UT students reimagine swim resistance training with newly licensed technology.

A team of recent University of Tennessee graduates stand to revolutionize competitive swimming training with the invention of a swim resistance device, newly licensed with the assistance of UTRF.

The technology was born out of Associate Professor Emeritus J.A.M. Boulet’s senior design course for fourth-year students in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering (MABE). The course presents real-world problems to teams of students and tasks them with developing a solution using the engineering design process. Each team is given a quandary at random, drawing their assignment from a hat. It was the luck of the draw that partnered together Kelsey Ann McConachie, Isaac Nolan, Thao Strong, and Ryan Tinker to tackle a long-standing vexation in the world of competitive swimming: efficient resistance training in the water.

Swim Device In Action

Swim Device Senior Design Team

Swim Device Test

This exact problem was one UT Swimming & Diving Associate Head Coach Lance Asti struggled to solve for some time. The existing method for resistance training, Lance explained, is “very expensive, very bulky, cumbersome, and time-consuming to set up and change out between athletes.” Huge weight racks featuring either traditional weights or buckets must be moved poolside. The weights and buckets are connected in a pulley system, and each swimmer must attach themselves to the weight rack cable using a chest harness or belt around the waist. The distance swimmers can pull across the pool using this resistance training is limited by the short cable, which must reach out of the water to the weight rack.

The onerous cost, size, and time drain produce a daily headache for swimmers and coaches, as resistance training is “very, very important to our competitive advantage,” Lance said. The UT men’s and women’s teams each use the resistance weight rack device twice a week, and at least one team member uses it every day.

The UT swim coaches were debating new methods and equipment for resistance training when someone suggested Lance contact the MABE department with the predicament. With the problem clearly defined, the team of UT seniors set to work on a solution. They brainstormed options, ranking them by how each might solve any one of the swimmers’ problems: affordability; size; and ease to maneuver, set up, and use, etc. Isaac, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, kept coming back to one idea: a fishing reel. Small, compact, and mobile, a fishing reel is essentially a pulley system that served as the inspiration behind the new swim resistance technology.

The students spent a full year designing the new system, coordinating with Lance each step of the way and testing prototypes in the pool with UT swimmers. The result is a small rectangular box, around 18 in. long and 6 in. high. Inside the box are two compartments containing the mechanical components, and an external component allows swimmers to choose resistance levels. The device connects to the diving platform and enables two swimmers to use it simultaneously. Once the swimmer stops swimming, the cable can automatically start reeling back in, eliminating the manual part of the process. Though customized to fit the precise needs of the UT swim team, the device can be adjusted for any pool.

The swim resistance system was such a success that Professor Boulet connected the team with UTRF for potential patent and licensing support. UTRF walked the team through the licensing process, and the swim resistance system was officially licensed in 2018.

“This group of students developed a solution to a specific problem identified by the customer,” remarks UTRF Vice President Maha Krishnamurthy. “We couldn’t be more excited that this is UTRF’s first undergraduate technology to be licensed and cannot wait for the product to go to market sometime next year.”

“UTRF was really great,” team member Kelsey said. “They made the entire process easy and found the perfect company interested in the resistance system.” Now UT graduates, the team is working with the president of the company to prepare the prototype for market.