Does USRPT Really Deserve Its Anti-Dryland Reputation?

Last week, I addressed four frequent criticisms that I saw time and time again with regards to USRPT. These criticisms all had the same thing in common- the people making them hadn’t bothered to read the literature and understand what USRPT is. In the comment section, many reminded me that I was leaving out one of the most controversial aspects of USRPT as it relates to “typical” swim practice.

To refresh, when I say USRPT, I am referencing the training system that has captured imaginations due to it’s deviation from typical swimming training. The training has gained most of it’s publicity because of it’s affiliation with now junior swimming phenom Michael Andrew.

The conventional wisdom is that USRPT is “anti-dryland training”. I’m here to tell you that in fact this is also a criticism that belies an ignorance of the public literature that Dr. Rushall presents. Of course, part of whether you think USRPT does not recommend dryland depends on how you define dryland training.

Before we take a dive into Rushall, let’s assess the state of dryland in swimming in 2015. It is part of swimming culture that swimmers are often assumed to be poor land athletes. At the same time, there has been a decline in school physical education programs across the country. The common wisdom of dryland training is that by creating better “athletes” and by that most people mean “land athletes”, you will create better swimming performance.

Where USRPT comes into conflict with this common wisdom is that because of it’s relationship to the “principle of specificity”, land athleticism does not necessarily translate to improved swimming performance. However, Rushall himself actually gives examples of where he sees value in dryland activities, you just have to look hard to find them.

For example, in his article on warmup procedures, Rushall makes a compelling point about the ineffectiveness of general pool warmups at swimming competitions. The lanes are often so crowded that it is impossible to achieve a physiological level of “warm-up” or rehearse racing speeds at any significant volume. What does Rushall recommend in that situation? I’ll quote directly:

“Because pool swimming does not increase deep-muscle temperatures in warmup conditions, some land activity (e.g., jogging, a calisthenics routine, brisk walking, stationary bicycle riding, rowing ergometer work, etc.)”

Does that sound like dryland? Maybe not brisk walking, but I’ve known many coaches to use running, calisthenics and rowing ergometers as part of their dryland program. You can also assume that these would be effective measures for warming up for a practice since the line between practice and racing is so thin in the USRPT concept.

Another example of where Rushall suggests dryland activities is in his article on pre-race strategies. Under the heading of warmup, Rushall states that swimmers should mimic as best they can the neuromuscular patterns of the swimming strokes and skills they will execute in the given race. Therefore, there must be some value in having swimmers practice doing this on land, especially as swimmers progress to the level where they are compelled to finish the last 15-20 minutes of their race preparation in ready rooms on land.

Lastly, USRPT is a training program that puts a huge emphasis on the technical precision at which athletes complete their sets. Swimmers that are lacking in range of motion to properly execute a technique will need to focus on building this range of motion through dryland flexibility training. While I can’t find where Rushall himself recommends this, in practice it becomes pretty obvious that swimmers must devote dryland time to correcting any range of motion deficiency that is preventing them from executing proper technique.

You may read this and still find that USRPT is “anti-dryland”, but I disagree. I think when considering the value of USRPT, coaches should also consider the purpose of any training they are having swimmers to do. We are not training swimmers for the Crossfit games- we are training them to swim to their fullest potential- and so any dryland activities must both be relevant to the specific neuromuscular demands of swimming fast while also not decreasing a swimmer’s capacity to do the most race pace swimming training possible.



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Swim Whisper Eric
8 years ago

The debate will always rage on. I think that every athlete is different, has unique skills, strengths, weaknesses and talents. It is up to the athlete and coach to come up with the program that works best for that athlete. There is no one size fits all when it comes to dealing with the intangibles of the human body. USRPT vs. VO2Max in swimming, high intensity interval based training vs. long slow distance in the running/cycling/triathlon world. This is why it’s called practice. I love the passion involved on all sides! It means people care about the sport!

8 years ago

My question is with the recent focus on USRPT — what about the old school focus on VO2 Max? I think this IS still a very important concept in swimming. I say this because the top swimmers I know do seem to have a very high capacity for storing and delivering oxygen to the muscles. These kids are also good distance runners.

I ask because I happened to look up something on distance running in the pre-puberty to teenage years (deciding how much my swimmer should train running) and found out that there is a BIG focus on V02 Max in running!

I swam in the 70s/80s and VO2 Max was a big deal then. How could it not… Read more »

8 years ago

We all know that USRPT works for Michael Andrew, how is it working for his training partner, his sister? We don’t hear much about her……..

Reply to  Brad
8 years ago

Brad – Michaela hasn’t been training in swimming as consistently as Michael. I know that for a while she was playing softball, for example. Her last results in the USA Swimming database are from January 2015, where she went a 26.11 in the 50 free as a 13-year old.

Reply to  Brad
8 years ago

I can think of several examples on my own team, and within my LSC, of sibling swimmers who train the same way and yet experience vastly different levels of success. I have a 17 year old boy who is a junior national qualifier with several sectional cuts, and his 15 year old sister who still has yet to break 30 in the 50 free. Does it mean that our training is wrong and that the brother’s success is a fluke? Or can we accept that siblings are still different people, with different motivations and abilities, despite being related? Hell, I have coached and seen several pairs of identical twins who had very different capabilities despite training together every day.

Michaela… Read more »

Reply to  sven
8 years ago

Also, I know Michaela often reads comments on these USRPT and/or Michael Andrew articles so I just want to say, if you are reading this, that it’s okay to not want to dedicate your life to swimming. Michael has, and that’s great, but don’t let that shoehorn you into a life you don’t want to live. Ignore people like this. You and your brother (your whole family, for that matter) have both been very nice and open every time I have encountered your family at meets, and I respect that more than any number on a scoreboard. Do your own thing. Whether that involves swimming or not, good for you.

Reply to  sven
8 years ago

Agree! Also, Michaela IS a good/great swimmer. You don’t have to be #1 to be a great swimmer. And you can still get a lot out of the sport — fun, fitness, and friendships, and that is what it is about for most swimmers! She’s normal — and there is nothing wrong with that!

Reply to  sven
8 years ago

To add to this: I train identical twins and one has quite a bit more ‘fire’ in training and races than the other, and the difference shows.
To reach your full potential in swimming you need to have/endure the maximum amount of high quality training. A part of high quality training comes from the coach (or in this discussion the type of training offered), the biggest factor is the attitude and physical ability of the swimmer.

Ross Gerry
8 years ago

If you think in terms of the stroke rate velocity curve, all swimming is done within(under that curve). Therefore to improve performance at just race tempo doesn’t make sense. To elevate the curve I find it is necessary to work on or near max distance per stroke as well as max tempo, even though no races are swum at either of those points on the curve.
For example,In order to improve DPS at let’s say 100 race velocity, it may be best to sneak up on it from 200 or even 400 race tempo and velocity to learn how to maintain efficiency of stroke mechanics. By the same token, it may be a good idea to practice above race… Read more »

Reply to  Ross Gerry
8 years ago

>Perhaps the nervous system doesn’t need to be screamed at all the time….

Well said, Ross. I use reading a new text book analogy. If you read a new text and think of something else, at the end you will not know what you just had read. That happens when you think at race speed. You are not improving your technique because you are thinking about other things, most importantly to make your times. To improve your technique you have to slow down and do miles of slow swimming and focus on what you are doing. Sure, race pace training should be part of every program, and the best ones have been doing that for years, but to use only… Read more »

8 years ago

I agree that some dryland is needed to counteract the imbalances that swimming produces in the body. As one track coach told me, “Whatever sport you practice, it will introduce some type of imbalance (in muscular strength) to the body.”

I swam without injury until I hit my 40’s. My PT told me I had swimmer’s shoulders and I found a strength and conditioning coach to help me out. Now I do exercises for flexibility and to address the imbalances in my body. In particular, I have to strengthen then “posterior chain” because swimming targets the front part of the upper body more.

I enjoy using USRPT to train myself (most swim coaches here are stuck n the 1960’s).

8 years ago

There are a few instances where Dr. Rushall begrudgingly admits that strength out of the water can correlate to speed in the water, but they are strictly related to all out sprinting (aka the 50’s only). Here are a few links from his site

In the first one, he says speed was related to strength in a 25 yard test, but that there isn’t a 25 yard event so it doesn’t matter. Normally, I’m willing to defer to proper scientific judgement, but I can’t help but think he’s being willfully obtuse in this response. Pretending that 25 speed wouldn’t be related to 50 speed is… Read more »

8 years ago

Does Michael Andrew Run? Do Rowing Machine? What does he use for Dry Land?

Just curious.

8 years ago

My take away from reading over Dr. Rushall’s usrpt training is that he assumes a well conditioned, strong athlete. Taking that athlete, usrpt is the most effective way to improve their swimming performance, his research indicates.
As coaches we probably all do have swimmers that come in to our programs that are already strong and fit and we could just train them usrpt and they would do well. But many if not most are lacking in strength,balance, stamina etc.and need more work. Can you build that by just usrpt? Maybe, but I would think over a much longer time.. And what did those ones that already have the strength and conditioning do to get it before becoming a swimmer.… Read more »

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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