouts can be done without getting in the way of workout.

Do it all with a weight belt.

As many rounds as necessary with any stroke you choose (or do a round or two of each stroke in IM order)
3x5 on :50 vertical pullouts/dolphin kicks
6x50s on 1:00 at pace
3x5 on :50 vertical pullouts/dolphin kicks
200 on 4:00 your favorite drill


The 5th Stroke- train it like the others

Dolphin kicking uses muscles and requires proper technique like any other stroke. I think it's about time to train it just like the others, plenty of quality yards with a focus on speed.

Two rounds without fins, two rounds with (don't forget the weight belts, can't do the verticals without them)
4x5 on :45 vertical dolphins
100 on 2:00 easy DK with board
4x25 on :30 sprint DK underwater (15 yards at least)
4x50 on 1:00 sprint DK with board


Train powerful hips by adding and removing weight which will also promote ab initiated dolphin kicks

3 rounds each: weight, no weight, weight and fins, fins only
100 on 2:00 Dolphin with board
4x25 w/ 10s rest Sprint to 15 underwater


There is no hard and fast way to use the weight belt. It really just provides an opportunity to upgrade your favorite sets and expand the possibilities of your training program. Just remember to keep trying new things and hold on to the ones that work.

Good luck!

PS...click here for one more secret use of a weight belt.