Head Coach Guide - Strength and Conditioning
The Importance of Strength and Conditioning for Swimmers
All the top swimmers in the world today engage in some form of strength and conditioning training to complement their in water work. We use the term “land training” when talking about strength and conditioning because our program uses a combination of land and in water strength training. We use this methodology to transfer land based strength gains to in water stroke and body movements.
Key Principles of Strength and Conditioning
1 – Strength and conditioning can help prevent injury. If nothing else you should perform maintenance exercises to prevent many common swimming injuries such as swimmers shoulder or breast strokers knee.
2 – Strength and conditioning can enhance performance. Swimming requires a balance of endurance and power, strength training can help develop both these attributes and improve your in water performance.
Understanding the Demands of Swimming
The importance of strength and conditioning becomes even clearer when you reflect on the demands of swimming.
Competitive swimming events range from 50-1500m anywhere from 20 seconds to over 15 minutes. Swimmers will draw on various energy systems when they perform. Strength training will help swimmers train their energy systems for racing.
Swimming is a full body sport and requires the coordinated activation of muscles in the legs, core and upper body with virtually every stroke. A breakdown in one area can have a detrimental effect on performance and even possible cause injury. Strength training will build core stability and develop coordination between the body segments that will reduce drag and improve propulsion in the water.
Swimming is a non weight bearing sport and the legs do not take the pounding they do in other land based sports, but the repetitive nature of swimming strokes can lead to overuse and potential injury. Strength training can address any imbalances and reduce the risk of injury.
Swimming places unique demands on the core of the body that are unlike those in land based sports. Swimmers need to generate force and pressure by gripping the water pressing against a fluid surface. Swimmers need to be even stronger and more stable than most land based athletes. Strength training particularly done in the water will enhance your stroke, leg kick power and core stability.
Strength and conditioning training can enhance performance even for young swimmers. Age group and youth swimmers will not build large muscle mass, they will see improved strength and coordination, increased bone density, improved self image, improved confidence and a greater potential for preventing injury. All these should be appealing to age group and youth swimmers.
1. Building Muscle and Bone Density
It is very difficult to build muscle through swimming alone. Despite the repetitive movements and whole body integration while swimming, muscle groups are not triggered to develop significantly. When a stress is placed on a muscle, such as bodyweight or a dumbbell, the muscle is signaled to resist the downward force of gravity by contracting. Strength exercises on land create a number of these stressors. When muscles respond, as in the lifting of a dumbbell, micro-tears in the tissue occur and cause soreness. As the body repairs these micro-tears, muscle builds up. Pulling one’s body through water cannot create this stimulation for tissue growth as much as strength exercises on land because the perceived force of gravity is reduced.
Another benefit of weight-bearing strength training for swimmers is that it increases bone density. . Swimmers have a tendency to have low bone density because they spend the majority of their training in the pool. Dry land training and loading weight or body weight on bones stimulates bone tissue to develop.
2. Core Strength
The core is critical to swimming. It maintains the correct “downhill” body position of the swimmer when horizontal to minimize drag. It enables the swimmer to accelerate faster in a turn, and carry more speed off a dive with a clean entry. Swimming dry land training often requires the integration of various muscles in complex movements, with the core at the center of the action. In order to transfer force efficiently from one part of the body to another, an athlete needs a strong core that engages quickly. This applies to every part of a swimmer's race, from the hip rotation in freestyle to the underwater dolphin kick off the wall.
3. Injury Prevention
The repetitive motions in swimming can lead to chronic injuries. Dry land training varies an athlete's patterns of movement and challenges their muscles to learn new exercises. It can target areas left underdeveloped by swimming and relieve some of the demand placed on more stressed muscle groups. Stronger muscles also help distribute force correctly, putting less strain on joints, tendons and ligaments.
4. Learn Correct Biomechanics
Especially for swimming dry land training, an athlete must learn correct body position for a variety of exercises. This requires focus, muscle recruitment, and coordination. Swimmers develop better posture through core engagement and upper body strength, which helps improve breathing in the water. Balance and stability improve with single-legged exercises and strengthening of large muscle groups.
5. Generate More Power
Dry land training develops power unmatched by any training a swimmer can do in the pool. Once the athlete develops a baseline level of strength, there are countless exercises that can be done in quick bursts of energy. Explosiveness develops well on land, where the athlete has a harder surface to push off of. Squat jumps, lat pull-downs, and push ups are just a few of the exercises that develop power for the pool.