Dryland Training

  Dryland training is essential to swimmers at almost any age. Dryland incorporates functional exercises that engage all the major muscle groups with realistic compound movements. Functional movements that are intricate, compound, and demand a high amount of focus. Each exercise should provide enough stress for increased muscle recruitment while allowing opportunity for modification as the season progresses.

The exercises we choose engage multiple muscle groups and require all components of Skill Related fitness*.

Swimmers must use their body as one-piece. All movement must initiate from the core. The chest, hips, abdominals and back are the 4 muscle units we consider to be part of the core. The exercises we use require a strong, stabilized, integrated midline, a strong chest that drives the body forward, and powerful hips which initiate locomotion, the most basic movement and the most imperative to swimming. 

 It is important to know when and how much to perform these exercises in a safe environment. Planning these exercises should fall in place with different parts of the season and should be fun. We want our swimmers to push themselves as hard as they can, but at the same, they have to have fun doing it! Because when it gets down to it, the scariest swimmer is the one with the biggest smile on their face!

The number one question we receive from parents in regards to strength training is “Is strength training relevant for young athletes?”

The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is a little more complex.

There are a lot of stigmas that come with strength training young athletes. Several are justified, but most are erroneous. A good Strength Training program (dryland) will incorporate exercises that are designed to prevent injury. Injury prevention is the leading factor we consider when running a dryland session and something that all athletes, not just swimmers, should consider. 

An ideal dryland program will incorporate exercises that prevent injury and are relevant to swimming. Prepubescent athletes will naturally develop strength over time when committing to a dryland program. Designing and developing exercises that build strength is the easy part. Knowing how to prescribe exercises that increase range of motion and flexibility is the crucial part of programming. These exercises are paramount for injury prevention and must be incorporated early in the season.

For us, dryland is centered on how we train the core and how that movement relates to what we are trying to acheive in the water This is what a solid dryland program is used for: to complement our swim training.

An effective Dryland program will incorporate the use of resistance training and to induce muscular contraction, which in turn builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles. The 1-arm Kettlebell swing is a great example of a Functional exercise that we use. This Tri-joint movement is a great way to engage the hips and get them to “snap.” In doing so the athlete is able to effectively integrate the core and follow through with the extremities in a way the mimics the Dolphin Kick in swimming. 

The exercises we perform on the Indo Board (Overhead squat, pushups, Lunge, etc.) are another example of functional exercises. By standing on an unstable surface, the athlete is forced to engage his or her core in order to stabilize for the movement. The exercises we do on the Indo Board help to increase balance, spatial awareness, and general strength, all of which are essential components for swimmers.

Strengthening the hands, wrists, and arms increases endurance because as peripheral muscles tire, the muscles closer to the core are engaged to support them. This is mostly due to the angle of pennation of the muscles in the forearm and the legs. The insertion and origin of the forearm muscles allow the body to develop both strength and endurance simultaneously.  The same can be said about the muscles in the calves and the quadriceps.

Tired shoulders compromise posture and hinder adaptations. Rarely do we ever press weights overhead. Fatigue-related postural changes reduce movement economy and oxygen cost increases as more, larger muscles are recruited to maintain the posture required for efficient respiration. Also, stronger legs are more mechanically efficient, which reduces the overall oxygen cost of locomotion. Fundamental strength drills, executed to increase recruitment rather than mass improve strength, posture and oxygen efficiency at the same time.

Shoulder injuries are one of the most common career killers for swimmers “Swimmer’s shoulder” is a result from fatigue and overuse to the rotator cuff and can take a lifetime to recover from. A swimmer can prevent injury by incorporating exercises that stabilize the shoulder blade and help develop range of motion. 

Exercises to combat shoulder injury include Indian Club swings done with a light weight and Gada swings (Macebell), and Frontal/Lateral raises done in a slow, controlled motion.  By incorporating these exercises into our Dryland, we able to keep our swimmers fresh, fast, and injury free. As always, the key to programming is knowing when and how much.

A young athlete’s involvement in swimming is something that should be supported with appropriate strength training. The ultimate goal is to keep them injury free in a safe environment. Choosing appropriate exercises outside the pool will keep them excited for training and physically able to meet the demands of our sport.

If athletes do not perform an exercise with sufficient resistance, velocity of movement, or complexity, they may be developing muscle memory for an improper movement pattern. For example, pushing weight overhead is great for developing the shoulder, specifically the deltoids. However, does pushing weights overhead benefit a swimmer? If anything, it limits a swimmers capacity to swim faster by decreasing range of motion.

Since practice solidifies muscle memory, pay attention to how you execute your resistance training to develop the appropriate skills for your sport. Always make sure the following are in check:

 

  1. Load: Load varies as the session progress. Most exercises do not require additional or even any weight at. The exercises we do perform, that require additional load, will be conducted at 60-80% of 1RM (RM is the max resistance you can do given one repetition).
  2. Repetitions: Swimmers should be getting through 12-15 reps of a given exercise where the last couple reps are challenging, yet that are not going to failure. As always, technique takes priority over increasing their resistance. We want their muscles to memorize the right technique before you start adding more resistance, or you risk injury or developing the wrong muscles.
  3. Velocity of Movement: During each rep, athletes need to move through the exercise with sufficient velocity. VASA trainers are a great tool to use for developing velocity. You’re developing a highly neural pathway that will become more and more automatic, so you need to move deliberately and with speed to build movement patterns that are relevant to your performance. Athletes may need to go down in resistance to ensure they can move with enough velocity and the correct technique. Too much weight = slower movement = decrease in velocity.
  4. Complexity: Whole body exercises are simply more functional than isolating the extremities. The swimmer doesn’t just kick and pull while the coach sprinkles magic pixie dust. Ideally, the whole body is working together as one-piece. Exercise selection needs to match the neuromuscular demand of movements in swimming because they require coordination among several muscle groups to achieve a movement. Functional movements like squats, lunges, and pushups demand complexity and teach the brain to fire all the muscles necessary, whereas isolated movements only fire one muscle group at a time. Swimmers should focus on full body movements to develop strength in the general strength phase of their season, and then simply maintain the motor pathways with fewer reps or rounds later in the season.

Neural and mechanical adaptations are happening all the time during resistance training. The brain sends signals along motor pathways to tell muscles when, how quickly, and how powerfully to contract to produce movement. Take advantage of dryland by using sufficient resistance, velocity, and complexity to develop high-performance strength!

The key to improving a swimmers capacity in the gym is not in simply doing the training, it is in understanding how to adapt to the training and utilize the for the pool. Keeping the exercises “functional” to movements performed increases their ability to adapt to the stress that comes from swim practices. Reinforcement from both dryland and swim coach while receiving feedback from our swimmers ensure that the swimmer is cognitively processing the training as much as possible.

 

The Muscles that Make up your Core

The core is not exclusive to the abs. The core makes up nearly half the body and includes all muscles that attach to the pelvis and spine. These muscles allow us to kick, jump, twist, bend, or brace, and those muscles must fire in concert. 

The Posture Regulator

The trapezius muscle connects your spine to your shoulder blades. It stabilizes the upper body for everything from good posture to a powerful chest drive during the butterfly and breaststroke extension.

The Body's Stabilizer

The ability to do any downward pulling movement, like a freestyle stroke or a breaststroke pull-down, comes from the latissimus dorsi, or lats. This muscle also links the shoulder blades, upper arms, spine, and pelvis, which makes it a critical stabilizer for the core — and the entire body.

The Powerhouse

The strength to sprint or drive off the wall comes from the gluteus maximus, one of the body's largest muscles, and the ability to balance on one leg from the gluteus medius. 50% of all athletic movement initiates from these two muscles working together in unison.

The Core's “Core”

What we think of as the core muscles — the rectus abdominus, or six-pack, and the obliques, which span the entire side of your torso — are essential for bending (frontal plane movement) and twisting (transverse - think free and back). Even more crucial for a solid center is the transversus abdominis. Buried under the other abdominals, this thick muscle wraps around your torso and acts like a girdle, keeping your core tight and aligned.

The Support System

Hip adductors attach to the inside of your pelvis, and they're what keep you stable and aligned when you kick. Lack of movement and these thin muscles can shorten and tighten, pull your pelvis forward, and make your hamstrings seize up. During the early portion of our preseason, we spend about 50% of our practices working on the kick. This allows our athletes to build a solid neuro-pathic foundation that can be utilized for the remainder of the season.

The Reinforcements

Located in your lower back, the quadratus lumborum and the spinal erectors which allow you to stand up straight and rotate, and they work with the glutes to power upward-pulling motions like a dead lift or a kettlebell swing. Movement must then follow through the arms and legs (extremeties). 

 

Training Adaptations

What is probably the most important thing to know and understand is that when we introduce a stressor, the body is going to react in a state of shock. The General Alarm Syndrome (GAS) is a term to describe a physiological response to a stressor that occurs in a specific sequence. 

The three phases of stress, and how your body changes with each phase, include the: 

  1. Alarm phase – the body is in a state of shock as is struggling to adapt 
  2. Resistance phase – the body adapts to the stressor an adaptations occur 
  3. Exhaustion phase – the body has had too much and is crashing (overtraining). 

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In order to reduce the risk overtraining and possible injury, we recommend spending the first 6-8 weeks mastering the movement (form) before prescribing sets and reps. Knowledge is power, educating them on how to do the movement before telling them how much to do the movement is imperative to building a sound swim season. 

The “neural adaptations” athletes undergo in training refers to the brain’s ability to recruit muscles to contract and produce a particular movement. These adaptations tend to occur during the resistance phase. Practicing an exercise with resistance teaches your brain to fire the correct muscles to achieve a desired movement. Performing the exercises at a tempo provides a means for passive facilitation. Over time, the athlete’s cadence and technique to the exercise also become engrained so that the movement seems more automatic. 

The physical adaptations, also known as neuromuscular facilitation, is the process by which the neuromuscular system memorizes motor skills, such that the signals from the brain to the muscle become semi-automatic, and you no longer need to concentrate so hard to create the desired movement. This tends to occur later in the season as the swimmer prepares for peak performance. 

Functional strength training, developed through Functional patterns, helps athletes develop muscle memory so that they can quickly access their movement patterns during training and in competition. More complex movements involving the whole body demand greater muscle recruitment. 

Strength gains tend to accelerate at faster rate when a swimmer performs a strength exercise, like a deep squat, when the body is slightly fatigued. When doing so, the brain will recruit muscles when it normally doesn’t. This adaptation would be useful at the end of a race or going into the last turn, when your strength normally begins to wane. 

In general, athletes and coaches prefer to strength train “fresh” when glycogen stores in the muscle are readily available. AM Dryland is most suitable for swimmers, but exercises can be easily modified for swimmers who can only attend dryland in the evening. 

 

Other adaptations that occur include the following: 

Increase in Diaphragm Strength and Endurance: this is something that most athletes and coaches neglect to hone in. A stronger diaphragm delays fatigue and increases endurance during steady state exercise. The stronger the inhale/exhale the greater the force generated from skeletal muscles. Improved diaphragm strength also contributes to a higher VO2 Max. 

Increased diaphragm strength is stimulated by stretching and compressing the muscle and by loading skeletal structure to induce higher ventilatory drive. We often put our swimmers into positions that place an increase amount of pressure onto the diaphragm. Repeat sets of 25’s underwater/near the bottom with and without a kickboard are common early in the season. By performing a front squat or goblet squat, we load the muscles of the diaphragm causing them engage during the exercise. 

Increase in Acid Buffering, Tolerance and Clearance: Hydrogen, which is acidic, is a byproduct of carbohydrate metabolism in the cells. High levels of muscle acidity inhibit contractility and lead to poor technique. Both things we never want to see from our swimmers. High levels of acidity compromise overall physiologic function. While poor sleep habits contribute to this, combine it with an exhausted athlete and you got burnout. Have you ever noticed how much of a nightmare the preseason can be? 

Interval training, depending on the duration of work and recovery periods improves the body’s ability to clear and/or tolerate acid. Exposure to hypoxic/hypobaric conditions induces systemic acidity; training that causes a similar state accustoms the body to respond appropriately no matter the cause. 

Improvement in Hormonal Response to Extreme Effort: Hypoxic (without Oxygen) conditions stimulate fight/flight response. Improvements in MVO2 reduce overall systemic stress so the hormonal response to the effort changes. Less stress means less arousal and reduced fight/flight reaction, which favors fat metabolism. A 

higher level of fitness fosters a positive hormonal response to extreme effort and increases endurance. 

  1. Improved O2 efficiency: increased oxygenation of the heart allows recruitment of greater muscle mass (because the central governor engages at a higher rate of work). 
  2. Increased Capillarization: increases the number of capillaries in the skeletal muscles, improving blood flow to the mitochondria and boosting the quantity of fuel available to them. 
  3. The number and volume of mitochondria in the skeletal muscles also grows, and as more fatty acids are available. ATP production from fatty acids increases, reducing dependence on acid-producing CHO metabolism, and sparing stored glycogen. 
  4. The liver’s capacity to produce glucose from lactate, amino acids and glycerol improves with training. 
  5. The muscles and liver gain a greater capacity to store glycogen. 
  6. The muscles produce less lactate at a given rate of work and the ability of the heart, liver, kidneys and inactive muscles to extract and utilize lactate also increases so the lactate turn-point occurs at a higher percentage of MVO2. This allows the muscles to do more work without developing debilitating levels of acidity. 
  7. Following the appropriate type of training, the muscles also develop an improved capacity to buffer acid, as well as tolerance to higher levels of acidity. 
  8. Muscle contractility due to greater recruitment (more efficient neural pathways). 

Muscle Memory: If athletes do not perform an exercise with sufficient resistance, velocity of movement, or complexity, they may be developing muscle memory for an improper movement pattern. For example, pushing weight overhead is great for developing the shoulder, specifically the deltoids. However, does pushing weights overhead benefit a swimmer? If anything it limits a swimmers capacity to swim faster by decreasing range of motion. 

Since practice solidifies muscle memory, the swimmer should pay attention to how they execute their resistance training to develop the appropriate skills for 

swimming. As the load varies as the session progress. Most exercises do not require additional or even any weight at. The exercises we perform, that require additional load, will be conducted at 60-80% of 1RM (RM is the max resistance you can do given one repetition) 

Swimmers should be getting through 12-15 reps of a given exercise where the last couple reps are challenging, yet that are not going to failure. As always, technique takes priority over increasing their resistance. We want their muscles to memorize the right technique before you start adding more resistance, or you risk injury or developing the wrong muscles. 

Increased Movement Velocity: During each exercises, athletes need to move through the exercise with sufficient velocity. VASA trainers are a great tool to use for developing velocity. You’re developing a highly neural pathway that will become more and more automatic, so you need to move deliberately and with speed to build movement patterns that are relevant to your performance. Athletes may need to go down in resistance to ensure they can move with enough velocity and the correct technique. Too much weight = slower movement = decrease in velocity. 

Whole body exercises are simply more functional. The swimmer doesn’t just kick and pull. Ideally, the whole body is working together as one-piece. Exercise selection needs to match the neuromuscular demand of movements in swimming because they require coordination among several muscle groups to achieve a movement. Functional movements like squats, lunges, and pushups demand complexity and teach the brain to fire all the muscles necessary, whereas isolated movements only fire one muscle group at a time. Swimmers should focus on full body movements to develop strength in the general strength phase of their season, and then simply maintain the motor pathways with fewer reps or rounds later in the season. 

Bottom Line: Neural adaptations are happening all the time during resistance training and swim practice. The brain sends signals along motor pathways to tell muscles when, how quickly, and how powerfully to contract to produce movement. Take advantage of your muscle memory and using sufficient resistance, velocity, and swim practice to develop high-performance results!