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.
INTERPRETATION AND APPLICATION
TECHNIQUE, STRENGTH AND PERFORMANCE
For all strokes it can be seen that the majority of muscles work. The major back muscles: latissimus dorsi and trapezius are key large power outputs. Another key part of the back is scapular strength which stabilises in order to give large power outputs. Furthermore major leg muscles are key to power outputs: the hamstrings and quadriceps. Working the abdominals and triceps will also benefit the power outputs of competitive swimmers.
We must consider that for all the exercises above we must build the complete athlete to balance and also help develop the compound lifts that work the whole body.
An efficient way to begin training is to start with compound lifts. Using these compounds and progressively overloading is a good way of starting a work out (post warm up). From here accessory lifts can be used to help develop the compound lifts. Compounds are key as they work large bulks of antagonistic muscles across multiple joints.
Compound lifts are using ST fibres meaning these are most likely to be developed by these movements, as it is not recommended to complete compound lifts at speed. We have also discussed that we need to train the FT-A fibres, FT-B fibres are easiest developed in an oxygen deficit (pool environment). To train the FT fibres bodyweight and isolation movements need to be included. This will help to develop all round athleticism ultimately benefitting the compound movements.
‘The largest effect size (ES) on swimming performance was found in 50 m freestyle after a dry-land strength training regimen of maximum six repetitions across three sets in relevant muscle-groups’ (Aspenes, 2012).
However, Aspenes research suggests that the most benefit of dry land training was to 50m swimmers (sprinters) so maybe training for ST fibres is not as key in the gym. It appears training for both ST and FT will offer the most benefits to swimmers athletically.
We must be careful when using isolation exercises as it is easy to become too repetition orientated. Athletes will not benefit from only max weight work as this will cause swimmers to be too heavy and easily fatiguing in water. Instead it is important to use moderate weight for large numbers of repetitions for isolation exercises.
One of the key ways to train athletically is to train on your feet. According to Jeff Cavaliere MSPT CSCS often presents the idea of training standing to make sure that stabilising of the core and spinal erectors are made the focus of training. This would benefit swimmers as swimming is very much reliant on stabilisation. However, it can be questioned whether standing stabilisation would benefit the horizontal stabilisation in the water. Using horizontal stabilisation such as scapular angels. Including both standing and horizontal stabilising movements will benefit swimmers; whether it is in the way of the compound lifts or also in the pool.
TRAINING TYPES AND REGIMES
There are a few key methods of training that, upon research, should be included. (1) endurance training, (2) maximal strength training, (3) explosive training.
Endurance training seems to be best used in the pool as it is difficult to replicate the resistance and aerobic conditions that swimmers must be used to over long distances. However some use of endurance and high repetition movements is beneficial, especially for postural movements such as cable face pulls which help to balance the scapular retractors where the pectorals are often the most dominant of the pair.
Maximal strength training is a key indicator to show how an athlete is developing. This is because it gives an idea to both coach and athlete as to how much they are able to lift for a set number of repetitions. This type of strength training is also key to hypertrophy because it allows progressive overload of key movements – compound, accessory and isolation exercises. (2) also has the issue proved by Gabbett that there is a correlation between load and incidence of injury. It can be argued that the risk of injury from this type of training is not worth the reward of strength gains. However we know that this area is key to hypertrophy so the evidence suggests it is key to include (worth the risk). As long as form is monitored to be correct and spots are used for high loads; there should be limited risk of injury.
Explosive training is vital to competitive swimmers. Could this be the most important section of training in the gym for these athletes? Explosive training is very difficult in the pool environment so it is key to supplement with explosive training in the gym. Potdevin et al. demonstrated that (3) has a beneficial effect on the dive and turns but not in the swimming motion (kicking). Dives and turns are mostly dependant on the initial power output.
Training explosively does come with risks. Due to the high power demands it is key to have warmed up properly, otherwise there is a high chance of pulling a muscle or muscle cramping due to the use of anaerobic respiration. The information compiled was targeted around the adolescent (14 year old) age group which is not usually the prime age for top level competitive swimmers. However this is a consideration as age does effect the type of training that should be used. Further research should be completed to look into all age groups training explosively.
Training to failure is a concept often proposed by Jeff Cavaliere MSPT CSCS for achieving hypertrophy. It involves training until it feels physically impossible to complete a further repetition without changing the form of an exercise. This concept would be beneficial to all athletes (including swimmers) as it not only trains the muscles but the mentality to work until no longer possible. This could have improve mental toughness for athletes as well as training to a high intensity. However as with any fatigue in weight training it is possible to lose concentration or form without realising which makes this a risky method of training. This could be made less risky by working closely with a coach who knows the correct form. This would take away the possibility of training with incorrect form as fatigue builds. This form of training could be worth including for the possible mental benefits alone, let alone the physical developments possible, as long as it is closely monitored by professionals and rarely used (maybe only once or twice per session).
A key aspect that is required from dry land training is the ability to develop explosive power. Potdevin et al. (2011) concluded that using a plyometric training scheme improved the starts and turns. Furthermore Keohane (1977) demonstrated how PT improves leg power outputs. Therefore the inclusion of PT is vital to a successful plan.
However, considering the high intensity nature of the PT exercises it is important to have a solid foundation, lowering the risk of injury. Stabilisation and mobility is key to ensure joint health whilst training in such a way. Prehabilatative exercises and mobility drills are key to sustaining joint health; making these key for any swimmers program. Aiming to work for improved posture and flexibility will allow the athletes to train more successfully.
Especially when it comes to training maximal strength. When training with high weights it is is notable that there is an increased risk of injury due to the higher loads (Gabbett, 2016). So with the solid foundation athletes will be able to train to a higher intensity and standard. Max weight training serves a purpose to both coach and athlete. The coach can see and prove to the swimmers the progress they are making by comparing the loads they are lifting. It also allows the athletes to learn correct form before increasing velocity in a PT program. Further it should be included for ‘improved endurance performance’ (Hoff et al. 2002) which is needed for all distances.
Focusing on endurance training in the pool is likely to be most efficient but this can be supplemented with some dry land training. Especially use of resistance bands to focus on stroke patterns and stroke specific movements. The key to this endurance training is to include it into the yearly taper that coaches plan – more endurance work will need to be included in the preseason than that of competition season.
The taper will affect all types of training and that is why it is important for coaches to be well educated in gym training. Being able to offer variations to exercises to change the focus will allow them to plan the taper better but also allow the athletes the opportunity to work around injuries that they may have. [Appendix 1] shows some variations of exercises possible. Coaches are key to training; they must monitor form, create programs specific to the individual athletes needs and find the best way to adapt the training programs to their athletes. Swimmers also have a responsibility to follow guidance and educate themselves to understand their anatomy and how they should be training.
This report is a review of the academic research already present. It would be beneficial to include a practical assignment to this report to support the findings. However there are many limitations to the practical aspects: dry land training should be prescriptive and unique for each athlete due to the diversity of events and the composition of every athlete. This means there is no perfect plan as it must be tailored to developing a single athlete as appose to a squad. A practical aspect may be too specific and would take a long time as the athlete would need to develop throughout. Review would need to be taken throughout a year to see how the swimmer is responding to training and then adaptations would need to be made in order to maximise performance. A large number of athletes would also be needed to make the results comparable and reliable.
There are also areas of consideration around the topic title that would need to be researched and developed: how can cardiovascular dry land training (such as rowing) affect swimmers performance. This is a very varied and diverse topic that would need extensive practical research to support the theory.
It would also be useful to have the ability to form strength curves. This way a comparison could be made between the strength curve of the swimming stroke and the gym exercises, making training even more effective and efficient. This would be a highly complex topic, requiring state of the art equipment but would offer very accurate scientific results. Ultimately allowing coaches to train their athletes in a very effective way.
This report has been kept reliable with the use of multiple sources to support one another, ensuring that there are minimal anomalous results. Further all sources are from reputable journals or books, all staples of the sports world and regularly used by swimming coaches. Modern studies have mainly been used to ensure the most up to date science is included, however some long standing theories and research has also been used to make sure that the report is not compiled with superficial data and results.
Three main training types with many variations have been identified in order to supplement training for competitive swimmers. Using these techniques should increase stroke efficiency and athleticism of the swimmers, ultimately reducing times.
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.