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It’s possible that weight lifting is a placebo when it comes to swimming faster. Weight lifting might make swimmers faster not from some physiological effect but simply from the belief that they will go faster because of the weights. But if weights make you faster, does it matter if it’s all in your head?

The placebo effect is very strong in sports. Athletes can lift more, run faster, or have more energy, instantly upon receiving a placebo. If the athletes believes that they will improve, then they will.

This is a very interesting study done with national level power They took 11 power lifers and told them that they were receiving a fast acting steroid and then measured 1 rep max on bench, deadlift, and squat. All 11 hit lifetime best in every lift. A lot of them had significant gains up to 15 kg. That’s tough to do when you are already at a high level. One week later there was a second trail. They told 5 of the participants, guess what? you got a placebo and the increase in your max, you did all by yourself with no aid. The other 6, they gave the placebo pills again and all 6 were able to maintain the high level of increase in their 1rm. The 5 that knew that they got the placebo before were back to their original or slightly above their original 1rm. Although belief that you will improve absolutely makes a difference, it is such an abstract thing. The 5 powerlifters that knew that they got the placebo, lifted heavier on their own, so why couldn’t they do it again? There is no better way to believe something than seeing or doing it yourself. These lifters had proof that they could lift heavier because they actually did it. But when it came time to do it again, they couldn’t do it.

This is another placebo study done with runners. The runners performed a 3km race and were given an injection that they were told was “OxyRXB” but it was really just saline water. They improved by 1.2% which is pretty significant. That could improve your placing quite a bit in a 10 or 15 minute race.

There’s no doubt that the placebo can improve performance. When it comes to something unproven like the effects of weights and swimming, if there are improvements from the weight room to the water, it’s hard to measure if they are physical, mental, or a little bit of both. Instead of designing a study that measures swimmers times in the water after going through a weight program, maybe a better study would be having swimmers who have been lifting for a while totally drop the weights and then see what happens to their times in the pool. Would they slow down or stay the same? Even then, it could be psychological if the swimmer thinks they have to lift to be fast. They may slow down if they have that mind set.

But to answer the question of “what now” after going through a strength program. I guess the best thing to do is motivate the swimmer into believing that they will improve because of the increase in their strength. Keep doing the race pace sets and tell the swimmer that they are going to start to improving their race pace sets now and hopefully they actually do.