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Strength Training: A Balanced Approach

Incorporate pushing and pulling to help prevent injuries

Chris Ritter | April 23, 2013

Movement and muscle imbalances cause the majority of chronic injuries, and swimming is an imbalanced sport. Think about how much all of the competitive strokes use similar muscles and movements, especially in your upper body. Add to that the repetitive nature of swimming, and over just a short span of training, you can develop some type of pesky injury.

Oftentimes that injury occurs in the shoulder. If your strength-training program incorporates a lot of push-ups and dips but includes few pulling movements to counterbalance the pushing in those exercises, your shoulders will likely suffer.

Strength training is a great way to combat the negative effects that swimming can have on your posture and function. To get the benefit, though, you need to shift your thinking about your body. Many people still think of strength-training workouts in terms of “chest day” or “leg day,” an archaic approach that’s only really useful for bodybuilders. Instead, start thinking about training movements instead of muscles or body regions.

To maintain a balanced program, make sure you aren’t pushing more than you’re pulling over the course of your training. Basic movements can be broken down into four categories:

  • Pushing (such as push-ups or dips)
  • Pulling (such as pull-ups or rows)
  • Knee-dominant (such as squats or lunges)
  • Hip-dominant (such as deadlifts in either a single or double-legged position)

A simple workout should focus on just one exercise from each category. Once you have that part down, the next step is to develop a balanced strength-training program.

For swimmers, I recommend a slightly imbalanced program that emphasizes more pulling than pushing to help offset the negative posture and function effects of swim training.

When strengthening the lower body, it’s important to balance knee- and hip-dominant movements. Most people will focus too much on knee-dominant movements and neglect hip-dominant ones. If these moves aren’t practiced proportionally, you may experience hamstring or other lower body injuries.

The best way to avoid injuries is to stay ahead of them with a preventative strength-training program. However, without proper instruction, you can get injured doing strength training. Be sure to use good judgment when learning new movements. All four of the categories: pushing, pulling, knee- and hip-dominant, include many exercises that vary in difficulty. Consulting with a fitness professional will help you decide which ones are best for you.

You can search for fitness professionals on these sites:

National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Strength and Conditioning Association

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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