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Southwestern Kinesiology Students Conduct Research For U.S.A. Swimming

The study will focus on a device used to conduct strength training while in the water.

Students in this year’s kinesiology capstone class at Southwestern University are getting a unique opportunity - the chance to conduct a real study for U.S.A. Swimming.

Scott McLean, associate professor of kinesiology, applied for and received a grant from U.S.A. Swimming last spring. When students returned this fall, they immediately began planning and implementing the study under the guidance of McLean and Jimmy Smith, chair of the Kinesiology Department.

The study focuses on a device called a Power Rack(R) that is used by swimmers worldwide to conduct strength training while in the water. The device looks very similar to the racks of weights that are on most exercise machines. It can be wheeled to the edge of a pool, and swimmers put a belt around their waist to connect themselves to it. As they begin swimming down the pool, they raise the weights on the rack. “Essentially you are lifting weights while swimming,” McLean said. “The machine provides enough resistance to make it harder but not enough to affect your technique.”

McLean said he applied for a grant from the U.S.A. Swimming because the Power Rack is a popular training device but few studies have been done to examine the mechanisms by which performance improvement occurs.

Eight members of the Southwestern swim team are participating in the study. Four are using the Power Rack and four are serving as controls.

Before the study started, physiological and biomechanical baseline measurements were taken on all the participants. These included oxygen consumption measurements during graded exercise and hand force measurements during maximal effort sprint swims. The grant Southwestern received to conduct the study enabled it to purchase an Aquanex System, which is a specialized piece of equipment to measure forces acting on the hand during swimming.

“We are now one of only a few schools that has a hand force measurement system for research,” McLean said.

For the next month, all study participants will do 10 to 25 minutes of interval training a day at the end of their regular workouts. Half will use the Power Rack and the other half will do regular sprints. At the end of the month, the study participants will be re-tested to evaluate the effect of Power Rack training. A larger scale follow-up study may be proposed to U.S.A. Swimming if the protocols developed in this study prove beneficial.

McLean said the study is a great opportunity for the senior kinesiology students to get real-life research experience.

“In keeping with the philosophy of a capstone project, this project has been a substantial undertaking for the students,” McLean said. “Our goal is for the students to present their research at the next meeting of the Texas Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine.”

In the future, McLean said he would like to conduct additional studies on different training protocols for the Power Rack to help coaches better prescribe the workouts they use with the Power Rack.