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.