Rosania, J R
Dryland training acan benefit suimmers-particularly high school and other non-year-round swimmer. If done properly, an increase in strength will result in faster swimming.
As a strength and conditioning coach living in Phoenix, Ariz., I’ve had the opportunity to work with many age group, high school, senior, elite and Masters swimmers. As the merciless sun beats down from above, and summer heat rises from the pool deck, most people would not see dryland training as a reasonable option. Swimming year-round leaves little time for dryland training, but high school and non-yearround swimmers can become better and faster swimmers while training on land-even when it’s 110 degrees outside.
A long-standing controversy in swimming has been whether strength training can improve a swimmer’s performance in the water. As a competitive swimmer for over 25 years, and a strength and conditioning coach for swimmers of all levels-including Olympic gold medal winner Misty Hyman-I know that, if done properly, an increase in strength will result in faster swimming.
As a young swimmer’s body changes and matures, structural changes take place that interfere with the individual’s balance. As a result of this imbalance, many young swimmers struggle. But the imbalance can be improved significantly through proper strengthening of the muscular system.
Too often a swimmer will begin a weight training program with very little knowledge of how to strengthen his or her body. Most often coaches will direct their swimmers to do standard exercises, such as the bench press or lat pulldowns. The problem with such exercises is that they are not specific to the swimmer’s imbalances or to the different swimming strokes. Most of the time spent doing these exercises will be wasted, at best, and may engender additional imbalance problems.
While working with swimmers in the weight room the last seven years, using a series of full-body, core and swim-specific exercises, I have developed several techniques to improve the strength and endurance of swimmers, particularly adolescent swimmers, and to convert those gains into faster swimming.
While not swimming all year may impede the ability of a high school swimmer to reach his or her potential, nonyear-round swimmers can benefit enormously from a properly developed, progressive strength and conditioning program.
Let’s consider how this can be done and describe the process through which the swimmer will need to go to benefit from strength training.
Everyone has a specific body type, and different exercises are appropriate for the different body types. The first thing I do is examine a swimmer’s structure and muscular development.
The three basic body types are ectomorph, mesomorph and endormorph. Most people, however, do not fit any of these three ideal types exactly, so I use a nine-category classification system that corresponds much more closely to the actual body types that I see.
Regardless of body type, many of the athletes with whom I work have imbalances in their muscular system, and correcting these imbalances improves their ability to perform.
An imbalance in one muscle will cause the opposite muscle to work too hard, causing pain and loss of strength and endurance in that muscle. Also, during maturation, high school swimmers often find their growth is not accompanied by a concomitant increase in strength. The increase in weight unaccompanied by a similar increase in strength results in slower swims as well as increased body stress, particularly in the weaker muscles.
As high school swimmers develop more strength and increase lean body mass (decreasing fat and increasing muscle), they will also perform better in the water and will be able to swim faster.
Program Design: General Phase
Swimmers with each of the different body types will go through several progressions of strength development, starting with core and full-body general strength. The purpose is to correct any imbalances and weakness in the swimmers’ overall muscular structure.
The first phase begins with several exercises, performed using light resistance, and done for 12-15 reps. Each exercise is performed two or three times, and the program is done 2-3 times per week. This phase lasts about four weeks or so, and the resistance is increased slightly during this phase.
General Phase Exercises
* Front lat pulldown * One-ann dumbbell row * Dumbbell shoulder press * Dumbbell upright row * Rotator cuff external rotation * Seated rhomboid row * Dumbbell shrugs * Dumbbell squats * Leg curls * Crunches * Seated knee-to-chest crunch
Specific Strength Phase
During the strength phase, each swimmer will now begin doing more full body, multi-joint exercises and begin to focus on their specific body type. The program begins with the regression from 12-15 reps to 10-12 reps per exercise, but using heavier weight.
At the same time, the exercises progress to more swim-specific movements and swim-specific muscles per body type and stroke. This, I feel, is what is missed by most coaches who try to implement a strength training program for their swimmers. Each stroke (fly, back, breast, free) has a set pattern of movements. The key is to develop stroke-specific movements, using strokespecific exercises, for these patterns. Also, at this stage, each body type should focus on specific exercises to maximize both strength gains and improving body composition.
Let’s break down each of the three main body types and look at some specific exercises:
Ectomorphs. Tall, slender and more angular swimmers with this body type (Tom Dolan, Tom Malchow, Michael Phelps and Kristy Kowal are typical) should attempt to become stronger and add muscle to their frame. Exercises such as flat and incline bench press, leg press, squats, shoulder presses, rows, inverted rows and lat pulldowns should be used by ectomorphs to gain strength. These exercises should be done 2-3 times a week for 8-10 reps for several weeks.
Mesomorphs. Swimmers with this body type are more muscular, thick-chested with broad shoulders and a smaller waist. (Ron Karnaugh, Tara Kirk and Jenny Thompson are excellent examples.) Improving muscular imbalances is especially important for mesomorph swimmers so they may strengthen weaknesses in swim-specific muscles. Most swimmers with this body type should perform lot rows and lot pulldowns; posterior shoulder raises and shrugs, for the upper traps (trapezius) as well as upright rows for the shoulders; for the legs, dumbbell lunges and step-ups along with leg curls. Each exercise should be done with 3 sets, with 12 reps per set, and performed 2-3 times a week.
Endomorphs. This body type has slightly more body fat and is rounder in shape. The classic endomorph is an overweight person, of which there are none at the elite level in swimming, and precious few at any level, though I see some at the high school level. Nonetheless, the focus for people with a tendency toward this body type should be higher reps with overall body conditioning. Many multijoint exercises such as walking lunges, running stairs with weights and dumbbell squats while lunging will promote positive changes in body composition.
For the upper body, there should be more stability exercises using weighted medicine balls, dumbbells, cables and tubing. Dumbbell rows, pulley rows, push-ups on medicine balls, and front and lateral raises with tubing are some of the exercises that should be used. Higher reps (15) should be performed with 3 sets per exercise, 3 times a week.
Virtually all swimmers, without exception, should be working continuously on strengthening their core (abdominal) muscles. High school swimmers, in particular, will benefit if they increase their core strength, and they will swim faster. When the core breaks down from fatigue, stroke mechanics tend to disintegrate. As this happens, the swimmer will lose power and distance per stroke.
All of the body’s power comes from the core, and improved abdominal and lower back strength prolongs the ability to fight off fatigue. Some core exercises include seated twist with medicine ball, seated bicycle with medicine ball placement through the legs, “Supermans” on the stomach, V sit-ups, leg/hip thrust on back, prone toe touches with weighted ball with feet in the air, and side crunches. All exercises should be done for 20 reps or continued for 40-60 seconds.
To experience the full benefit from dryland strength and conditioning requires a stroke-specific program. This is the final phase. As each swimmer is different, no two programs are ever exactly alike. However, each stroke has some specific movements regardless of who is doing it. By reproducing those movements on land, the swimmer becomes stronger throughout the stroke. As a result, fatigue takes longer to set in, even as speed is increased. In addition, the increase in leg strength allows for stronger starts and turns. Ankle weight kicking for 60 seconds on the stomach and back will improve leg strength.
Freestylers can do alternating dumbbell upright rows, dumbbell front raises, dumbbell shrugs and prone dumbbell stroke. Butterflyers should do prone fly stroke, dumbbell lateral raises, posterior lat pulls and cable pulldowns in front of the body.
Backstrokers should focus on lat pulls with a reverse grip, dumbbell shrugs, posterior flys and one-arm dumbbell rows. Breaststrokers should do dumbbell shrugs with a shoulder press, reverse hands military press and tricep pushdowns.
These are only a few of the possible stroke-specific movements each swimmer can do. If you think outside the proverbial box, and reproduce the movements of specific strokes, swimmers can use the extra resistance to increase strength and improve their speed.
So, if you only swim during the high school season, but want to continue to swim faster, get in the weight room and turn up the heat. If you coach high school swimmers, explain to them how dry heat will result in wet speed.
J.R. Rosania has over 20 years of experience in the performance enhancement field. From 1984-89 he was the strength and conditioning coach for the Phoenix Suns of the NBA. He currently trains swimmers, runners and triathletes, as well as a number of professional football, basketball and baseball players for strength, nutrition and conditioning. He can be reached at the Center for Human Performance in Phoenix, Ariz., or by email at jrhealthplex @aol.com.
Copyright Sports Publications, Inc. Apr-Jun 2002
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