By Stacy Sweetser, ASCA & USMS Level II, SweetWater Swim Studio & Chris Brown, CSCS, CCET, Endurafit Training and Rehab for NEMLSC blog, part of, US Master Swimming
Swimming strong is about building athleticism that compliments the demands of moving through the water efficiently and powerfully. Dryland training, at the pool and at home, is a valuable addition to any swimmer’s routine regardless of age or fitness level. The goal of this series is to increase the swimmer’s range of motion while building strength and mobility. This fundamental movement pattern work aids in injury prevention, tightens connective tissue, and improves swim mechanics and strength.
The Swim Strong Series will present dryland exercises in progressive phases. Each phase builds upon the previous phase. The early phases will focus on range of motion, mobility and stability then progress into strength and resistive exercises.
Use the following Phase I exercise routine as your dynamic warm up before each swim, at home or before other activities. A dynamic warm up increases blood circulation and fires up muscles soon to be engaged in the water. Think, “RAMP Up!” before you start up. (RAMP = Range of motion, Activation, Muscle Pliability.)
Allow 3-5 minutes to complete this simple but effective routine at least 3x/week. On the pool deck, use a kickboard as a cushion for your knees, ankles, and forearms when appropriate.
Do not force movements in this routine and build repetitions and time in exercises gradually.
Why do it? The Posture Row teaches us how to engage our upper back and shoulders while keeping our spine in a “neutral” position. A neutral spine aids in a better overall body position in the water.
How to do it well: Standing with the feet hip width apart, knees flexed and hips back, make sure the head, neck and spine are in a “neutral” position as depicted by the green arrows below. Allow the fingertips to fall straight down to the floor, then draw the arms straight up towards the ceiling while squeezing the shoulder blades together. As you perform this motion, it is important that you remember to engage your core. One tip is to “zipper up the belly button” or, in other words, imagine trying to pull the zipper on your pants up with your belly button. Complete 12-15 repetitions.
Common mistakes: The most common mistakes most people make are 1) keeping the knees locked, 2) rounding the spine, and 3) not fully engaging the core. This will cause a “shrugging” motion instead of a pulling motion as depicted by the red arrows in the above photo.
SUPPORTED HIP HINGE
Why do it? The Supported Hip Hinge is a great drill which will help develop mobility of the shoulders and hips as well as flexibility of the hamstrings.
How to do it well: Standing with your hands on a wall (roughly shoulder height) take one step back from vertical with our feet hip width apart. Keeping your hands on the wall, slightly flex the knees as you press your hips back while “zippering up your belly button.” Your end range of motion should show a straight line from the wrist to the hips as depicted by the green arrows. Complete 8-10 repetitions.
Common mistakes: The most common mistakes people make are 1) standing too close to the wall, 2) locking the knees, 3) rounding the spine, and 4) not fully engaging the core. This will cause a shortening of shoulder range of motion as well as the forehead dropping towards the floor.
HEEL SITS / TOE SITS
Why do it? Ankle flexibility and mobility are crucial to swimmers both during the kick and push off of the wall. Heel Sits and Toe Sits are great drills to develop ankle and knee/quadriceps flexibility.
How to do it well: For Heel Sits, start in a quadruped position with your toes pointed back. Slowly lower your hips to your heels and sit in a tall position. For Toe Sits, start in a quadruped position with your toes pulled towards your shins. Slowly lower your hips towards your heels and sit in a tall position. Even though you are in a kneeling position, it is critical that your core is engaged, so, you guessed it... “Zipper up the belly button”. Take 8-10 deep breaths in each position.
Common mistakes: The common mistake most people make during both of these drills is allowing the shoulders to fall forward as depicted by the red arrows in photo above. Remember to sit as tall as possible pulling the shoulder blades together and engage the core.
Why do it? The plank is the best “bang for your buck” drill. When done properly, it engages every muscle in the body, giving us a complete sense of core stability. Core stability is critical to hold a taut body line in the water.
How to do it well: Starting with the elbows directly under the shoulders and the toes in line with the ankles as depicted by the green arrows below, focus on engaging all areas of the body. Start by clenching the fists, then the biceps. Zipper up the belly button as you squeeze your glutes (“butt”). Now squeeze the thighs and pull the elbows down toward the toes. You should now feel the entire body working to stabilize. Hold 30-60 seconds.
Common mistakes: The common mistakes most people make during the plank are 1) allowing the hips to rise or fall out of neutral (as depicted by the red arrows in photos above) and 2) not fully engaging the body during the exercise.
USMS National Coaches Clinic:
5 Key Takeaways from a Triathlete’s Perspective
After an intense two day clinic filled with captivating speakers, a few Olympians, and a roaring crowd of USMS coaches with impressive backgrounds, my head was spinning with delight on my way home. How could I share what I learned? How can swimmers get faster right now with this information?
I distilled the hours of lecture, demonstration and pool time down to, “Five Key Takeaways.” Ultimately these take aways are real training habits swimmers / triathletes can implement THIS WEEK to become healthier, stronger and faster at any age.
1) Dryland Warmup
Bo Hickey, a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, detailed the importance of a dynamic warm up before hitting the water. This aids in injury prevention and prepares the body before it is loaded in the water. Many runners have a standard pre-run warm up routine and swimming should be no different. Bo details a pre swim dry land warm up via article and video here.
Takeaway: Don’t skip the dryland warm up pre-swim.
2) Reduce Frontal Drag
Olympian Dr. Gary Hall Sr. of The Race Club reminded us we are always moving forward in the water, which happens to be 800x more dense than air! Frontal drag is significant and we have to find ways to work through the water effectively. A very common yet fixable area of drag for many triathletes is toes pointed down or out to the side when swimming. Swimmers with biking and running backgrounds can have limited plantar flexion which can increase frontal drag up to 30%. Working ankle flexibility out of the water can save valuable time in the water. Dryland training can include sitting on ankles with toes pointed inward for :20 - 2:00 at a time daily. For more on ankle flexibility and dryland work from The Race Club, click here.
Takeaway: Plantar flexibility is a critical piece to reducing frontal drag.
3) Interval Train
Coach Bruce Gemmell shared great insight into his time coaching Katie Ledecky. In addition to working hard, setting goals and prioritizing self-care, swimmers must know their training zones/paces. Similar to training on the bike using Functional Threshold Power and running using VDOT values, swimmers should be aware of their various working paces (easy, aerobic, aerobic endurance, and anaerobic). Coach Gemmell uses the Jon Urbanchek color system with his swimmers. Each swimmer has detailed charts of their various paces in various work zones. There is an app for that!
Take Away: Interval train with specific paces. Perform a threshold test.
4) Perform Tri Specific Skills in the Pool
Jack Mcafee, IMFL Male Winner 2016 and Helen Naylor, USMS National Coaches Committee Volunteer, reviewed opportunities to work open water skills in both the open water and pool throughout the season. These skills can easily be practiced in a pool if open water is not available. Pack swimming, drafting skills, treading water starts, sighting, etc. can be creatively practiced in pools. This video details various ways to draft in open water, and can be adapted for the pool with 2+ people in a lane. Various sighting skills shown here can be perfected in the pool before hitting the open water.
Takeaway: Open water skills can be practiced in a pool.
Joel Stager PhD., Indiana University, spoke of his recovery fuel study. After a pre season build, his swimmers were tired, sick and not improving despite solid training. He instituted a recovery fueling plan using chocolate milk within 45min post practice. The team bounced back into the season healthier and stronger than before. Read the formal study from IU on Chocolate Milk as a Post Exercise Recovery Aid. The body must be refueled shortly after working out to recover well. More information on nutrition secrets to improving fitness here.
Takeaway: Have a recovery drink (and/or quality whole foods) within 30-45min of your workout.
Here in New England, open water swimming options are plentiful in summer. It's tempting to forego the back and forth of the indoor pool and choose blue skies, beaches and pristine open water.
Open water swimming offers an opportunity to improve sighting skills and increase swim strength and endurance. Unfortunately, if you aren't careful, it can erode the great technique and swim fitness you worked hard to build over the winter. All too often, eager open water swimmers lose some of the quality of their pool workouts.
Set a goal for each open water swim. Goals can be technique, time, or distance focused.
Technique: Take the work you've been doing in the pool and bring it to the open water. Warm up with the drills you have been practicing in the pool. This will set up proper form for your main work set. You can also end your swim with drills to refocus on great technique.
Sighting Skills: Dedicate time to work on efficient sighting. Learn to be comfortable sighting at various speeds. Do you combine your sighting with breathing? Breathing often is important in distance swimming and should be combined
with sighting. Watch this video I have posted on my Vimeo page, Open Water Sighting Skills, demonstrating the various ways to sight without interrupting your stroke rate.
Do specific work for a specific time or distance. Keep your open water swims simple and incorporate interval based workouts. Unless you have a recovery swim planned, get in some solid efforts out there! A GPS watch enables you to set an alert based on specified time or distance. Hit the lap button at the start and end of each effort for specific swim pace data, valuable for tracking your progress. No watch, don't fret! Do simple Fartlek style swims by pushing the pace between designated landmarks.
Transforming a pool workout into an open water workout can be simple. Using a watch, you can take a 20 x 100yd main set into the open water for a solid swim. For the sake of simplicity, we'll choose the 1:30 interval (swimmer can do a 1:15/100yd and rest for :15, then repeat) for this example. Set your watch for a time alert to beep/vibrate every 1:30. Start the watch and begin with a typical warm up including drills. The watch will beep/vibrate every 1:30 while warming up, this is a good signal to switch drills. After you complete the desired warm up, begin the 20 x 1:30 set. Start #1 as the watch signals a 1:30 interval. Wait :15 and swim a hard from :15 - 1:30 until the next beep/vibration. Rest for :15 (tread water or swim easy) and begin #2 (swim hard 1:45 -2:00) and so on. If you want to get specific data about pacing, hit the lap button every time you start and stop a hard effort. After the main set, complete a cool down revisiting specific drills. The above example can be adapted for any length of time/distance ranging from sprints, middle distance, to endurance swimming. Every watch is different, so make sure you practice with your set up before swimming. You may decide you like the distance setting better than the time setting.
Stay honest with your swim workouts, each swim should have a goal. For time or distance goals, wearing a GPS watch in the open water offers great data and feedback. Remember to check in with the pool every week or two, as it keeps you honest with your pacing. Gone are the variables of currents, tides and wind. Pool swimming times are more easily compared than open water swimming.
Stay safe. It's always a good idea to swim with a buddy. Wearing a brightly colored cap and a Safer Swim Buoy will help make you more visible in and around the water, but you still need to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Additional safety steps include wearing a Swim It and a RoadID, both very easy to swim with!
Recently, I had the privilege of attending a clinic by Karlyn Pipes of Aquatic Edge, Inc. The clinic was designed for coaches and organized by New England Masters Swimming.
Taking it one step at a time, this post focuses on interval training. Do you incorporate specific interval training into your swim sessions? If not, keep reading and try something new. If you already interval train, maybe it is time to lower your standard interval or add more test sets to your training regime.
Do you know the answers to these pace specific questions?
What is my 100yd EZ pace?
What is my 100yd Threshold pace?
What is my Standard Interval (S.I.)?
If you do not incorporate interval training and do not know the answers to the questions above, you need to do some homework in the pool. Do you already know your run paces, bike watt ranges and/or heart rate for various efforts in training? The pool is no different. Know your paces, get yourself on a standard interval and you will make gains.
What is EZ pace? "EZ" pace means you could do that pace for hours on end, it's truly easy and you can hold great form throughout. Time yourself on an EZ 100yd freestyle during warmup.
What is Threshold pace? "Threshold" is a race pace that a swimmer can hold for a sustained period of time while holding quality form. Calculate your threshold or Critical Swim Speed (CSS) through the Swim Smooth site. The threshold pace for swimming is similar to the concepts of Functional Threshold Power on the bike or Jack Daniels VDOT run calculator paces for running.
What is a Standard Interval?
A typical standard interval in the swimming world accounts for your swim time and rest period. As an example: if you swim 10 x 100yd freestyle on a standard interval of 1:45, and you touch the wall at the 1:30, you get :15 rest. If you slow down or speed up during any of the next 100yd repeats, your rest interval shortens or lengthens, but you stay on the 1:45 interval. Click here for a more in depth description of standard intervals.
When incorporating a standard interval set, understanding how to use the pace clock is critical. The pace clock keeps you accountable. Notice your 100yd splits and pacing throughout your workout.
Do you already have a standard interval ? Do more main sets at threshold pace to increase your aerobic fitness. Remember to re-test your threshold every 4 - 8 weeks.
If you are looking for great workouts that incorporate interval sets, Sarah McLarty from Swim Like A Pro has many workouts saved on her blog. An example is Quick Set Friday: Race Intervals. Adjust the workouts to your specific standard interval.
Start becoming more accountable in the pool and you will see results. Enough reading already... grab your swim bag and get to the pool!