Conditioning Corner: It Takes an Olympian Like Effort

By Mike Mejia, M.S., C.S.C.S

The Olympics have once again come and gone and as usual, left a nation of inspired young athletes in its wake. But before you set your sights on becoming the next MIchael Phelps, or Missy Franklin, realize that it's going to take an incredible amount of work to get there- both in and out of the pool. In addition to tons of weekly yardage, you're also going to have commit yourself to regular dryland training; not just as a means of improving performance, but to help offset the kind of muscular repetition typical in swim training.

The term "dryland training" can be a bit vague, though, as it encompasses a lot of different things. For example, should your focus be on increasing strength and power with weight training and plyometrics? Or are you better off improving flexibility and core strength with things like yoga and Pilates? To help make sense of it all, I've prepared these simple "rules" for keeping your training on track, regardless of your gender, age, or current level of development.

1. Master your own body weight and focus on mobility first: If you can't do a simple body weight squat due to tight hips, or restricted range of motion around the ankles, or struggle to crank out ten push-ups with proper form, you've got a long way to go before you can start flipping tires like Ryan Lochte! Work on improving your ability to move efficiently with lots of dynamic stretching exercises and be sure that you can master your own body weight before moving on to any sort of external resistance.

Spiderman with Thoracic rotation and hamstring stretch: Get into a push-up position and bring one leg around until your foot is just outside your hand. Drop your hips into the stretch for a second, then ground the back knee and place your hand flat on the floor. As you do so, press your arm into your knee to stretch the groin more and then rotate to the other side to open up your thoracic spine. Return your hand back down to the ground and then straighten your front leg as you push your hips back up into a pike position to stretch your hamstring. Lowe and repeat to the other side. 10-12 reps total.

Starfish push-ups: Do a Push-up with your feet about shoulder's width apart and then as you come up, rotate out onto one side to work your core and the muscles that help to stabilize your shoulder. Pause for a second, then lower back down and repeat to the other side. 6-10 reps total.

2. Strive for muscular balance: In a sport like swimming which is prone to the repetitive use of specific muscle groups, it's easy to make things worse in the gym. Rather than put all of your effort into drills like push-ups, pull-ups and other internal rotation dominant exercises (which contribute to rolling your shoulders inwards), make a concerted effort to do more in the way of rows, reverse flys and external rotation work. How much more? At least a 2:1, to 3:1 ratio in favor of the latter exercises mentioned. As far as the lower body goes, try to do more glute and hamstring work to help offset the heavy quadricep and hip flexor demand of all that flutter kicking.

Reverse scaption to reverse fly: Lie prone over a bench, or stability ball holding a pair of light dumbbells in your hands. With a slight bend in your elbows, begin by retracting your shoulder blades and then work both arms up in a reverse fly type motion. When your arms are parallel to the ground, pause for a second and then lower back to the starting position. 10-12 total reps.

Band RDL: Stand on top of a resistance band and grab it at it's ends. With your feet shoulder's width apart, maintain a slight bend in your knees as you do a hip hinge to lower your torso over until it's nearly parallel to the ground. Once there, keep your torso rigid and back slightly arched as you drive your heels into the ground to stand back up. 10-12 total reps.

3. Use lots of variety: You wouldn't want to do the same practice sets all of the time, so why do the same old exercises every time you hit the gym? Using a wide array of training styles and equipment can keep our workouts fresh and lead to more consistent gains over time. For instance, instead of only doing standard free weight exercises like squats and bench presses, try introducing things like kettlebells, resistance bands, stability balls and balance devices. You'll work different muscles, in different ways and as a result, avoid that stale, burnt-out feeling that workouts can sometimes bring.

Turkish Get up: Lie on your back holding a kettlebell at arm's length over your right shoulder. Begin by bending your right knee about 90 degrees and doing a diagonal sit-up over to your left side. Once there, extend your hips and push into the ground with your left arm until your body forms a diagonal line from your head to your left foot. Next, shoot your left leg back underneath you and then drive into your right heel to stand up- holding the kettlebell completely vertical the entire time. Reverse the entire sequence and repeat for 6-8 reps per side. 

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