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Health, Science & Tech

Belt System Aims To Help Swim Coaches Train Better

University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh professor of Sports Medicine and Nutrition Matthew Darnell holds the Impulse system with the rope retracted.

Coaches are tasked with helping their athletes improve, but when those athletes are underwater, in the case of competitive swimmers, it can be hard to actually see if what they're doing is right. A University of Pittsburgh invention, called Impulse, helps coaches visualize a swimmer's form under water. 

A swimmer wears a belt around their waist, which is attached to a rope. That in turn is hooked up to a sensor at the edge of the pool. The force of each stroke pulls on the system, creating data that shows up as waves on a screen.

This provides an arm-by-arm representation of a swimmer's form, and Pitt's associate head coach for Women's Swimming, Marc Christian, said that's important for training.

"You want to have equal force pulled from each arm because that means you're probably applying your strength evenly," Christian said. "You're going to swim smoother, and if you have smooth swimming its fast swimming."

Pitt Swimming has tested the Impulse system on a handful of occasions. Professor of Health and Physical Activity Elizabeth Nagle said these are opportunities to get real user feedback on the system.

"We want swimmers to be using this as a tracking device," Nagle said. "To really help coaches make adjustments with the training program and to project ahead to what the capabilities of the swimmers might be."

Matthew Darnell, professor of Sports Medicine and Nutrition, said the belt is not just for making swimmers faster: tracking performance in this way can also help prevent injury.

Impulse is part of a larger effort through Pitt's Innovation Institute to leverage research projects in to improve the performance of the school's athletic teams.