“Every session has to be so hard my athlete must be on the floor!”
“You shouldn’t lift weights.”
“Just get it done!”
These are a few things said across pool decks in regards to dryland. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad strength training information that is still being used. The researched-backed facts regarding strength training and swimming don’t often seem to find their way to the swimming community. From intelligent coaches to internet forums, old school misconceived ideas that are not even factually backed up are still held onto. As a former swimmer, I was often guilty of this mindset too. When I began to delve into my studies and internships, I realized that dryland (aka strength and conditioning) has a learning curve, but can be better implemented. Here are 3 changes with dryland that should be considered TODAY!
3 Swimming Dryland Sins
1) “Swimmers should not lift weights until college”
Myth: The origin of this stems from the myth that lifting weights stunts a child’s growth or could make one too bulky. Unfortunately, it is an age-old myth with no scientific evidence to support this claim.
Truth: Weight training is a safe form of dryland when taught properly. Coaches and parents without proper training, please DO NOT be the ones to do strength training with your kids. Just because you’ve done it once or saw some high-level athletes do something, doesn’t make it safe or effective. Unless you are certified for strength training, I recommend hiring someone who is knowledgeable and that will keep your child/athlete safe, if you can afford it. Properly performed strength and conditioning has been shown to actually reduce the chance of injury. Resistance training among at-risk athlete populations has been shown to reduce injury risk by up to 68% and improve sports performance, in addition to accelerating the development of physical literacy (Zwolski, 2017). A team’s goal is to develop a strong foundational base to support a building. If that base is not that deep then the building can topple over more easily.
2) Program Mismanagement
Myth: Most swim programs don’t have a well-designed plan for their dryland program. It’s understandable that this often happens, considering the difficulty of creating a team budget to have a trained professional. Many dryland programs will have their top-level swimmers perform challenging movements with ludicrous amounts of reps, leading to injuries due to incorrect form. On top of all this, there is no sense of coordination with their swimming training. And even when we want to challenge an athlete (which is important at times), it is done in excess. If you want to push your athletes, the pool is the best platform to do so.
Truth: The old saying of quality over quantity has never been so true. Building an athlete’s foundational pattern is the most important goal of dryland. In strength training, a linear progression is often used, which means the athlete will perform the same program for 4-6 weeks. It might not be exciting, but this ensures that they are practicing safe and healthy movements, while still increasing load or eventually a new exercise. It’s important to remember that bad movement over time, will lead to worse movement. Like what was said before, it is fun to test your athletes, but doing it day in and day out will only exhaust them and could lead to worse habits. Testing can be done periodically to get a measure of where your athletes are. But no one is ever going to best their maximum number of pull-ups by testing 3 days straight, let alone 10 days straight. Slowly progressing the athlete so that they understand what muscles to use and where their body is in space, will heavily contribute to a stronger and faster swimmer. Remember, dryland is a launching pad for a swimmer to get faster!
3) Poor Technical Execution
Myth: Poor technical execution is getting better, but still needs improvement. What often happens is that some coaches write a dryland workout and worry more about how difficult it looks. Instead, coaches often fail to focus on how well it is technically executed or to monitor proper technique. As said before, find a professional well versed in strength and conditioning. If not the case, the coach has to teach proper form with proper sets and reps. I guarantee you that ten times out of ten, a kid who has to do 100 squats with no rest and has not worked on form but wants to keep up with their teammates, will create bad movement patterns and get hurt.
Truth: “Less is more.” In order to build strength, it is best to have fewer reps with more sets. Your athlete will still be able to perform a good number of reps but they execute the exercise properly. Instead of 30 pullups, why not try ten sets of 3 pullups. It might take a little longer, but the athlete will have less of a chance of technical flaws, get rest, and can probably do better reps. Dryland is meant to improve joint health and performance through perfectly performed exercises. Keep it simple and then progress the athlete who demonstrates good form.
Dryland is meant to improve performance in the water by improving overall health, strength, and athleticism. This is done through a properly programmed routine with a long term purpose. Are there other problems that still need to be addressed in dryland? Absolutely, but these three recommendations can immediately change the health and performance of a swimmer.
1) Zwolski, C. (2017) Resistance Training in Youth: Laying the Foundation for Injury Prevention and Physical Literacy. Sports Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5582694/