Conditioning Corner: Band Training
By Mike Mejia, M.S., C.S.C.S
Available in a variety of sizes and styles, resistance bands have become a big hit with swimmers and coaches alike- and with good reason. For starters, bands are incredibly versatile. Depending on the type that you choose, you can either focus on upper body pulling and pushing exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shoulders, target under-used muscles in the lower body to help improve hip stability, or even work your entire body as a unit by establishing a link between the lower body, core and shoulder girdle. They're also extremely portable, allowing you to train just about anywhere. You can hook them up to something and work out on a pool deck, or even loop them around various parts of your body and train right in the comfort of your own home.
Among the factors that make bands such a great choice for swimmers is that they:
• Primarily cause you to train in a standing position- meaning that you'll engage more muscle mass and require greater core activation, than you would with other forms of resistance.
• Allow you train at varying speeds- something that's not always advisable when working with free weights.
• Are better suited for adding resistance when attempting to mimic specific stroke mechanics (although this kind of specialization is better left to more physically mature swimmers).
About the only downside when working with bands is that because the tension increases the further they're stretched, you incur more and more resistance as you work through the full range of motion. This can be a problem when performing exercises like overhead presses and rows, as you might be tempted to alter your body mechanics in an attempt to finish each repetition as you fatigue. So be sure to use a resistance that you know you can handle without deviating from proper form.
Now that you're familiar with the pros and cons of band training, let's take a look at the different types that are available, as well as how to best use them. The first and probably most popular type of bands are the one's with the handles attached to the ends. These are typically used more for upper body exercises, but can also be used to incorporate the legs as well. Available in a variety of resistance levels to meet the needs of swimmers of all ages and genders, they can be easily secured to a sturdy object (like a staircase bannister) and allow you to perform a number of challenging exercises. They're especially good for training scapular retraction and depression (pinching your shoulder blades together and down) and external rotation, to help ward off shoulder injuries.
Next up come mini bands. Don't be fooled by their size; these little devils can reduce even the biggest and strongest athletes to tears by targeting often neglected muscles like the glutes and scapular stabilizers. Try looping one around your legs and doing a lateral walk, or around your wrists as you do a traveling push-up (as demonstrated in the accompanying video). Either way you're bound to tax muscles you didn't even know you had- but at the same time, have a huge impact on both performance and injury prevention. Finally, super bands a.k.a. jump stretch bands will give you a whole new appreciation for "total body training". Step inside of one and hold it up with your arms outstretched to perform overhead squats, or try the dreaded "X walk" from the video to integrate your hip, core and shoulder girdle musculature. You can even loop one end around a chinning bar for an assist when doing pull-ups.
Regardless of which type you use, or which exercises you decide to do, resistance bands can be an excellent addition to your dryland program. They offer convenience, versatility and a nice change of pace from the traditional gym based approach. Just keep in mind though, that like any of today's other popular training modalities, bands are simply one of many options you have at your disposal. No training tool, or system is the be-all-end-all when it comes to physical conditioning; despite proclamations to the contray. A well-rounded program that incorporates things like free weights, medicine balls, cable systems, stability devices and even your own body weight will produce the best results in the end. It's your job as a swimmer, or coach, to be aware of the various training modalities at your disposal and what each one has to offer.