Maximizing Performance Through Dryland Part II: Stroke-by-Stroke Principles

by SwimSwam 0

August 18th, 2020 News, Training, Training Intel

The following comes to us from swimmer and coach Josh Hurley, who put together a research paper on dryland training and its specific application to swimming. We’re splitting the bulk of the paper into a series, but you can see the full paper (including abbreviations, a comprehensive glossary, and a bibliography) here.


Full intro in document linked above

The purpose of this report is to identify the key aspects of training and how best dry land training can supplement all strokes and areas of a competitive swim; including starts and turns. A portfolio of information from academic research will firstly be considered and after analysis and interpretation of the information a conclusion will be drawn as to how best to maximise performance.

  • Part I
  • Part III (coming soon)
  • Part IV (coming soon)
  • Part V (coming soon)



‘Most movements originate and are transferred through the core to the outer extremities’ (Fig, 2005).

In all strokes the core is used for stabilisation. The rectus abdominis assist the legs, the obliques (internal and external) and serratus anterior assist the rotation and stabilisation in all movement planes. 

‘in swimming (…) the core becomes the point of reference of all movement’ (Fig, 2005).


Key parts of competitive swimming are starts and turns. Being able to maximise power off  the block and wall ensures maximum speed and distance when in the most streamline and high speed body position of the race. 

‘eight weeks of plyometric training provided a mean reduction of 0.59 second start time’ (Bishop et al. 2013).

Involvement of 40 depth jumps in multiple training sessions a week. A direct correlation arose between the first 15 meters of a swim (the start time) and the one repetition maximum of the back squat and jump height of a competitor (Maneval and Poole, 1987). This demonstrates the importance of using squats and other compound movements in the gym in order to improve the start time. A 1RM was used showing the importance of maximum weight training and the program was involved in multiple training sessions a week; showing the importance of consistency of training to make progress.

‘1RM squat, lean mass and peak power have the strongest correlations to start times’ (Crowley et al. 2018). Previous research therefore demonstrates the importance of dry land training in improving start times.

A classic track start is a split stance so single leg training must be incorporated into the program to prevent imbalances between the lower limbs. The program should attempt to achieve symmetry in leg strength.

The position adopted by swimmers during turns is similar to that of the countermovement jump and squat. Therefore inclusion of plyometrics could be a valuable part of a program.


Leg kick is initiated from the hip by the hip flexors, rectus femoris and gluteus maximus. There is slight bending of the knee but minimal use of the quadriceps and hamstrings. Feet are plantar flexed and angled slightly inwards; the knee is rarely bent and therefore the gastrocnemius is more often activated than the soleus.

Arms begin stretched above the head. After the catch the propulsive phase begins using the subscapularis, teres major and the pectoralis major, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi deltoids, trapezius and teres minor. As the arm passes the hip; tension is on the triceps brachii creating full extension of the arm. Beginning the exit phase, the anterior deltoids and trapezius bring the arm out and around before the lower trapezius helps to extend the arm for the recovery phase.


Leg kick is initiated from the hip with the hip flexors, rectus femoris and gluteus maximus, this is also heavily dependent on the stabilisation of the rectus abdominis. There is a slight bend in the knee but minimal use of the quadriceps and hamstrings.

Feet flexion and knees act in the same way as front crawl.

Arms begin extended above the head. Rotation of the shoulders is controlled by the trapezius and rhomboids which isometrically retract the shoulder blades during the pull phase. The latissimus dorsi, teres minor and infraspinatus help the pull phase where the arm is kept at 90 degrees; the brachalis and biceps brachii hold this angle. Passing the hips the triceps brachii straighten the arm before recovery which is mainly the contraction of the deltoids (interior), upper head of the pectoralis, teres major and upper trapezius.


Butterfly is heavily dependent on the undulating movement generated by the core. The rectus abdominis creates the majority of this movement. Feet are plantar flexed the whole time and there is some use of the quadrieceps, hamstrings and gluteus maximus.

Arms are symmetrical and begin above the head. The initial catch to pull phase is completed by the deltoids and latissimus dorsi. Elbows remain high as the pull down uses the latissimus dorsi and internal rotators of the shoulder. Hands adduct towards the navel which requires the pectoralis major and triceps brachii to contract. The arms extend behind the body as the triceps brachii contract and then the deltoids and trapezius help the recovery phase. Arms clear the water using most of the muscles across the upper posterior chain including the sacrospinalis. When breathing the sternocleidomastoid contracts to look upwards and forwards.


Leg kick begins with the legs straight and adducted – feet plantar flexed. The hamstrings are used to bring the heels towards the gluteus maximus. Lateral rotation at the hip uses the gluteus medius and a series of hip rotator muscles. At the bent phase the feet become dorsi flexed by the tibialis anterior. The quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus maximus are used to create a high velocity by explosive movement. As the knees become more straight there is a transfer from soleus to gastrocnemius activation. Arms begin above the head, catch is initiated by the deltoids. Elbows are kept high therefore internal rotators are used as the hands come towards the chest. The teres major, pectoralis major, interior deltoids and biceps brachii are all used to exert an inwards force. The latissimus dorsi, teres minor and anterior deltoids create the backwards force. During the recovery the hands are thrusted forwards towards the starting position. The trapezius, interior deltoids and triceps brachii are used to straighten the arm in-front of the body. The sternocleidomastoid keeps the head facing forwards.


There are three main fibre types that human muscles are composed of: type I fibres or ‘slow twitch’ fibres (ST) and type II fibres or ‘fast twitch’ fibres (FT). Fast twitch fibres are divided into two groups: ‘FT-A fibres have a moderate resistance to fatigue and represent a transition between the two extremes of the ST and FT-B fibres.’ (Karp, 2001).

It is important to train muscles for the events of the swimmer as: ‘an athlete with a greater proportion of fast-twitch fibres will not be able to complete as many repetitions at a given relative amount of weight as will an athlete with a greater proportion of slow-twitch fibres and therefore will never attain as high a level of muscular endurance as will the ST fibre athlete.’ (Karp, 2001).

Using this information it should be argued that both ST and FT fibre training should be included as the pool training will also include both types. However a slight deviation to either side may be included in the plan to account for the specialisms of the specific athlete – according to their event.

FT-A fibres are more useful to long distance swimmers due to their aerobic function whereas FT-B are more useful to sprint swimmers due to their anaerobic function. FT-A can be trained using maximal strength training; FT-B fibres are developed whilst training in an oxygen deficit which is difficult to create in the gym environment. This is much easier to create in the pool environment but can be developed by cardiovascular high intensity training for short periods of time.


Up next: Prehabilitation


About Josh Hurley

Josh Hurley is a qualified and practicing Swimming Teacher as well as a Fellow of the Institute of Swimming in England, he is currently training to become a swimming coach following his experiences as Club Captain of a British swimming club. Josh is also studying dentistry at King’s College London and uses his understanding of human biology to research innovative methods of coaching future generations of swimmers. 

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