Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Optimal Training Methods for Enhanced Swimming Performance.

One of the biggest problems with dryland strength training for swimming is exercise selection. This is where the idea of “sport specific” training drives me a little nuts. True specificity is the practice of the sport itself. While lifting weights is sport specific to powerlifting and weightlifting, lifting weights is general preparation for other sports. That being said it is important to select the appropriate exercises and loading parameters to complement the specific sport training.

Karl Krug, 2015 50m freestyle Canadian Champion.
One of our top athletes at Team EPTS is a freestyle sprint swimmer, Karl. Karl is one of the top swimmers for Canada where he won the national title in the 50 meter freestyle event in 2015. Karl has had a great career coming out of high school as one of the top swimmers in California and going on to Auburn University where he was a 9 time all American.

At his level specificity rules and all the training we do needs to have one focus, to make him the best swimmer possible. Unfortunately athletic preparation sucks in the US. Here we tend to specialize our kids way too early. When kids are young they should be exposed to a wide range of exercises and activities in order to build a broad base of general physical preparedness. That way when the young athlete is reaching middle-school age their dominant abilities should be apparent and the athlete will be ready to specialize in a sport that matches their those abilities.

Karl using compound resistance (weights & bands) on Louie Simmon's Virtual Force Swing at Westside Barbell.
At Extreme Performance Training Systems we don’t cycle or do training blocks. Instead we focus on the development of maximal strength, speed, power, hypertrophy, conditioning, etc. on a weekly basis. Our training is heavily influenced by the work of Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell Club. Like Louie says, “there are only two ways to train, the right way and the wrong way.” One method we’ve found to be extremely beneficial for Karl’s swimming preparation is accommodating resistance, where we attach high tension bands and heavy chains to free weights during the performance of general strength exercises.

While we usually use accommodating resistance during speed-strength and strength-speed exercises, we have found them to be beneficial during the maximal effort and repeated effort special strengths exercises as well.

This is exceptionally effective for swimmers due to the hydrodynamic resistance they encounter in the pool. Hydrodynamic resistance is extremely difficult to replicate during dryland training without special machines where the resistance is provided by viscosity. In this case the exerted muscular force is proportional to the movement velocity. According to Vladimir Zatsiorsky in his book, “Science and Practice of Strength Training”, compound (or accommodating) resistance is an excellent alternative for the dryland training of swimmers.

Zatsiorsky describes compound resistance as attaching a rubber band to the floor or a fixed object and a barbell. When the barbell is lifted the athlete overcomes the barbell weight, which is constant, the barbell inertia which is proportional to the acceleration of the barbell, and the elastic force which grows larger the higher the barbell is lifted. (Zatsiorsky pp. 25-26)

Using bands and chains to accommodate resistance.
We have seen great benefits using bands for exercises that work the primary muscle groups used in Karl’s event. Movements for the legs and hips, torso, lats, and triceps in particular. We attach the bands to the barbells, lat pulley machine, dumbbells or the body during various squats, good mornings, deadlifts, pull-ups, lat pulls, triceps extensions, and pullovers among many other movements.

Remember, in order to be optimal, the training of an athlete must be highly specialized as no two athletes have the exact same strengths, weaknesses, leverages, etc. Training cannot be cookie cutter and needs to be implemented with the individual in mind and specificity rules.

Stay Strong AND Healthy!


Karl with Louie at Westside Barbell.
Scott with Louie at Westside Barbell.

Kraemer, W., Zatsiorsky, V. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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