Theory & Practice: Strength Training in Swimming
Strength training in swimming is a lot like strength training in any other sport. It is centered on supporting technique. The typical thinking is that the stronger the better. The bigger the muscles the more physical strength you have. That is not correct. Our muscles are a part of a larger mechanism. They do not and cannot produce power or showcase strength. In this article I’ll try to give you a simple image of what you need to aim for in swimming.
The object of swimming, is to move the body relative to the water. In that equation, however, you also have the movement of the body relative to the hand. While we time swimming by the former, it is our ability to perform the latter that determines our efficiency and success as swimmers.
Demands of Technique
Swimming technique taught via the Pose Method is all about change of support. It is not a case of strong arms dragging the body along, but instead a case of a strong framework being established between the body and the arms that allows your body to pass most quickly in water. Your legs function as an extension of the trunk in providing floating support. This makes it important to keep the legs right at the water surface and not relax and let them drop down in the water. Besides ruining hydrodynamic efficiency, this would also rob you of power by placing less of your body weight over your hands as they push down in the power phase of the swim stroke.
So the strength of your swimming comes not from the strength of an independently ‘pulling’ arm, but instead from your ability to channel your bodyweight through the arm and hand, transmitting that potential energy as completely as possible. Without the strength and the skill to channel the energy, you will use a smaller percentage of bodyweight as a power source and consequently swim slower.
Without the necessary strength it’s a lot easier to get injured since you’re unable to execute swimming technique correctly. It’s harder to execute proper technique since you’re unable to provide needed support in a needed manner. It’s a vicious cycle unless you make an effort to break it by working on obtaining the needed strength for swimming.
Required Strength: Upper Body
What kind of strength do you need in swimming? You have to be strong enough to provide needed support for your body moving in water. Since the movement happens primarily with the help of our arms, strength of the upper-body is especially important, but it does go hand in hand with developing adequate strength in your mid and lower body. We are also back to hips and the importance of strengthening them as the biomechanical center of your body.
Required Strength: Hips
In order for your arms to execute their part of the equation, your hips must provide support as well as serve as a reliable connection between your upper and lower body. As mentioned above, legs can quickly ruin your hydrodynamic efficiency.
The easiest way to start working on proper strength development for swimming is to do swimming specific drills: both dryland and water drills found in the Pose Method of Triathlon Techniques (pp.287-312). The great thing about pose swim drills is that you’ll work on your strength and swimming technique at the same time. Also, include the hip strength exercises that can be found in the Pose Method of Running. They will help you strengthen your core.
Everything must be done with the purpose of providing adequate support (at the very least) for efficient execution of technique.
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Swimming Technique Instructor Courses
Understanding and improving swimming technique is part of the Pose Method Certification Course. Designed for health and fitness professionals, it is also a great starting point for anyone looking to become a swimming coach.