Why do dryland?
By Dave Kessel
BAC Strength and Conditioning Coach
Certified Personal and Group Trainer
Bachelors in Biology with concentration in Fitness Specialization
Ask 10 athletes this question and receive 10 different answers. Here are our goals for dryland:
1) build strength (including muscle endurance and explosiveness)
2) improve flexibility
3) develop agility, hence, the entire athlete
4) further develop the mental and spiritual athlete
5) add these all up and reduce the risk of injury.
There are many definitions of strength but here is one that helps define our dryland goals:
the quality or state of being physically strong.
What makes a strong swimmer? The belief has always been, you must be stronger than your body weight or some sort of body weight to strength ratio. The stronger you are, the easier it is to pull or propel yourself through the water. An environment of less gravity in the water can only accomplish so much. Hence, dryland training. To achieve the benefits of dryland training an athlete can benefit from high intensity training, agility training, body weight training and/or resistance training.
As with each component above, injury prevention will play a roll in every topic. Our muscles are paired and work together. These muscles are referred to as antagonistic muscle pairs. When one muscle contracts or flexes (agonist) the other stretches or lengthens (antagonist). Classic examples are the bicep and tricep. Swimmers hamstrings and quadriceps, gluteus Maximus and hip flexors, pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi
Injury prevention and strength training are related. Our muscles are paired. When one flexes it’s paired muscle stretches and vice versa.
In other words if one of the paired muscles is worked hard but it’s paired muscle is not, a muscle imbalance is created. A classic example is a runner with a hamstring injury. It’s paired muscle is the quadriceps which is worked hard in running. As the quad is strengthened and the hamstring is ignored the hamstring stretches and eventually is injured. Hamstring strengthening exercises would prevent this injury.
We see an example of this in swimmers and poor posture. Posture (and other imbalances) can be addressed by working back, chest and shoulders in a more balanced manor, such as dryland.
Conditioning is often lumped in as strength and conditioning. However, it is worth taking time to discuss it separately. While it is true that swimmers receive conditioning in the water, dryland can offer more. At any age, ability level or form of dryland, conditioning should be achieving the same goals. A properly implemented strength and conditioning program should be coordinated with a swim coach. The dryland program can follow the same phases as swim training. A season plan may look like this: base building, muscle endurance, maintenance, strength and finally power (reaction time training and extra stretching and rolling are great supplements in the final stages of the season and/or taper). Dryland is a supplement or support to swimming and should follow the same season plan (this goes with all aspects discussed in this article).
The dreaded topic...stretching. Stretching is the misunderstood child of training. Unfortunately, it’s not until we’re older that we understand and appreciate stretching. I’m guilty of saying, “30 minutes of stretching? I can run 4 miles in that time.” However, a properly implemented stretching program benefits the athlete by improving flexibility, muscle recovery and even the muscles ability to accept a tougher work load while training.
Here is a sample of a stretching program:
Prior to workout, dynamic stretching will get the blood flowing and therefore warming the muscles and getting them ready to work. The mist important muscle, the heart, will be warmed up and ready to go as well (or as a result).
Post workout, mindful/careful static stretching will help improve recovery and range of motion or flexibility.
Rolling or myofascial release should be discretionary as everyone is different. Try rolling before and after workout and determine what works best you.
Finally, stretching will lead a path to improved flexibility and the benefits previously discussed.
For years, it has somehow been acceptable that swimmers are uncoordinated on dry land. It was common to see a swimmer (beginner to national level) stumble over their own feet and say, “that’s why I swim.” This opens conversation on three points.
1) You are an athlete. You should be able to perform body weight moves like squats, push-ups, pull-ups and even jumping without the risk of injury.
2) Coordination. Learning to perform both basic and advanced moves will help you become more aware of your body both in and out of the water. After all, isn’t part of “natural talent” that swimmers ability to “feel the water” and body position?
3) after achieving the above points, and athlete can now safely and productively work on strength and power.
We are creatures of habit. A properly implemented dryland program creates and/or reinforces great habits. Create a team of team of athletes that see proper warmup (and cool-down) as part of their training rather than some boring, optional nuisance.
It can be argued that the mental component of training and racing is in borne. Instill a competitive mindset in dryland as well as the water. Encourage that “last one best one” mentality. Get those last few reps and finish hard while not allowing technique to fail.
Other important considerations in a dryland program. While there are different philosophies and in training such as what age to begin resistance training with weights or if that should be done at all, you must have a plan to be successful. Dryland should be deliberate and purposeful, the same as pool workouts. Incorporate a season plan and all that goes along with it.
Finally, the marriage of swimming and dryland is one to embrace. Our success in dryland is data driven the same as swimming and best times. Flexibility and strength are absolutely measurable. I’m yet to hear an athlete at any level say they did not want to be stronger and more flexible. You do not have to be the fastest swimmer in the pool to be the swimmer with the most grit in dryland. Everyone benefits.