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Strength training for swimming, a proper workout to improve performance

If we observe how swimmers’ body has changed in the last decades, in a sport where floating, efficiency in horizontal sliding and propulsive force in water are the key to a better performance, we must ask ourselves, are those muscles really necessary? And If so, are they being forged only from all the time spent by the pool?

You can find only one answer in many papers that scientific literature has published in the last ten years about physical preparation for swimmers. The hypothesis is that associating the technical work and specific conditioning in the water with a complementary strength training, explosive strength or stabilization, can lead to greater improvements in an athlete’s performance.

In the photogallery, the body muscles of Italian famous swimmer Massimiliano Rosolino and Mike Spitz in comparison.

Swimming is a cyclic sport, in an environment with reduced gravity, with competitions that can last approximately 21" as in the men's 50m freestyle or more than 5 hours, as in the 25km women’s open water, or other specific fractions for combined sports such as a triathlon.  This is a huge variety of performance models, with very different training characteristics, but nowadays without exception, all the athletes are looking to complete their work in the water with a dry land training in the gym.

Dry training in swimming

In this period, where due to the sanitary restrictions we are experiencing, it is not possible to train in the usual places for the swimmer, to keep the benefits of dry training from home, is the primary objective at any level.

The benefits can be summarized with the following key points:

  • To prevent injuries that can come from the enormous amount of technical work in the water;
  • To maintain neuromuscular efficiency, required by the high frequency of the arm strokes and flutter kicks;
  • To improve start or turn explosiveness in swimming pool competitions;

After sharing with the champions their types of training, let's see which exercises can be used at home, usually with very little equipment available or easy to find.

Warm Up
  • Phase 1: 5 'of mobilization, executing 5-10 circles with all the main joints like neck, shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, pelvis, hips, knees and ankles;If you have the opportunity do some swimming pre-hab exercises, using a mini-band or an elastic band, such as gluts activation, core control in a mono podalic stance, scapula stabilizers, rotators cuff etc., being able to maintain these exercises consistently is a very healthy habit.
  • Phase 2: 10 ' Marching on-site with extended arms, alternating with Mountain Climbers on the floor and every 10-15 " repeat some dynamic stretching exercises such as:

Marching
Knee to chest
Mountain Climber
Spiderman switches
Marching
Single leg deadlift
Mountain Climber
Thoracic rotation in 4 points kneeling
Marching
Opposite knee pull
Mountain Climber
Hip flexor lunge with arm reach

It is possible to increase the intensity of the warmup, by replacing the march with a run, or with some alternating split jumps, always on the spot.

Fitball Pike

This is a stability exercise for the whole body but it can also strengthen arms and shoulders. Starting in a push-ups position with the hands shoulder-width apart and shins placed on a Fitball. Bring the pelvis up in the air by rolling the ball in the direction of the hands. Stop in the upper position, aligning your pelvis shoulders and hands as better as possible, then slowly descend to the starting position.

  • Perform 4 sets, 8-10 reps for exercise, at the end of each set 90” rest;
At Home: If you don't have a Fitball available, the exercise can be done on asliding surface and placing your tip toes on a small towel or a newspaper sheet.

One Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift

it is an exercise for the hip but also involving the back, core and legs. Hold one Kettlebell on one side and lift the ipsilateral leg off the ground by extending it behind you. The movement is performed slowly with the best range of motion and balance. To make it more challenging, reach out your free arm over the head and hold the position for 1”.

  • Perform 4 sets for 6-8 repetitions for any side, at the end of each set 90” rest;

At Home: If you don't have a kettlebell or dumbbell available the exercise can be done by reaching out both arms upwards from the start to the end. It is important to keep your free limbs in your best extension.

Kettlebell pull through plank

it is a dynamic stability exercise which dissociates the lower body work, holding the position, with the rotating movement of the upper part. The exercise consists in moving the load from one part of the body to the other, dragging it to the ground (placed on a small towel is better!) and passing it behind the supporting arm.

  • Perform 4 sets for 8-10 reps per side, at the end of each set 90” rest;

At Home: If you don't have a kettlebell or dumbbell available the exercise can be done, increasing the repetitions up to 10-12, staying on your forearm and performing a rotation with your free arm, trying to touch the floor as far possible in the opposite direction. On the way back, bring your free hand toward the ceiling, following it with the eyes.

Kettlebell Goblet Thruster + Streamline Jumps

it is a combination between a more strength-oriented exercise and an explosive one that replicate a position similar to the exit from the turn. The Thruster is performed starting with the Kettlebell held on the chest, performing a parallel Squat and ending with the load over your head with your arms reached up. The Jumps are performed keeping the streamline position into the water, arms over the head and palms facing forward, a countermovement is performed to jump as high as possible, trying to closing your legs in the air.

  • Perform 4 sets, 2 of Thruster and 2 of Jumps with 6 reps for each exercise, at the end of each set 90” rest;
Squat jumps
At Home: If you don't have a Kettlebell, a Dumbbell or a Med Ball. You should increase the repetitions to 8-10 in both the exercises. Keep always the Streamline position with your arms, execute alternating first a parallel squat and then the jumps.
Cool Down
At the end of the session, to get loose, perform 5' of active joint mobilization, trying to decrease the tensions accumulated during training. The exercises presented often use positions that recall those in the water, seeking controlled execution and mixing strength and stability. It is essential to maintain a constant breathing rhythm, a good flow of execution and to prevent states of excessive muscular tension, to look for that motion fluidity out of the water to be ready for the next dive.

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