The purpose of this article is to discuss the benefits of strength training and the factors that need to be considered when designing a program for a competitive swimmer. We will also discuss a functional approach to strength training and show you how it can be incorporated with a more traditional approach. IHPSWIM’s philosophy is that each style of training has its benefits and therefore should be integrated together. This article will conclude with an example of one our daily strength programs.
Strength training provides far too many benefits to simply just throw together a program full of random exercises with no rhyme or reason. Just as swim coaches plan, periodize, and vary intensity and volume, the same should be done for their strength program. With a well designed strength program athletes will see great improvements in strength, power, an increase in muscle mass (if desired), core strength, and most importantly you will see less overuse injuries. Overuse injuries tend to happen because of muscle imbalances. A good strength program will include exercises that address these imbalances as well.
For the purpose of this article, let’s first start by defining what traditional lifts are. These are your standard barbell squats, bench press, lat pull down and machine exercises (ie. Nautilus) that are more oriented towards muscle isolation, a fixed range of motion and single plane movement. These types of exercises are great for developing growth in lean muscle tissue and increasing strength and power. What they lack is the ability to increase core strength and are restrictive when it comes to performing exercises that include multi-limb and multi-directional movement. Exercises that are multi-limb and multi directional in nature and movement oriented have been labeled “functional training” by some of the leaders in the fitness industry. This type of training is based on the idea of training movements (multiple muscle groups working together as a unit) and not isolated muscle groups. Integrating traditional and functional exercises into a strength program provides the benefits from each approach. The obstacle that coaches may face is getting all of this in with only a limited amount of time set aside for training done out of the water. The sample workout in this article will demonstrate a very easy way to make this work.
Shown below is an example of an upper body power phase workout when training in the weight room 2 days a week. Day # 1 focuses on upper body power and Day #2 focuses on the lower body power (not shown). Every workout contains a traditional, functional, core and rotational exercises.
The power phase typically lasts 4 weeks but can vary depending on other variables. Please note that the power phase is only done after a general conditioning/hypertrophy phase (high volume, low to moderate intensity) and a strength phase (low volume, high intensity) are performed at some point in almost all cases.
The first circuit on Tuesday starts off with the Lat pulldown. Perform 5 reps and then take a 45 second rest period followed by 5 medicine ball slams. This combination is a version of complex training, a type of strength training that is used to develop power. Every circuit will start with a variation of this combination which is a traditional lift followed by an explosive movement (after a 45 second rest) that is similar to the movements and muscle groups performed in the traditional lift. The 3rd exercise is the diagonal cable chop (Figure 1) which is a great exercise for the strengthening rotation in the core. The 3rd exercise represents a functional or core exercise. This circuit will be repeated 3 times.
The 2nd circuit of the day starts with a traditional machine row followed by an explosive recline rope pull (Figure 2). We use a very thick rope that is looped over monkey bars. This movement needs to be fast and should result in there being slack in the rope at the top of the exercise. This is followed by a 1 legged squat which is great for developing leg strength, hip stability and requires no equipment. Progress this exercise by increasing the range of motion, as long as control and proper technique can be maintained throughout. Never perform exercises that are out of control and sloppy.
The 3rd and final circuit of the day begins with a 1 arm Dumbbell Row. After the 45 second rest period an explosive pull – up is performed. The objective here is to perform a fast pull – up and slightly catch air. The regular pull up MUST be mastered before doing this. This is a very advanced exercise and should only be performed by athletes that have above average pulling strength and no shoulder problems. The 3rd exercise is the T – stabilization push – up which can be performed on an incline if to difficult to perform properly on the ground. This exercise is a great core and shoulder stabilization exercise.
At the end of all 3 circuits we usually do 3 fast rope climbs for time. Depending on the level of strength, we can perform this with the assistance of the legs, no legs, and finally the hardest version, which is starting from the seated position off of the floor.
There is no one style of training that is the end all be all. Limiting yourself to only doing traditional exercises or only doing functional exercises is limiting the potential of you and your athletes. These circuits make it easy to integrate everything together and get the best of the different training methods out there. Our goal at IHPSWIM is to help swimmers and coaches organize and implement a solid strength and dryland program.
For more information on our training philosophy check out our DVD titled LAPS:Functional Dryland Training for Swimmers or email Grif at Grif@ihpfit.com. I hope this article will help you meet your goals and get you the results you want!