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by Bo Hickey

February 8, 2021

Test yourself once a quarter for more effective training

When it comes to making your dryland workouts effective for you, doing some simple tests can unearth your strengths and weaknesses for a better path forward. By completing these tests, you can build your athleticism and improve your weaknesses, which can result in injury reduction and more efficient swimming.

Have your cellphone ready to record yourself completing these tests. You can learn a lot by watching yourself move and you can self-score these tests.

I recommend completing these tests once a quarter. This will give you valuable information on if your training is effective or if you need to make some adjustments moving forward.

Shoulder Range of Motion

To complete this first test, start with your arms out wide, making a "T" with your body. Send your right arm overhead and your left arm down to your hips. Finish by trying to touch your hands between your shoulder blades. Complete the same format with your left arm overhead and your right arm down toward your hips. Score yourself using the scoring system listed in the video demonstration.

Chances are that you’ll quickly feel what this test is measuring. I often hear Masters swimmers complaining that their shoulders are tight without really knowing how tight or how great the difference is between their left and right sides.

This simple test can provide a clear visual of differences and restrictions. The first thing to look at is the difference between your left and right sides. Is it a major difference or just a small difference? The goal is to keep this difference small. By keeping this difference small, you’ll feel a more balanced stroke in the water.

The second piece to look at is how much or how little range of motion you have. If you are restricted, you could be dispersing force ineffectively during your stroke. Over time, this ineffective dispersion of force can result in pain and injury.

Need to improve this category of movement? Implement the exercise routine below. I recommend aiming for small bouts of focused effort daily. This will be more effective compared to one long bout of movement on the weekend.

Complete three rounds of the following exercises, taking minimal rest between exercises and rounds.

Hydrogen Ion Buffering

You might be familiar with the term "lactic acid." Lactic acid doesn’t exist in the way you might think. When that feeling of muscle burn occurs, it is actually a build-up of hydrogen ions, which is acidic and results in the feeling of muscle burn. If there’s too much build-up, you’ll slow down, no matter how mentally tough you are.

The best way to describe this build-up is to think about a race in which someone dominated the first 75, flipped, and slowed down, making their last 25 look painful. This is hydrogen ion build-up.

A simple way to measure your ability to respond to this is to complete as many bodyweight squats as you can in a minute. The goal of this test is to see how long you can maintain a high intensity. Ideally, I look for Masters swimmers to maintain a pace of one squat a second or 60 squats in one minute.

Not quite there yet?

You might need more threshold training in the water, and you can use dryland workouts to help work on your ability to buffer against hydrogen ion build-up. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use intervals in your dryland training.

Complete four rounds of the following exercises. Rest 20 seconds between exercises and rounds. This should take 16 minutes with a running clock. With this sequence, your heart level will be constantly changing from a standing to prone position. This will challenge your anaerobic system as your body attempts to manage the constant change in position.

Ankle Mobility

The final test might be the most critical for your swimming. Decreased ankle mobility has an impact on your knees, hips, and the effectiveness of your kick in the water.

When your ankles are tight, your body will look for the path of least resistance to complete a movement. This path, generally, shifts to your knees, resulting in knee instability and knee pain. If you’ve ever felt knee pain while walking up the stairs or performing squats in a dryland workout, your ankle mobility could be the root cause.

For this test, you’ll need a ruler. Line the ruler up with your big toe and then drive your knee forward. Use your hands to keep your heel pressed firmly to the ground. How far can you get?

If you’re unable to get your knee at least four inches past your toe, you could be missing out on propulsion during your kick. Imagine swimming with ankle weights, which is what an immobile ankle can do to your swimming efficiency.

Similar to the shoulder routine, I recommend completing this almost daily rather than one longer session each week.

Complete three rounds of the following exercises. Take minimal rest between exercises and rounds.


  • Technique and Training


  • Drylands