My swim harness is one of the most important tools in my swimming kit and fundamental in helping me swim long distances in my small 2.2m garden pool.
A swim harness, also known as a swim tether or swim cord, is an elasticated rope, with one end fixed to the side of the pool, and the other end fixed to a swimmer’s ankles or waist. This allows a swimmer to swim in place against the pull of the rope without moving forward.
It is like resistance training in water and has some fantastic advantages in improving swimming technique, as well as strength and fitness.
What Is The Difference Between A Swimming Harness, Swim Cord And Swim Tether?
It can be a bit confusing when shopping for a swimming harness and you could miss a good deal, as people often refer to swimming harnesses as ‘swim cords’ or ‘swim tethers’.
As I understand it, the swimming harness is a piece of kit used by a swimmer to keep them stationary in the water while they swim. This ‘swimming harness’ comprises a length of elasticated bungee cord with a belt or ties at either end to tether a swimmer to a fixed point by either their waist or their foot.
As a result, the terms ‘Swimming Harness’, ‘Swimming Cord’, and ‘Swimming Tether’ have all come to mean the same thing and are often used interchangeably, which is very confusing.
Throughout this article, I will try to avoid using the terms interchangeably and will stick to their different meaning as outlined above.
Waist Tethering versus Foot Tethering
Before getting into the technicalities of different swim harness lengths and the strength of the rope or rubber tubing, you must decide if you want to be tethered by the waist of the foot.
A waist tether will fix to the swimmer’s waist and a foot tether will attach to a swimmer’s ankles.
Both options have advantages and disadvantages, but from my experience, the best one to pick is the one you prefer personally.
I don’t like the feeling of anything holding my legs or interfering with my kick when I swim, so I opted for a waist swim harness.
Here is a demonstration of how the swim harness attaches to a swimmer’s feet by triathlete Jodie Stimpson while training in her back garden.
Are Swim Harnesses For Small Pools Only?
With most examples of swim harnesses being used by swimmers in their small home pools, it’s easy to forget that a swimming harness is a valuable tool for professional swimmers as part of their training routine in large pools, and they have been for some time.
Swim harnesses are used to anchor the swimmer in place. The constant pull on their body and extra resistance of the swim harness can allow swimmers to push hard and work against the resistance.
This resistance training greatly improves both swim strength and power.
Also, being tethered in place allows the swimmer to focus their training on improving different aspects of their swimming stroke, such as their hip roll, head position, and breathing angle. By improving minor aspects of their swimming technique, professional athletes can perfect their overall swim stroke.
If you’d like to learn more about training in a small pool with a harness, I’ve explored the topic further in my article about training in an aboveground garden pool.
How Do You Use A Swimming Harness?
Using a swimming harness can feel a little unusual at first, but very quickly you will become used to the feeling.
Here is an example of how to use a swimming harness, as demonstrated by Sharon van Rouwendaal, an Olympic open water champion.
It was this video that inspired me to set up my garden pool and use a swimming harness.
1. Swimming Harness Installation & Setup
The first step is to attach your swimming harness to the side of the pool or a sturdy, anchored object.
It is very important that the object to which you attach the swim harness too is stationary and will not move under force.
Personally, I have attached mine to my garden fence, which has concrete stakes that are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Safety first! Ensure that whatever you attach your harness to is safe and stationary.
If you want a more permanent fixture, you can attach the swim harness to a purpose-built, permanent fixture bolt. Here is an example of a more professional swim harness installation setup:
I have attached my swim harness to the garden fence as shown below:
2 Attach The Swim Harness To Your Body
Before you get into the water, attach the swim harness to your body.
If you have a waist swim harness, this will fit your waist and if you have a foot harness, this will attach to your feet.
Ensure that the swim harness feels comfortable and is not too tight.
3 Adjust To The Feeling Of Drag
When you first get in the water, it is useful to gently push off the wall or dry to float without trying to swim.
The idea behind this is to get used to the feeling of the swim harness dragging you backwards.
A little bit of experimentation is a good way to try out how the swim harness feels before breaking into a full swim stroke.
4 Just Keep Swimming
Now that you have fitted your swim harness, and grown accustomed to the feeling of the swim harness pulling you back, you can start swimming.
It is fun to notice that with a swimming harness you don’t zig-zag very much, as the swim tether tends to keep you in a straight line. This is wonderful for improving your technique!
Now that you are all set up, you can just keep swimming!
Can You Record Your Swim Lengths While Tethered?
I love to keep track of how long and how far I have swum using my Fitbit.
One of my biggest concerns before transitioning to using a swimming harness was how I was going to track my distance and length. If you want more details on how I worked out my training regimen, then check out my article going into depth on training times, distances, and weight loss goals.
Of course, with a swimming harness, you are fixed in place, so how can a fitness device measure distance and lengths if you are not moving forward, right?
Unbelievably, my Fitbit Flex, registered that I was swimming while tethered and did still give me a distance and time measurement.
I have a 2.2-meter pool, so on my Fitbit app, I set the pool distance to 2 meters, which it accepted, although I have no idea if this actually helps since the distance is so small.
The Fitbit recognised the motion of my hands in the water and identified that I was swimming.
I have lots of swimming data in my Fitbit app from when I used to swim lengths of a 25-meter pool, so I had a pretty good idea how far I could already swim in 45 minutes.
The results I got from my Fitbit while in my home garden pool, swimming with a tether, produced very similar distances and times that I had on record from swimming regularly in 25m pools. This tells me that my Fitbit is recording my static swims accurately.
Of course, I don’t assume that the measurements are perfect, but they are at least in the right zone and I can use the data to record how I am progressing.
However, I assume that if your fitness tracker works on GPS, then it will not work will static swimming (swimming while tethered) as you will not be recording any significant distance to register.
Advantages Of Using A Swim Harness (Tethered Swimming)
Using a swimming harness has some wonderful advantages that might not be so obvious at first.
1 Helps With Head Positioning
Because you spend less time trying to get somewhere (like to the other end of the pool), a swimming harness can help you work on individual parts of your body and improve your technique.
As a swimming harness helps keep you straight in the water, you can work on your head position; keeping it still and straight.
This will help with overall swim technique and swim efficiency.
2 Helps With Hip Rotation
Being anchored in place means that you feel more stable in the water. As a result, you can experiment with greater hip rotation so you can “corkscrew” through the water.
Working on hip rotation can feel very uncomfortable when you first try, but if you are a follower of the wonderful “Total Immersion Swimming” technique, you will understand the value of maximising your hip rotations to swim more effortlessly and efficiently.
3 Helps Improve Bilateral Breathing
It is very useful to swim on both your left and right side when doing the freestyle stroke.
Using a swimming harness can help you work on your head position while breathing and perfect your stroke.
As you are less worried about propulsion, you can slow down and focus on your breathing and optimising your breathing technique.
4 Helps Improve Strength
Wearing a swimming harness is a form of resistance training, as you are swimming against the resistance of the harness itself.
As a result, you will increase your strength and power in the water.
5 Helps Body Position
One of the greatest benefits I have found from using a swimming harness is an improvement in my body position in the water.
I always had a bad habit of not lying flat in the water and allowing my legs to drop. This, of course, caused drag and I had to kick like crazy to swim at all and just stay up.
With a swimming harness and the pull of the rope, you can feel when you are not in a suitable position in the water and can experiment to optimise your position as needed.
You will feel when you are in a better swimming position, as you will swim more efficiently and the force of the swim harness will feel easier to pull.
6 Great Tool For Drill Training
As part of the Total Immersion Swimming technique, there are many excellent swimming drills to practice.
Using a swimming harness is a great way to practice drills such as one arm swimming, hand positioning, and leg kicks.
Because of the pull of the harness, you have instant feedback. If it feels easier, then you must be doing something right!
Best Swim Harnesses for Training
When selecting your ideal swim harness, it is worth considering the length of cord that you need.
Some cords are very short to accommodate small pools while other swim cords are much longer to accommodate taller swimmers and longer pools.
Some brands also offer a range of cord strengths, for example, just like resistance bands come in a range of strengths from hard and stiff to easy and flexible, the amount of resistance in the cord will vary.
For strength training, consider a stronger elasticated cord to offer more resistance.
- Good quality materials
- Comfortable Belt
- This stronger, shorter bungee works well for a strong swimmer in a garden or backyard pool.
Price Range: $30
- Good quality materials
- Works well
- Easy adjustable belt
Price Range: $28
- Cheaper than other options
- OK for irregular use, but not good for daily use.
- It is a bit long at 4m, so you this is more suited to a longer pool
Price Range: $15
- Simple and fine for leisure use
- Works well
- Good for use in a home pool
Price Range: $50
- Nice beginner to intermediate stretch and resistance
- Works well
- Good quality materials
Price Range: $20
- Comfortable and adjustable
- Nice quality material on the belt itself
Price Range: $40
Swim harnesses are a wonderful tool and can greatly help your swimming performance.
If you are like me and discovered the swimming harness as a result of the pandemic, and the need to swim in a backyard pool or garden pool after all the public swimming pools were closed, you no doubt will consider the humble piece of plastic rope one of your most favourite things!
Whether you’re just using one to improve your training or using one for your home pool training, they are an affordable and wonderful piece of kit to enhance any swim session.