As a general rule, if you want to go fast in a race, your training should mimic the conditioning and technique required by your focus events. For example, the type of energy required to swim a 50 meter race is very different from the type of energy required for a 1,500 meter race. The technique required for breaststroke is very different from that needed for freestyle. The emphasis of your in-water training should be specific to whatever events you want to excel in.
Does this methodology apply to dryland training? Well, sometimes yes (more about this in another newsletter), but personally, I feel that concentrating on nonspecific swimming activities is best for the long run, both for your specific swimming goals and your general health and fitness. I especially question dryland exercises that try to mimic swimming motions: You're already exercising these muscles in the water in the most specific way possible.
One of the most important reasons to be "anti-specific" is muscular balance. When one group of muscles becomes much stronger or fitter than the opposing (or antagonist) muscles, injuries are more likely-if you've ever worked with a physical therapist for a swimming-related shoulder injury, you know what I'm talking about. The focus is on strengthening those muscles that act as stabilizers to the bigger, stronger working muscles. This methodology doesn't just apply to shoulder stability. Many work like crazy on their abs or quads, but how much effort is expended on lower back or hamstrings?
The hottest thing in college swimming dryland training these days is focusing on developing athleticism. The three areas of concentration are exercises that use your own body weight as resistance (for example, push-ups, pull-ups), exercises that add an element of balance (fit-balls, yoga) and exercises that work on acceleration of the body (or body part) or a weight. (box jumps, medicine ball throws). Better athletes will be better swimmers. They'll be fitter, stronger, more stable and more explosive.
Most of us agree that as Masters swimmers we have a much longer "window" in which to participate and achieve our goals than age-group or collegiate swimmers. I've been at it for over 34 years and hope I've still got a long way to go. Because Masters swimmers are in it for the long haul, we've got plenty of time to exercise, train and swim to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Sure, if you're a serious competitor and you've just aged up you may want to adjust some of your dryland training to be more swimming specific leading up to your major competition, but the nature of our sport allows us to diversify our dryland activities. Diversifying your dryland training can be easy: change your resistance training often. Consider participating in cycling, Pilates, running, group exercise classes or racquetball, among other fun, athletic activities. Diversifying your dryland activity will keep you balanced, it will keep you refreshed and renewed, it can add another element of play to your life, and it will keep you swimming fast, remaining healthy and looking great throughout your life.
About Rich Abrahams
Rich swam collegiately for Northwestern University where he was an All-American and NCAA finalist. Rich has been a member of U.S. Masters Swimming since 1975. He currently hold 8 world and 16 USMS records.