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by Peter Vanderkaay

May 30, 2013

Make every stroke count with targeted resistance training

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As a swimmer with 10 years of experience on the USA Swimming National Team, I think one of the toughest things about the sport is maintaining proper technique. Whether you are a veteran of the pool or taking your first splash with a Masters group, regular practice and a good coach will help you develop proper technique and efficiency.

It takes long hours of practice to fine-tune the technical aspects of a strokes, and translating strength from land to water requires hours of tedious and exhausting practice. Accomplishing these goals is important because if it can’t be done in practice, it’s unlikely that the results will be evident in a race.

This is an issue for all swimmers, but I think it’s even more challenging for Masters swimmers because of time constraints on training. Many Masters swimmers also lack the requisite fundamentals to easily attack technique improvement. However, with a little creativity and commitment, you can make the most of every Masters practice.

With limited training time, it’s important to make every lap count. This means every stroke taken needs to be approached with a great sense of opportunity. Creating resistance in the water while focusing on technique is a great way to improve power and speed. Easy ways to accomplish this include wearing a drag suit and towing something such as a parachute or stretch cord.

If you have access to a power tower or bucket system, using that can be an effective way to get a solid workout in a short time span. If you don’t have access to a power system, using paddles and a pull buoy, while using a strap to tie your ankles together for increased difficulty, will help build upper body swimming strength. The key is to always make sure you aren’t sacrificing technique during the process. 

No matter which program or coach I worked with during my competitive career, this approach was implanted into our training regimen. Here’s one example of a power set.

Three times through:

6 x 50 on a 1:00 interval with a parachute, descending 1–3 and 4–6.

6 x 25 on a :45 interval with a stretch cord, fins, and paddles. Swim the odds against the cord, and swim the evens as assisted sprints in which the cord helps pull you back.

Throughout the set make sure you build in enough rest to maintain the proper technique. Cycle through sets like this every few days, two to three times per week.

The bottom line is to push yourself without creating bad technical habits. Find ways to create resistance and build strength and power that will carry over to competition. There are many tools are out there to choose from, and most are relatively inexpensive.

For drag suits, I prefer the Speedo poly mesh square leg training suit because it adds resistance and is extremely durable. My favorite paddles and buoy are the Speedo power paddles and the Speedo pull buoy.


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