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Three Reasons Why Swimmers Should Strength Train

Prevent injuries, improve performance, and introduce variety

Chris Ritter | December 8, 2013

As a Masters swimmer your time for training is often limited. So it’s legitimate to ask, “Why is it important to find time to strength train?”

There are plenty of reasons why strength training has value in your limited training program, but let’s focus on the three most important:

1. Injury Prevention

Although there are four different competitive strokes, swimming as a whole is a repetitive sport with regard to the movements that are performed. As a result, overuse injuries are common. For example, a great way to combat overuse injuries to the shoulder is by strengthening your mid and upper back, along with the backs of your shoulders.

If you’re performing a properly balanced strength program (see related article Strength Training: A Balanced Approach), you can give your body the strength to continue training in the overuse pattern that swimming demands. Essentially, an effective strength-training program can mitigate the negative effects of a repetitive sport.

When some people “strength train,” they mimic bodybuilding routines and perform exercises that focus on what can be seen in the mirror: chest, arms, shoulders, and quads—many of the same areas already activated in swimming. For balance, swimmers need to focus on the opposing areas, which means movements that incorporate mid and upper back, backs of the shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings.

This type of balanced strength training aligns your posture and reduces the potential for injuries. Overuse injuries, by nature, get worse and develop faster with poor posture. The optimal type of strength training program helps you stand taller and swim longer.

2. Performance Enhancement

When you’re moving through water, there’s no force production against hard surfaces, except for turns and starts, so you may wonder why getting stronger can help you swim faster. One of the biggest ways is that the stronger a muscle is, the more resistant it is to fatigue. This means you’ll be better able to keep up your technique while swimming faster and farther than if you weren’t as strong.

To gain this type of strength you need to work in a gravity-based environment and produce force. This is where your strength-training program allows you to activate the highest level of muscle recruitment, since water doesn’t allow gravity to be much of a factor. Greater recruitment results in greater strength. Remember that increased strength doesn’t equal bulk. Bodybuilders train for bulk; swimmers need to train for strength.

Strength training also increases athleticism, which will translate into faster swimming, as your increased muscle coordination will transfer throughout the movements of different strokes.

3. Training Variety

Swim training doesn’t offer much variety—that black line can quickly get pretty boring. Strength training can give you a much-needed mental break

Whenever you train in the same manner over and over, the body responds less and less to training over time. By varying your training both in and out of the water you’ll get more out of each training session.

Often the best way to get better at something is to take a short break from it and come back to it again. Strength training can be your short break and help you become energized for your next swim workout.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Chris Ritter

Chris Ritter is the founder of RITTER Sports Performance online training programs and the author of the e-book, SURGE STRENGTH, which details how to strength train specifically for swimming performance. Ritter, a swimmer himself, has a degree in kinesiology and exercise science and he specializes in training athletes of diverse abilities, ranging from beginners to Olympians. Follow him on Twitter @RITTERSP or like his Facebook page for updates and training tips.

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