Strength in Numbers
Dryland Training in Large Groups
By Mike Mejia, M.S., C.S.C.
Designing an effective dryland program for an entire swim team can be quite challenging. Factoring in such potential obstacles as equipment and spatial limitations, or groups of swimmers of different ages and genders training at the same time, it's easy to see why many conditioning programs often feature the same types of exercises. After all, it's much more convenient to assign groups of athletes lots of push-ups, burpees, pull-ups and plyometric jumps, than it is to plan workouts based on their specific physical needs. In a sport like swimming, though, where kids are repeatedly taxing those same muscles in the water, one has to question the efficacy of such an approach. While it's true that exercises like these might elicit an initial performance boost, their long-term impact should not be overlooked.
Which begs the question; how do you provide swimmers of different ages, genders and levels of physical ability with a dryland program that prioritizes injury prevention, yet is still focused on delivering results?
Here are some guidelines that I use when designing workouts for my club team. Read through them and see if you're able to incorporate a few of these strategies into your existing dryland approach.
Consider breaking training up according to gender:
Since girls go through their peak growth spurt a little earlier, reach physical maturity more quickly and have different conditioning needs than boys, it's best to separate the two groups if possible. This way you could do more posterior chain strengthening (glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors working as a unit) with your female swimmers, to help improve knee stability, as well as slightly modify upper body exercises (i.e. doing push-ups with hands on a low bench, or step) to make them more manageable. It would also allow you to include more of a flexibility emphasis with your male athletes- an area where they typically struggle. Plus, you'll avoid a scenario where competitive kids strive to outdo each other in areas where they may not be as strong.
Use chronological age as a guideline, not the rule:
I use fourteen as the cut off between our younger and older groups. Not because I buy into this being some sort of "magic number" when kids can finally start to lift weights. If an athlete lacks the strength necessary to do simple body weight exercises with proper form, I'm not going to just start loading them because they've reached a certain age. By fourteen though, they have typically completed their peak growth spurts and are usually physically and mentally mature enough to adopt a more structured approach to training. That said, I routinely move athletes up, or down based on how they're adapting to the program. If an older kid lacks the coordination to execute certain drills properly, I may have them work down a level where that's more of a focus. Likewise, if a younger athlete starts to excel and needs to be challenged, I have no problem moving him, or her up- making sure to keep a watchful eye on any increases in training intensity.
Don't let equipment and spatial limitations dictate your training approach:
There's nothing wrong with relying heavily on body weight training if your team budget doesn't allow for much in the way of equipment. Just try to avoid falling into the trap of having your swimmers do push-ups, pull-ups and walking lunges to death! Even in the absence of any type of tangible strength training equipment, you still need to find a way to get some work in for the scapular stabilizers of the upper back, as well as the posterior chain. The accompanying video will give you some good ideas of how to program for those areas using nothing but body weight. Not only will this help from an injury prevention standpoint, but it will give your swimmers a mental break from doing the same old exercises all the time.
Find a way to incorporate soft tissue work and mobility:
If your swimmers aren't doing some type soft tissue work using tennis/ lacrosse balls and foam rollers, they need to be! Improving soft tissue quality by breaking up any knots, or adhesions that may have developed as a result of intensive training, is a great way to help regain lost range of motion. Have your swimmers use these tools prior to their dynamic warm-ups, or after they get out of the water to help enhance recovery. Regardless of when they're using them though, just make sure that they're doing so on an almost daily basis.
Sample workout for body weight only:
Supine Hip bridges x 10-12
Prone Cobras x 8-10
Windshield Wipers x 10-12 alternating
Plank Elevation changes x 10-12 alternating
Unilateral RDL with scapular retraction and external rotation
Side plank with Abduction x 8-10 per side
Dying Bugs with 3 second hold x 10-12 alternating
Sample workout with equipment:
TRX Row x 10-12
Stability ball leg curl x 8-10
Lebert Pallof holds x 10 per side
Mini Band lateral walks x 10 yards each way
Push-up with renegade row and press x 8-10 alternating
TRX Unilateral squats x 8-10 per leg
Birdog hold with reverse fly x 10-12 each
DID YOU KNOW?
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.
Plus, holding the shoulders forward prevents efficient arm recovery and forces you to roll excessively to breathe. For a quick way to assess your posture, along with some great exercises and stretches to help improve it, check out the "Ask the Dryland Coach" archives on usaswimming.org.