Swimming is a unique sport. It's one of the only sports for which you don't have to be upright and control your body against gravity. Because of this, strength training often takes a back seat to more hours spent in the pool.
Coaches and swimmers also mention that:
- There aren't high levels of carryover from dryland workouts to swimming in the pool.
- Strength training takes time away from athletes who could be practicing in the pool.
- Swimmers don't want to put on too much muscle mass because it will decrease their flexibility.
The trouble with this mindset arises when young athletes spend all of their training hours in the pool, practicing the same strokes over and over again. Even though swimming athletes can handle high amounts of training, they risk injury when their training becomes too repetitive; and swimmers are often doing the same exact movement over and over again.
Because of this, strength training for a swimmer shouldn't be viewed as a way to get bigger and stronger, like a football player. Instead the workouts should be seen as a way to perform different movements and create better muscular balance in order to keep the body healthy and conditioned for a long and successful career.
Aside from being introduced to a variety of movement patterns, swimmers can gain other major benefits from a strength training program.
Core Strength and Spinal Control
The nature of competitive swimming requires the spine to move through cycles of flexion and extension. Whether your stroke is freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly or backstroke, you need to be able to control those cycles. This will ensure your movement is balanced throughout your entire spine so one area isn't being stressed more than another, which can lead to an overuse injury.
The best way to do this is to incorporate core-strengthening drills in your training, especially ones that require you to stabilize your spine with your arms overhead, such as the TRX Fallout.
Improved Body Awareness
When you spend many hours in the pool every week, you lose the ability to use certain muscles that are important for keeping your back and hips healthy. Using your time outside the pool to make sure you're strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and abs is important for staying healthy in the pool and for developing better body awareness.
Below is a good video showing how swimmers can modify exercises to help them develop better body awareness in space while training outside the pool.
Build Durable Shoulders
The shoulders are by far the most stressed area of the body for swimmers. Your shoulder joints must work hard to propel you through the water quickly. Because of this, swimmers often face common shoulder problems like biceps tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, and labral tears.
Next to changing your swimming technique and decreasing your yardage in the pool, the best way to mitigate shoulder injuries is to get out of the pool and build durable shoulders by training your rotator cuff, shoulder joints, and shoulder blades to be able to stabilize throughout all ranges of motion.
Photo Credit: Dave & Les Jacobs/Blend Images/Thinkstock
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