January 30, 2016
Workout Tips for Swimmers to Use Outside of the Pool
Training a Fish Out of the Water
For competitive swimmers to be on top of their game, it’s essential to train both inside and outside of the pool. Yet, many swimmers don’t fully understand the benefits of dry land training and focus on the wrong types of exercises. Or, even worse, they don’t train outside of the pool at all.
So how do swimmers avoid feeling like a fish out of water and
get the most of their workouts on dry land? To dispel the
myths and realities, Avidasports sat down with Scott Hedges, former
swim coach at Cranbook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. and
Jason Dierking, assistant director of Olympic Sports
Performance at the University of Louisville.
What are the benefits of dry land workouts?
Dierking: “You can develop a lot more strength training on
dry land than in the pool. Dry land is also a great place to
create muscle balance by training muscle groups not commonly used
in the repetitive movements of swimming in a pool. By training
your less used muscles and creating a more balanced
body, it helps prevent injuries.”
Hedges: “I spent most of the dry land time with my teams
focusing on strength and developing explosive power. You have
to be quick and explosive during races and training on land can
help build those skills quickly. Training outside of the pool
is also a great way to build camaraderie amongst the team and
break up the monotony of two-a-day swims from time to time.”
How often should swimmers train outside of the pool?
Dierking: “I think the answer to that question depends on
the time of year. At the collegiate level, during the
off-season we typically train our swimmers three to four times a
week outside of the pool. During those workouts, we focus more
on cardiovascular and overall fitness. Once the swim season
begins, our dry land trainings go down to two or three times a week and we focus much more heavily on strength training since the swimmers are getting more cardio in the pool.”
Hedges: “At Cranbrook we would have eight practices per week. In addition we’d have another two to three dry land workouts sprinkled in, with Sunday being a full rest day. Typically each of our dry land workouts would be 45 minutes to 1.5 hours long.”
What muscle groups should swimmers isolate during dry land workouts?
Dierking: “Swimming is a total body sport; it’s hard
to single out one muscle group. The power areas are leg and
hips (gluts and quads) and the upper body region of chest, lats and
shoulders. However, a lot of our attention in dry land
training goes towards our swimmer’s core. The core is what
and we want to make sure that there aren’t any energy leaks between the power areas of the upper and lower body.”
Hedges: “When working with younger swimmers, we typically tried to build overall strength. Many young swimmers aren’t fully developed and lack muscle mass at younger ages. The upper body and shoulders are typical injury areas for younger swimmers, so we’d work on building strength to prevent injury. We’d also work on leg strength for pushing off the walls and starting blocks as well as the core muscles (abs, back and obliques) to help swimmers pull through the water. You want to pull with your body and not your arms.”
How should dry land workouts differ for sprint swimmers vs. long distance swimmers?
Dierking: “For the most part, our workouts are the same,
but there are slight differences. When weight training,
distance swimmers should focus on doing more reps of a lower weight
since they are trying to build consistency and muscle
endurance. Sprint swimmers are the opposite. They should focus
heavier loads with less reps to build their explosiveness and power.”
Hedges: “We’d basically follow the same model Jason
mentioned, except not until swimmers reached the high school
level. Once in high school, most of our swimmers followed the same
training plan regardless of what events they swam. We never
focused on lifting large amounts of weight. It was more
about creating proper technique. There were times when a sprinter might lift a higher weight with less reps, but it was rare more rare at the club level.”
What are some examples of strength training exercises that swimmers can do at home?
Dierking: “At Louisville we have our swimmers climb rope and do other rope exercises as well as pushups with various different grips. We also do a lot of single arm overhead presses with kettle bells. I love these exercises because they build strength while maintaining posture and freedom of movement.”
Hedges: “As I mentioned earlier, with younger swimmers we would work on building muscle development and overall strength. Bench press, lat pull downs and overhead extensions are great exercises. They isolate the upper body and are a great way to help build strength and muscle in swimmers who are still developing. My favorite land exercises are ones that force swimmers to work against their own body weight, like pushups. It helps them get strong and also promotes balance.”
What are some examples of cardio exercises swimmers can do at home?
Dierking: “There are a lot of great cardio exercises for swimmers. Running up hill, running stairs and biking are some of the obvious ones, but swimmers can also see a huge gain in cardiovascular fitness by swinging ropes, jumping rope (standard ropes or weighted ropes), boxing and also shadowboxing. All of these will accelerate their fitness outside of the pool.”
Hedges: “Typically we never did a lot of cardio training outside of the pool at the level I coached. “As long as we had adequate access to pool time, most of the cardio work happened there. However, if we were short on time in the pool, running was our most common exercise, both sprints and long distances.”
What precautions should swimmers take before their land workouts to help prevent injuries?
Dierking: “Injury prevention comes down to movement quality. We do a functional movement screen on each swimmer to identify any mobility issue that could cause injury and then we design their workout around their individual needs. For instance, if one of our swimmers has bad ankle mobility, advising them to do heavy squats could cause a serious injury. In addition, before each workout we put every swimmer through a warm up routine that includes stretches and movements that focus on hip, core and shoulder mobility and stability.”
Hedges: “Stretching has a huge impact on the effectiveness of a workout and it accelerates body recovery and overall flexibility. Always stretch both before and after every training session and stay properly hydrated.”
What are the most common mistakes swimmers make when training outside of the pool?
Dierking: “The most common mistake I see is poor technique and trying to lift too much weight when weight training. I can’t stress enough how important it is to not only train for strength but also for muscle balance. Swimmer should make sure they are training muscles they don’t commonly use to create a balanced body. Using improper technique and overloading with excessive weight does nothing besides put swimmers at risk for injury. There is no tangible benefit.”
Hedges: “I think it’s important for every swimmer to know and understand their own ability level before any land workout. Middle school swimmers don’t have the same abilities as high school swimmers and high school swimmers can’t handle the same workload as a collegiate swimmer.”
What is the best piece of advice you give swimmers about training on land vs. in the pool?
Dierking: “I tell our swimmers to prioritize quality and
skill development in their workouts. Overly intense training
outside of the pool only leads to poor practices in the pool and it
stunts their total skill development. Sometimes less can be
more, so it’s important that swimmers don’t get over
try to accelerate their fitness too quickly. Make sure to not over do it and allow proper time for rest and muscle recovery.”
Hedges: “It’s easy for athletes to work hard, but it’s challenging to justify the purpose and outcomes of each workout. Make sure you work with your coach to set clear goals and milestones and measure the progress you make towards achieving them each and every time you train.”