Our Dryland program is used 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. 

While it is in the Coach’s best benefit to be conservative and stick to his/her guns, one must understand that one size does not fit all. No athlete is built the same and we all have different needs.

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 those exercises in 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.

Dryland Training Principles

  1. Never train till exhaustion
  2. Harder doesn’t always mean better
  3. No “set” Ideas

 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 time, they have to have fun doing it! When it gets down to it, the scariest swimmer is the one with the biggest smile on their face!

The number one question I get 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 in 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.

Functional Training

  Functional training is essential to swimmers. Functional exercises engage all the major muscle groups with realistic compound movements. Functional movements 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.

Movement must then follow through the arms and legs (extremeties).

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 that 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 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 used 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 programming these exercise 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 athletes 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, one should 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. Training Load: Load varies as the sessions progress. Most exercises do not require additional or even any weight at all. 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 they are not going to fail. 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 as well as developing the wrong muscles.

3. Velocity of Movement: During each rep, athletes need to move through the exercise with sufficient velocity.  The exercise should not only mimic the movement, but the speed at which the movement should be done. The VASA trainer is a great tool to use for developing velocity as are push-ups. 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 your muscle memory and using sufficient resistance, velocity, and complexity to develop high-performance strength!

Exercise Selection - Fundamental Exercises

Within our dryland program we use four different types of fundamental activities as a means to achieve training goals. These are simply definitions to help build workouts and understand the training on a macro level:

1. Body Weight (BW): the goal of this type of train training is to develop general strength and efficiency. Exercises are done at a tempo and repeated in order to develop muscle memory. Exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, leg raises, jump rope, lunges, etc.

2. Sensory Work: the goal is to develop body control, agility and coordination. Athletes perform exercises similar to Body Weight exercises on equipment that manipulates stability (swiss ball, indo board, bosu ball, etc).

3. Weightlifting:  Weights build muscle while integrating the core and extremities, Weightlifting requires a strong neuro-endocrine response in order to learn how to control and move an external object. Exercises include deadlifts, kettlebell swings, kettlebell snatch, overhead squat, medicine ball throws, etc.

4. Plyometrics: AKA Jump Training.

Plyometrics are crucial in developing functional training patterns. Jump training the bridge between strength and speed and the staple of our dryland program. Movement velocity is at it’s greatest off the wall and off the block so we make sure our athletes are ready to explode!

The goal of plyometric training is to increase an athlete’s reactive ability by stressing the amortization phase of the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). During a plyometric session, kinetic energy is gathered (in the tendons and soft tissues) during a rapid eccentric movement and may be explosively released into the concentric phase. Exploiting this stretch shortening cycle produces more force than may be achieved in a purely concentric motion. This also helps to develop the whole neuromuscular system and not just contractile tissue, allowing the body to become faster and stronger at the same time.

Many athletic movements include a loading phase during which the affected muscles are rapidly stretched. An example of this would be when a boxer throws a punch, or when a basketball player goes for a rebound. In regards to swimming, loading occurs when during the start and during the turn, or when a swimmer initiates the kick in breaststroke.

This pre-loading, which occurs in the direction opposite to that of the ultimate motion, activates a muscle spindle reflex that signals the muscles to contract powerfully. Plyometric training develops the ability to rapidly, powerfully change directions as well as inducing neuromuscular changes that speed an athlete’s contraction times. Plyometric training includes standing jumps, bounds, depth jumps, throws and catches, push-ups etc. Clapping Pull-ups would be considered a plyometric movement.

Order Selection:

1) Standing Jumps

2) Multiple hops and jumps

3) Bounding

4) Depth

5) Sports Specific

6) Upper Body

For our swimmers, we like to combine plyometrics with functional lifts and speed drills that are specific to swimming. A sample set may include:

5 Rounds

5 Front squats

1 min rest

5 Box Jumps

1 min rest

5 Rounds

3 box jumps, snatching a med ball overhead

20 yards driving a sled at 110% body weight

3 min rest

Front squats are great exercise for swimmers as the weight loads the abdominal core and helps to develop the muscles needed for breathing. Back squats are great too, but seeing how most of our kids are still growing, we shy away from it so that we don’t aggravate the growth plate.

A key point to be made here is that all functional movement is initiated by the core and finished by extremities. The hip drive is vital to all functional movement, which generally integrates the core to the extremities. A solid dryland program will develop a strong core while improving movement efficiency.

Practice makes perfect and mastering plyometric movements takes time and focus. Tri-joint extension (hips drive the knees, knees drive the ankles) should be integrated into every sport movement. Integrating and learning to control the limb/core connection is essential, and it is not accomplished by training the extremities in isolation.

Every workout features one of these four types of activity because the definitions cover virtually all possible movements and exercises. The amount time spent on each exercises varies based on where we are in the training season. Early in the season we spend most of our time working on BW and Stability work so that the athlete may develop appropriate spatial awareness needed later in the season.

In summary, a swimmer may increase their overall power in the water by using a variety of methods. Our research shows that combining weights, plyometrics, BW and stabilization into a dryland program is the optimal method for maximum endurance/power conversion. As always the timing and programming of these lifts are essential and must take place throughout the swim season.