Strength Training is an emerging field in the sport of swimming. As more and more coaches, parents, and athletes begin to understand the extent to which a strength training program can help drop swim times and reduce injury, the more I’m approached by a growing and widening audience about, not only the Ruthless Athletic‘s Dryland Training for Swimmers Program, but also, general tips for using land-based techniques to get better in the pool.
As this audience widens, the frequency of parents approaching me to develop programs for their age-group swimmers increases as well. There’s a great deal of misinformation in the mainstream media about various forms of strength training for swimmers in general, but even moreso for youth athletes and youth or age-group swimmers.
The information herein are some quick tips and answers to some very frequently asked questions which I receive from both parents, coaches, athletic administrators, and even these young athletes themselves.
Strength Training is NOT Detrimental to Youth Athletes
The idea that strength training is detrimental to prepubescent and pubescent athletes transcends the sport of swimming. Parents, coaches, and entire athletic staffs may fall prey to this line of thinking.
As mentioned in this fantastic piece by Mike Robertson: “the stresses in sport far exceed what happens in the weight room!” Mike goes on to say “For example, in strength training a good measure of strength would be if you could squat or deadlift 2x your body weight. In other words if you weighed 175, if you could squat and/or deadlift 350, you’d be considered strong…”
…And then follows with some information that most people intuitively understand, but seem to ignore with regards to strength training…
“However, the forces that you see in everyday events like running (4-6x body weight) and jumping (6-10x body weight) far exceed anything done in the weight room.”
Speed and Agility Drills are Overlooked for Swimmers
Injuries in the pool are actually rather rare. Swimmers may develop chronic, or overuse injuries from their time in the pool, but the likelihood of sports injuries increases as an under-prepared swimmer finds themselves in a precarious position on land.
Often times, swimmers may find themselves in a pick-up game of football, volleyball, or some other higher-impact land sport where an injury could occur. Because these swimmers are so unprepared for this medium (court, field, track, etc.) they run a higher risk of injury than their friends who may participate in some of the various land-based sports.
While preparing for these kind of extenuating circumstances may seem like overkill, the number of coaches who’ve showed up to practice to then be faced with an injured star swimmer from similar circumstances to the aforementioned example is astronomical.
The Goal of Strength Training is Not the Goal of Swimming Practice
Swimming coaches tend to have misconceptions about the goals of strength training; a problem propagated extensively within the field. Coaches tend to want land-based exercise to replicate what is done in the pool, however, while the goals of both are the betterment of the athlete, the applications are entirely different.
Because pool workouts develop skill work and energy system development, coaches mistakenly believe strength training should be done in a similar way, usually with little rest, high heart rates, and in a manner which replicates the actions of sport; this view is plainly wrong.
Land work should help restore optimal function to the various joints and postures which the swimming strokes can hinder. By spending hours in the pool completing high yardage training, then coupling this with ‘sport specific work’ (such as swim cable trainers), you are effectively exacerbating shoulder and hip ailments common to overuse injuries.
To have the most effective ‘sport specific’ strength training, a program should consist of various counter measures. This ensures a neutral posture onto which the swimming coaches can pack on yardage and intensity. Doing so in addition to more of the same exercises on land will definitively lead to pain, burnout, and injury.
Consider the above when trying to formulate a program for your youth athletes. Remember, Ruthless Athletics does offer coaching services to individual athletes, as well as, entire sports teams. For more information on these services, swim team consulting, details on any of the various other services provided, or to simply ask a general question, feel free to reach out at RuthlessAthletics@gmail.com.
**Editor’s Note: Welcome to the new website for Ruthless Athletics. Be sure to subscribe to the blog and continue to check back for updates and new information as the site continues to develop.**
Late last month, I was invited to provide an in-service presentation for CrossFit Fluid and Fearless Barbell in Deer Lake, PA. The presentation was based around “Movement Correction for Health & Long-Term Athletic Development”–a topic that I’m rather passionate about, which led to a much longer than anticipated presentation and group discussion.
This is a widely-encompassing topic and lecture, which went off in various directions. But below are some of the talking points that had the best feedback and sparked the most interest.
For access to the full presentation, consider enrolling in the Ruthless Athletics Mentorship
Program, which is operated in conjunction with The Fitness Resource. Click here to message for details.
Tonic Muscles vs. Phasic Muscles
The idea of tonic and phasic muscles is not one that many deal with on a day-to-day basis. But because I was presenting for a CrossFit staff, the was much more applicable than usual.
In this breakdown, rather than considering muscles as fast twitch, slow twitch, type I or type II, muscles are grouped as tonic or phasic. Tonic muscles are those which have an evolutionary basis in maintaining support, or muscle tone, whereas phasic muscles have a basis in locomotion or movement.
Again, this idea has some significance in CrossFit because of the nature of the exercises and activities therein. For example, throughout a set of high-rep snatches, the phasic muscles (which should be primary movers in this exercise) quickly become fatigued. The tonic muscles are then relied on for completion of the exercise bout. Over time, this creates reliance on the tonic muscles (which are prone to tightness), while the phasic muscles (which are prone to weakness) become less and less active.
To ensure patterns of misuse don’t become long-term, activation of the phasic muscles and the release of the tonic muscles are both necessary. Consider the hip extensors; a phasic hip extensor would be the gluteal muscles, while the hamstrings and spinal erectors are tonic. In this case, we would need to implement myofascial release on these tonic muscles, while activating the gluteal musculature with various exercises and drills.
Mobility is Flexibility
The fitness world has gone to an extreme with some of its terminology. One such instance is the idea of mobility. Coaches will frequently say that they enjoy implementing mobility drills, but do not concern themselves with stretches because of the noted decrements to performance. While these coaches may have the right idea, this separation of terminology is not entirely accurate.
Flexibility is an umbrella category that mobility falls under. Rather than suggesting that static stretching (which creates passive flexibility) leads to these noted decrements to performance, these coaches vilify the broader and more general terms of stretching and mobility.
Stability is Multifaceted
Beyond some intricacies with terminology, the idea of mobility is much more simplistic than the idea of stability. This is, in part, due to the various types of stability within the body, as well as role that the central nervous system plays in creating stability .
Since the joints within the body largely alternate between providing mobility and stability, the mechanisms for stability at each junction alternate as well. While stable joints will inherently provide stability, mobile joints must be stabilized by the surrounding musculature.
If this musculature is weakened, the chance of pain, injury, or asymmetry is very likely. The fix for this requires the aforementioned muscular activation.
Lifestyle Modification for Optimal Health
When trying to improve a client’s health or fitness, frequently coaches look at existing workout protocols, and how they can optimize a program to better suit the client, but this is only a small piece of the fitness puzzle.
Exercise likely doesn’t take up any more than 2 hours a day. With off days in addition to the likelihood of exercise bouts being much shorter than two hours, we are left with a great deal more time out of the gym than in it.
To best improve a client’s health and fitness, we need to consider an approach than is going to be fully-encompassing, rather than limited to 1-2 hours per day. This idea means creating better daily habits, postures, diets, and so on.
The idea of changing these patterns falls within the psychological realm and within the idea of behavior modification. To best change someone’s diet, resting postures, etc., it is best to have an extended plan, implementing 1-2 changes at a time for several weeks, before compounding these newly formed habits with additional changes.
The fields of health and fitness are truly multi-disciplined. To best understand this topic, fitness professionals must continuously develop and maintain an extensive intellectual background on topics that may seem outside of practice, utility, and convention.
Early last month, I was featured on the Swimming Science Podcast. The topic of discussion was strength training for elite swimmers. While the podcast only scratched the surface of the intricacies associated with exercise programming for high-level athletes, this post is filled with some thought-provoking content.
Within the podcast, Dr. Gary John Mullen and I discuss CrossFit for swimmers, the application of strength training for non-elite athletes, dryland program fundamentals, and more.
To explore more of my publications, visit the Featured Publications tab on this site.