Article image

by Author Unknown

August 1, 1993

Weight training: what type and how often?

Most Masters already know some form of weight training will make them faster, as well as allowing them to lead a better lifestyle as they get older. Most of us have jobs and families. Finding time for swimming is hard enough, let alone for weight training. Also most books on the subject are designed for body builders or college age athletes. With the proper guidelines you can weight train, and swim.

We will address the frequency of weight training as well as the time spent during the workout. Age has solved the frequency problem, as the natural body steroids decrease as we get older. Therefore it takes our body longer to repair itself after a weight workout. Swimmers in their twenties can do a hard weight workout every second day but every third day seems much better for the older athlete.

The other part of the solution is to eliminate all weight training exercises that will not help you swim faster. Don't worry about missing some standard exercises. It has been proven the training effect helps all the muscles in the body. For example just working the legs alone will actually have some effect on the arms! We will also use the principle of specificity that means the muscles you train only get strong in the motion you train them. Therefore you should do exercises that mimic swimming motions, and over the same range of motions as used in swimming. I have studied all forms of weight training, and believe Nautilus Training is best for masters swimmers.

It is possible to do a set of twelve Nautilus exercises in less than 25 minutes as a beginner. As you become stronger and in better condition, you can do the same exercises in 15 minutes, every third day. Now that certainly is not much time to give up to swim faster

One of the basic tenants of Nautilus is to always do the exercises fresh and well oxygenated. This means doing the weight workout first, before swimming. I know some coaches will argue to swim first, but you cannot tax your muscles sufficiently when exhausted by swimming. Also, when you do weight training there is some soreness from the lactic acid and microtearing in the muscles. Swimming after a weight workout pumps blood through these muscles, buffering the lactic acid and reducing the soreness the next day. I do not do bench presses, military presses, dips, or pushups or any machine that simulates these exercises. The reasons are that these exercises are not swimming specific; and because they can cause or make worse swimmers shoulder.

After warming up, circuit training such as Nautilus should always begin with the largest muscles in the body, the lower body muscles. The largest muscles must be worked first while your system is still capable of high work output. You start at 8-10 repetitions for each exercise so you do not run out of oxygen for the muscles being worked. There are no multiset exercises. Just do 8-10 repetitions at about 70% of the maximum you can lift. When you are done with one machine go on to the next one. The proper order of exercising the body parts is

  • (1) lower body and legs,
  • (2) torso,
  • (3) arms,
  • (4) waist, back and neck.

Lower body exercises start with the leg extension, which works the quadriceps. Then go to the leg curl machine, which works the hamstrings. Try to do nearly the same weight on both machines. This equalizes the muscles around the knee, improving the knee s structural integrity. Next go to the squat machine, which exercises the largest muscles of the lower body, the gluteus maximus, the quadriceps, hamstrings and the gastrocnemius. This is the single most important exercise. This works the muscles that drive you off the starting blocks and off every turn. Then on to the Hip Abduction machine; this is recommended by coaches to improve the insweep of the breast kick.

Develop the torso with the second most important machine, the Superpullover. It uses the latissimus dorsi, or as swimmers call them, the lats. This exercise mimics a butterfly stroke or breast pulldown. I skip the Behind The Neck Pulldown machine, as well as the Overhead Press (military press) of the Double Shoulder Machine, and the Decline press (bench press), as these do not mimic swimming motions. Next I do the Arm Cross of the Double Chest machine, which works the pectoralis majors. Just like the insweep of the breast pull. Then to the Rowing Torso machine that works the upper back muscles, posterior deltoids, rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius. I simulate the outward pull of fly and breast on this one.

Arms are next with the Multi Biceps machine being worked to tone the biceps muscles. I then quickly work the Multi Triceps machine. Because large bulging biceps does not help you swim faster, I do light weights on these machines.

The waist is worked using two machines. The Abdominal machine works the rectus abdominis muscles. The Lower Back machine works the spinae muscles. Always check with your doctor if you have had back problems. Both these machines are very safe to use, much better than sit ups.

There you have it, eleven machines for 15 to 25 minutes, every third day. You can gain 5% every two weeks, and up to 50-100% in strength the first six months, then usually a plateau is reached. It may take years to increase substantially past this initial strength level. Don' t worry about it; your body will adapt and grow for you. It just may seem very slow doing it.

Most coaches recommend quitting weights a minimum of two weeks before nationals or your biggest meet. Also tapering down on the amount of weights lifted for each exercise 4 to 6 weeks before is usually recommended. I have developed my own method to establ ish how much time away from weights I need. I check my vertical leap every week for four weeks before nationals and three weeks after Nationals. Most swimmers in hard training (both swimming and weights) have very poor vertical leaps, usually less than 12 inches. After quitting weights and tapering swimming my vertical leap improves 6 to 10 inches. When I hit my taper right I feel as if I am flying off the starting blocks. With nearly 40% of a 200 short course breast race consisting of the start and seven turns; I feel I have a big advantage over the competitor who does not weight train.


  • Technique and Training


  • Drylands
  • Weight Training
  • Strength Training