Swimmers can prevent injury and swim faster by getting stronger
Many swimmers seem to be hesitant when it comes to realizing the need to get stronger. This uncertainty is slowly dying off, but there are still many misconceptions of what it really means to get stronger.
First let’s clarify the best reason to get stronger. My number one goal when working with athletes is to keep them healthy and injury-free, as much as practically possible, and getting stronger makes you more durable.
The leading cause of injury is weakness. This weakness can be expressed either through an improperly conditioned muscle or because of a joint’s lack of integrity, which could be because it’s not properly aligned to absorb and produce force. Either one of these conditions can become much worse if the muscle or joint is put through a high number of repetitions or movements.
When you swim, you’re putting your joints through the same movements thousands upon thousands of times. When a muscle is not properly conditioned or a joint is misaligned and you perform a lot of movement with it, micro-trauma will inevitably develop. Think of this process as getting a paper cut. One paper cut isn’t that bad at all, but 1,000 of them would be a much bigger problem.
But what does getting stronger really mean? For your joints, it’s making sure that your muscles are properly balanced so that all of your joints are aligned as much as possible. If you swam as an age grouper, through high school and/or college, you may have a rounded upper back and forward protruding shoulders. If so, your muscles aren’t balanced between your front and back. This can happen in the lower body as well—many people’s hips are too tight in the front, causing another imbalance.
A well-planned strength program will start out by getting you stronger in the areas where you are weak or imbalanced based on your posture and movement. Some would view this as corrective rehab or prehab exercising. But I like to call it what it is—good training that’s making you stronger and more durable.
When you think about getting stronger you may think strength is purely structural—getting bigger. But that’s only half of the equation. The neurological component is just as important. When you strength train, your brain gets more efficient at alerting parts of your muscles to work hard. This is why you can get much stronger without any difference in the actual size of the muscle. The strength gains are through greater neurological efficiency, when the brain is essentially able to send “louder” messages to your muscles.
To increase strength, from either a structural or neurological standpoint, you simply need to have a resistance that is more than you are used to. For some that’s doing just five standing push-ups against a wall. For others a regular push-up position on the ground and doing 20 regular push-ups would be a good starting point. And some may be strong enough that they need to do one-arm push-ups for an appropriate challenge.
Don’t think about gaining strength as doing this or that particular exercise or routine—it’s much broader than that. To fully reap the benefits of getting stronger, have a professional help you assess your current ability and determine how to progress over time so that you don’t do exactly what you wanted to avoid in the first place—get hurt. Anyone can go to the gym and lift weights, but it takes an experienced professional to help someone get stronger quickly and safely without injury.
- Technique and Training