Synchronizing Dryland Strength with Swim Training


Athlete lifting weights.By Dan McCarthy//High Performance Consultant

The National Team Coaches Seminar in April featured much discussion on the subject of dryland training. Just about every Division I team has access to a good facility and a strength & conditioning coach. Club teams have made the most of their own resources, advice from other programs and the proliferation of valuable information available online. Our post-graduate programs have elevated dryland strength training to a point probably never seen before in swimming. This will only be a success if the dryland strength training enhances the in-the-pool training and creates stronger swimmers.

Synchronizing dryland strength training with swim training requires a balance between the two, and identifying the proper starting point for the athlete.

  • All athletes should be assessed before they begin dry-land strength training. The U.S. Naval Academy Candidate Fitness Assessment  is made up of six tests and a timeline for completing them. The exercises are basic and general. Many different organizations have generated fitness assessments to test what they value. When you design your assessment, consider the goals of your dry-land strength training.
  • Start slow. The first few months (maybe even a year) may be a combination of gymnastics, body-weight exercises and calisthenics. This used to be part of the PE curriculum, but it is not any longer. Before athletes can begin to do loaded (with weights) strength training, they have to move properly without them. Additionally, once the athletes begin to load their exercises, it may take another year before they learn to move explosively with them. 
  • Put the most difficult dryland strength training during the base training phase in the pool. Developing maximal force on dryland is difficult and exhausting, but is harmonious with less intensive work in the pool.
  • Depending on the age and ability of the athletes, once the swim training transitions to competition preparation, maximal-force dryland strength training will give way to a program with more sets and repetitions, but focus on fewer exercises.
  • Changing up the exercises is important. The exercises should change about every three weeks to remain effective and to avoid injuries. It’s OK (and likely) that a particular exercise will be revisited throughout the year, but it cannot be repeated for eight straight weeks.
  • When the dryland strength training takes place matters. Strength-training the muscles swimmers use is obvious, but exhausting them before a high-quality session in the pool is a mistake. If you have to do dryland strength training before swim training, be sure to plan very carefully. The desired outcome is a stronger and faster swimmer, not a stronger, but shattered one.


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