Develop power faster with this race-pace-specific training programme
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For all swimmers:
If you want to get more competitive, spend less time training in the pool.
This advice may appear contrary – even ridiculous - to many readers. But as you read on you’ll discover new facts that are crucial to your improving performance.
Most swimmers and swim coaches believe the number of hours spent in the pool is the main ingredient of swimming success. Distances of between 6 km and 10 km per day are not uncommon in elite swimming circles.
However, a groundbreaking new book reveals the key to success is not the traditional high-volume model of training, but a much shorter, race-pace-specific programme of exercises performed away from the pool.
The fallacy that holds so many swimmers back
The book’s title is Strength Training for Swimmers. It explains how a team of research scientists and physiologists set out to test the long-held belief that high volume training leads to a superior race technique.
They found this training method has no logical basis.
In fact, after a series of exhaustive tests, the conclusion these experts reached was unanimous:
Long training sessions actually inhibit power development.
Here is a quote from one of the experts on the research team, legendary US physiologist Dave Costill:
“Most competitive swimming events last less than two minutes. How can training for three to four hours a day at speeds that are markedly slower than competitive pace prepare the swimmer for the maximal efforts of competition?”
The research, together with full workout and exercises programmes, are contained in the book. It explains that to optimise strength and power, swimmers need to follow a programme of exercises out of the pool – exercises that replicate their actions in the water as closely as possible.
As we explain below, the best place to do this is in the gym.
What scientific research has discovered
Strength Training for Swimmers is not written from a swimming coach’s viewpoint. Instead, the procedures and exercises contained in this book stem from published research into swim training, scientific analysis of the demands of competitive swimming and proven methods from running training that optimise performance.
The research found that there is no advantage gained in increasing the metres per day involved in high-volume swim training. The team of scientists undertook a great deal of research into swim training over three decades and found extra pool training is a waste of time!
Conclusion: the volume of training has no influence on swim performance. Faster, not longer training is the key to swimming success.
In spite of this conclusive research, the high volume, low intensity model of training probably remains the most common practice amongst elite swimmers. Even sprint swimmers competing in 100m and 200m events favour clocking up the kilometres rather than focusing on race-pace-specific training. This leaves the door open for readers of this new book, Strength Training for Swimmers to take full advantage.
Here’s what happens to those who stick with traditional, high-volume training:
The drawbacks of high volume training
High-volume training can severely compromise your competitive performance in two major ways:
• Depletion of glycogen muscle stores
• Fatigue and depletion of fast-twitch muscle fibres
Here are the facts, as laid out in Strength Training for Swimmers:
Glycogen: since glycogen is the only fuel available for sustained high-intensity muscle contractions, it is essential for good swim performance. If you want to achieve PB’s in competition, then your glycogen stores must be full. Continued high-volume training can compromise this, reducing the quality of your important high-intensity training workouts.
Fast twitch muscle fibres: periods of high-volume training reduce the force production in the fast-twitch muscle fibres, essential for the high muscle power required to produce the fastest swim speeds. Swimmers have a high proportion of fast-twitch fibres and high-volume training can change these into slow-twitch types.
The key to Olympic success
As you read Strength Training for Swimmers, you’ll learn how certain Olympic swimmers succeed by increases their distance per stroke rather than the stroke frequency during a competitive event.
You’ll borrow successful training techniques from other athletic disciplines, learning how to enhance power at race speeds by imitating the training of middle distance and long-sprint track athletes.
Next, you’ll maximise your anaerobic capacity by alternating easy lactate-threshold pace in the morning and very high-quality race-pace, and faster than race-pace, interval workouts in the evening.
Why this strength-training programme can really boost results
For maximum impact on results, the exercises contained in Strength Training for Swimmers replicate your movements in competition. Here, for example, are the exercises given for the front crawl:
Arm pull down exercises:
• Cable rotational front and back pulls: boosts forward propulsion by training the internal rotator cuff muscles by replicating the arm ‘pull down’ through the water.
• Rear pulls: promotes balanced strength around the shoulder joint by training the external muscles. This technique avoids shoulder injuries and helps train your core stability skills.
• Medicine ball single arm overhead throw: develops the power of the latissimus and pectoral muscles to improve the rate of force development in the shoulder by accelerating the arm hard. The focus is on producing the power from the shoulder and pulling across the body as you do in the crawl.
• Swiss ball body pulls: helps to develop core and shoulder strength. A closed kinetic chain movement where the moving limbs remain in contact with a fixed object, is regarded as particularly functional for sports performance. Uses the stomach muscles to support the spine, using a strong pull of the shoulder muscles to raise your body back to the parallel position.
Leg kick exercises
• Hip extension and flexion kick: each leg is worked independently to increase the specificity for swimming. Mimics the upward and downward phases of the swimmers kick action, where the glutes and hamstrings extend and the hip flexors flex the leg at the hip.
Dive start and push-off turn exercise
• Barbell squat jumps: improves vertical jump performance by involving dynamic extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints and trains the calf, quadriceps and gluteal muscles. Helps you generate peak power by adding weight to the squat, so when you perform the jump squat with body weight only, the jump will be very fast and high.
• The dive start and push off turn: involves dynamic ankle, knee and hip extension.
While the above exercises focus solely for the front crawl for illustrative purposes, you’ll read how to design your own strength training programme for your particular even, in terms of mechanics, positions and speed. You’ll learn how to focus only on exercises using the right muscles in a related mechanical movement to provide optimum training benefit.
The efficiency of your swimming stroke is the key to success as a competing or training swimmer. An efficient stroke will significantly reduce wasted energy output through less drag in the water and a cleaner execution of hand and arm entry and recovery.
We show that by holding the technique to the last tenth of a second, the result will be an overall faster time. We provide techniques for freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breastroke.
You receive advice on specific training needs, with examples of what to include in endurance/stamina and speed/power sessions:
Endurance: basic endurance; threshold endurance; overload endurance
Sprint: lactate tolerance; lactate production
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Our example workouts outline how to design your strength routines in terms of intensity and content to make sure you get the optimum gains in strength for the time you spend in the gym.
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"An excellent book." Daniel Chavarria - Club Competitor