If you want to be a better swimmer, then swim! But how can you make additional gains when you have maximized your swim time? One way is to add strength training exercises.
Poor posture not only looks terrible and increases your chances for a whole host of injuries, but it can actually mess with your stroke technique. For instance, decreased shoulder range of motion resulting from tight chest and shoulder muscles decreases stroke length and strength.
Why strength training for swimmers?
Strength training for the swim specifically is an important part of preparing for a triathlon. However, rather than hitting the weight room in a traditional manner, the best approach is to work the core and simulate the muscle movement used during swimming.
You build muscle through stressing your muscles, and swimming through water does not put a particularly large amount of stress on your muscles. Most of the muscle stress comes from repeated motions you do while you swim.
Weight training helps us overcome our natural inefficiencies in the water, and our body is not designed to move naturally fast in the water.
With lack of support (buoyancy) for your body in the water, most triathletes tend to swim with their head up and torso (and possibly legs) drooping in the water. This position is bad for your back and your breathing. It’s also extremely inefficient: You are swimming “up” and not forward while facing enormous amounts of resistance because your body is not flat.
Swimming uses a lot of muscles in your body, but the most important ones are your lats, pectorals, shoulders, quadriceps and hamstrings. Strength training these muscles will help you to feel faster, better and more efficient in the pool.
It helps to overcome our natural inefficiencies in the water, and reduce injuries.
Strength Workouts for Swimmers
The following exercises are related to the mechanics of the front crawl stroke. To be able to mimic the resistance you would experience in the pool is difficult, however, you need to consider that the exercises you undertake need to produce a smooth and constant force with the weights that you select relevant to the speed at which you would perform the swimming action. You would be looking to perform 5-10 repetitions for improvements in strength or around 12-15 repetitions to improve endurance.
Front Pull.This exercise is designed to work the shoulder and internal rotator cuff muscles. Set the cable machine up so that the pulley is high and a single handle is attached. Come into a single leg kneeling position slightly off centre of the cable and reach up to the handle on the side that is nearest the equipment. Ensure your back is straight, shoulders are set down and back and your head is in neutral alignment to prevent pulling on the neck. Pull the cable handle down, lowering your arm across the body to the opposite hip in a rotational movement and return to the start position. Focus on keeping the body in a solid position and getting the shoulder muscles to provide the power of the movement.
Rear Pull.To create a balance of strength in the shoulder joint and help prevent potential injury rear pulls should also feature in your programme. This movement is the reverse of the front pull. Set the cable and handle at a low position and stand to the side of the machine, your starting point this time will be with your hand on the inside of the hip with a slight bend fixed in the elbow. The movement should see you pulling the handle away from your body by rotating the arm up and out, the cable handle should be out to the side with your palm facing forwards at the top point of this movement. Return to the start position by taking the handle back across the body to the opposite hip. You may find it difficult to keep the body position solid during this movement as the core muscles tend to try and help with the rotation movement. Focus on pulling in from the navel to ensure as solid a body position as possible.
Classic pull up. Make sure your palms are facing away from you for a pull-up. If they're facing toward you, then you're doing a chin-up.
Cable Row.To focus on upper back strength a cable row with a neutral grip (where the pull back movement allows the elbows to stay close and tight to the body) will be of benefit. In a standing position, facing the cable machine set the handle to the mid height of your torso. Pull away from the machine so there is tension in the cable and come into a small squat position, with chest lifted and shoulders retracted. This should give you a strong base of support from which to work. From this point, pull the handle in towards your mid torso, ensuring that elbows remain close to the sides of the body and squeezing the shoulder blades together at the point where you can retract no further. From here extend the handles back out to the starting point in a controlled movement.
Plank Variations.Whilst all of the above exercises encourage your body to use the strength within the torso to retain good form throughout the exercise it is also beneficial to include core specific exercises such as plank holds or other variations of this exercise to further encourage strength in this specific area of the body.
Single leg deadlifts.Progression in swim stroke technique means that now it is predominantly the upper body that provides the power whilst the legs tend to act as a rudder to drive and guide the swimmer. However, this does not mean that the legs do not play a vital part in the movement and so should not be neglected as part of your weight based training sessions. Single leg based movements are of more advantage as they allow each leg to work individually replicating the movement they would during swimming. Standing on one leg with a slight bend in the knee and the torso upright, tip forward from the hips, keeping the back straight and the head in line with the body. At the point where your body is in line with the hips (where possible), drive back up through the supporting leg to a standing start position.
How to become a better swimmer?
If you’re new to swimming, you should focus on technique, but is about more than just seeking the perfect swim stroke. The swim kick makes a bigger contribution to overall swim speed than the pull.
Here, we will describe the technique of the flutter kick in the front crawl stroke. It also covers common mistakes, kicking rhythms and some tips to improve your technique.
To get started, let’s have a look at a video that shows the freestyle kick in action during the men's 1500 final at the 2004 Olympics:
The Flutter Kick. As you can see in the swimming video above, the flutter kick is a simple and efficient kick used while swimming freestyle. Basically, both legs are kept parallel and quickly flutter up and down with toes pointed.
The first role of the flutter kick is to provide propulsion. It is a fact that world class swimmers have a powerful kick. So it is clear that the kick has its importance in fast swimming. However, it might be less than you think. In fact, studies have shown that the amount of propulsion provided by the kick in elite swimmers is only about 10%. The rest of propulsion is provided by the arm stroke.
The second role of the flutter kick is to stabilize the body. In fact, the start of the propulsive phase of the arm stroke always coincides with a downward motion of the leg on the same side.
Two-Beat Kick. In the two-beat kick you kick once with each leg per stroke cycle. The downbeat of the right leg occurs during the propulsive phase of the right arm stroke (insweep and upsweep to be precise). The two-beat rhythm is used by lots of middle and long distance swimmers because it uses less energy than the six-beat kick. See below:
Six-Beat Kick. In the six-beat kick, each leg kicks three times per stroke cycle. Let’s consider the movements of the right arm and the right leg. The first downbeat of the leg occurs during the forward extension of the arm. The second downbeat of the leg occurs during the upsweep of the arm. The third downbeat of the leg occurs during the recovery of the arm. The left leg moves in opposition to the right leg. See below:
Common mistakes to avoid
Many people think that you have to use paddles, buoy, fins, etc., during your workouts in order to get better. This isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes you just need to swim. For longer distance triathlons, you have to swim over an hour... so why not practice this in the pool without the use of equipment? Swimming equipment should be a tool to work on different aspects of your swimming; it should not be a crutch you reach for when you are tired or bored. There is a time for the use of equipment, but it is not all of the time.
Another thing it is noticed with beginner triathletes is a general lack of open water skills, such as sighting. When you swim open water, the timing of how you sight and breathe is important. You need to learn to sight and breathe without changing your stroke a lot, and this is something you can work on in the pool. It is also important to train in open water a couple of times, so that you can practice all of the things that differ from pool swimming.
Is all about practice
It is easy to get to the pool, get in, and not do very much work. Biking and running, you have to always come back to where you started; but in swimming, you can hop out whenever you want. If you have a workout planned prior to coming to the pool, then you are more!