Dryland training for water athletes, particularly swimmers, hasn’t always been popular. Until recently, swimmers have engaged in running and abs training as their only form of dryland. There has always been a common idea that any form of resistance training (weights) would result in bulky muscle and slower speeds in the water. Although more and more research continues to be done on dryland training for swimmers, it is obvious that results are starting to speak for themselves.
The human body is composed of hundreds of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Each of them are responsible for certain movements and stabilization. As we age, the human body becomes developed naturally. However, this development is often limited by nature. Our bodies only adapt to levels of muscular function and coordination that we use, which are based off of our level of activity. For swimmers, the more developed and powerful the muscles are, then the greater the speed capabilities are in the water. Our bodies capabilities for generating greater speed is a result of stronger, more powerful, and more developed muscle.
In swimming, muscles contract concentrically (concentric is placing force on another object, i.e. pushing something up). Due to the nature of this zero gravity sport, muscles do not contract eccentrically (another source / object placing pressure on us); this is one reason swimming workouts should incorporate heavy rope exercises. Heavy ropes utilize concentric muscular actions only. Concentric muscular contractions propel our bodies through the water. In order for muscles to produce greater concentric contractions, muscles must have greater levels of strength and power. Gains in strength and power are in direct result with resistance training. Strength and power can be developed, if properly incorporated, without the fear of simply adding mass (i.e. larger muscle). Mass is a side effect of resistance training if the program calls for it. Thus it becomes imperative to seek out proper programs or educated strength and conditioning coaches to administer any dryland training.
College programs, elite swimmers, and year round elite level swim clubs have begun to engage in dryland training programs with full time strength and conditioning coaches (not Personal Trainers). The results have been nothing short of pure genius. Swimmers are beginning to become more developed and more powerful as they engage in body weight movements (variations of pushups and pull ups), power lifts (squats and variations of bench), and Olympic lifts (cleans and snatch). These movements, which have been traditionally thought of as exercises that can only be used for athletes who play sports on land, are now being integrated into swim workout routines with tremendous results.
Each method aforementioned must be incorporated into any dryland program. If the program focuses on one style only, then the results will be limited. For example, if the focus relies only on Olympic based exercises, then the swimmers could increase size, adapt anaerobic muscular fibers only, and decrease their ability to generate full range of motion movements. If the swimmer engages in power exercises only, then the athlete will increase their strength and muscle size; this often results in greater muscular fatigue and a less efficient muscle buffering system. Lastly, if the athlete engages in body weight exercises only, then the results in strength and power will be limited. Swimmers must be integrated into a program that engages in body weight training, core training, power lifts, strength lifts, plyometrics, cardiovascular training, and muscular endurance training. A well balanced program will integrate all of these training methods by separating them into phases and/or days of the week. However, it is possible to train one or more of these styles in the same day if incorporated correctly.
Resistance training that incorporates complex movements can result in an increased risk of injury, especially to those who are unfamiliar with the movements. Due to the nature of this training, the strength and conditioning coach must accept greater responsibility. Therefore, it becomes imperative for each coach to analyze every swimmers movements on dryland and asses where their level of coordination, balance, strength, power, core strength, and range of motion is currently at.
Every swimming workouts first and foremost focus must be on the safety of the athlete. In order for this to be possible, all programs must incorporate a comprehensive core program that involves stabilization, flexion, extension, and rotational movements involving the core. Any proper core program should engage in progression and total body movements in order to generate the greatest results.