Here is a great blog post from APT Strength & Conditioning Coach, Jared Lang. As a competitive swimmer, Jared has logged thousands of hours in the pool. In this post, Jared talks about the delicate balancing act today’s swimmers must accomplish to stay ahead of the pack.
Strength Training in Swimming
Jared Lang, CSCS
The unfortunate common mindset behind training swimmers is the more time spent in the pool, the better he/she will get. To a certain extent, this is true. In the sport of swimming, technique is debatably more important than strength and endurance. But once this proper technique is learned and maintained, is there a point in completing 6000 yards in one practice? Sure they are getting endurance training, which is important to an extent, but how much is too much?
Overuse is a crucial and commonly overlooked aspect in swimming. Swim coaches commonly see kids with shoulder injuries and thoracic spine issues and think nothing of it. They send the kid off to physical therapy and when they get back into the pool they are right back to the same training that led to the problem in the first place. This leads to a vicious cycle where an athlete with a lot of potential may never reach his/her goals due to too much time rehabbing injuries.
Swimming is a very imbalanced sport for the shoulder girdle. Freestyle, for example, involves repetitive internal rotation and shoulder extension. Resisted shoulder external rotation is almost never seen in any of the four strokes. This leads to one of the most common swimming overuse injuries. This is a known fact, yet in my long swimming career and time spent coaching swimming, I have never seen a coach other than myself get his athletes out of the water working on balancing the body.
Many “dryland” programs that swim coaches’ implement do not focus on balancing the body. They may run or do pushups and sit-ups, but rarely do you see them focusing on the development of the hips or balancing the shoulder girdle. If you were to put a swimmer through a Functional Movement Screen, it is amazing how many imbalances you will find in their movement patterns.
Once the proper swim technique is learned, getting the swimmer out of the water and involved in a proper strength-training program needs to be a top priority. Now, this does not imply that a swimmer does not need to swim to become fast. There is the specificity principle that means you need to get in the pool and spend your time swimming to get better. But, this combined with a proper program focused on pre-hab exercises and proper strength training, is the best a swimmer can do.
My beliefs in this idea stemmed from my own swimming history. I was an All-American swimmer in high school and was recruited to swim at a D1 college. I am also currently training to make an Olympic Trial cut, and none of this would have happened without me making a drastic change in my training. My club team in high school had me swimming about 25,000 yards a week and our dryland training was an embarrassment at best. I went into a slump my sophomore year due to overtraining. I had shoulder tendonitis and my thoracic spine posture was horrible. After rehabbing my shoulder I got right back into the pool doing the same exact thing that injured me to begin with. I took it upon myself to cut the yardage down in the pool and start training myself outside of the pool. I spent time balancing my body and getting strong outside of the pool. My coaches and other teammates criticized me for not going to all of the practices, but little did they know that I was doing my body the greatest favor I have ever given it. Over the next two years I got faster and faster, even with the little yardage I was swimming. In college, I ended up deciding not to swim for my school because I disagreed with the way they were training their swimmers. I know my body and it would have broke me down and I would have gotten slower. So, instead I focused on strength training and other cross training and continued to balance my body. I stayed in the pool and continued to fine-tune my technique rather than swimming a ton of yardage. After graduating from college I went and swam a meet just for fun to see how I would do. At that point I was only swimming about 5000 yards a week just for recreation and was not specifically training for anything. To my surprise, I was close to my fastest time I ever swam when I was younger and “in my swimming prime”. I continued what I was doing outside of the pool, training myself at APT, and increased my pool yardage slightly. A month later I swam my fastest 50 m freestyle ever, and not far off of the Olympic Time Trial cut. I am currently pursuing my goal of making it to the Olympic Trials in 2016. And I never have a need to swim over 10000-12000 a week.
My main goal is to spread awareness that there is another (and better) way to train swimmers. At Advantage Performance Training all of our coaches understand this concept and practice what we preach. My hope is that we can change the current swimming mindset: “The more you swim, the better you will get”. At APT, we believe “The better you move, the better you will get”. And results in our athletes have proven this point time and time again.