There are many components to a dryland program and training for power is certainly one of the most important. This article will focus on why power development is so important in swimming and the exercises that are used to train them at IHPSWIM. When examining a swim race, many different instances exist in which a swimmer would benefit from having more power. It is clear that the start, turn, pull and kick of the stroke can benefit from an increase in power output which will ultimately have a positive effect on the outcome of the race.
When designing a dryland program, exercises should be selected that are consistent with movements that are involved in swimming. For example, the biomechanics of the start and turn are very similar to the Romanian Dead Lift (RDL) and the Squat which incorporates the use of the same muscle groups (hamstrings, gluts, and quadriceps). Increasing power in the lower body and upper body pulling muscles (lats, posterior deltoids) would provide a huge benefit in swimming since they are the muscle groups that are dominant in the sport. The bottom line is, if there is an increase in distance of the blocks, off the walls, and more power output per stroke and kick then swim performance will improve. Incorporating the right power exercises in a dryland program is extremely important and will definitely improve performance in the pool.
Before we go any further lets define exactly what power is. Power is defined as:
Power = Force x velocity
Power = Work/time
Simply put, power is a perfect blend of speed and strength or more work in a given time period. Either one of these mathematical expressions can be directly applied to any race.
If two people have the same amount of strength and one can apply that strength faster than the other, which is better off? Of course the individual who can apply their strength faster has a clear cut advantage; the individual would have greater power output. Let’s examine the different ways to train for explosive power and how it can help improve different components of a race.
Swimmers need to take advantage of every start and turn during a race, which are the only two portions of the race in which a swimmer is able to produce force off of a solid base (the starting block and the wall) and take advantage of ground reaction forces. Having a start and turn that is superior to the competition provides a distinct advantage, particularly for sprinters. Performing explosive exercises with the lower body which include muscles such as the gluts, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps will increase the amount of power one is able to generate off the start and turn, as well as increasing total kicking power.
We have a variety of methods to train the legs for power. One example is the Box Jump (Figure 1).
This is a great exercise for enhancing power in the legs. You may progress your athletes through this exercise by increasing the size of the box and for swimmers that are advanced in this exercise you may start adding resistance to the jumps through the use of dumbbells or a weighted vest. If a box is not available, you can simply perform a jump squats with the goal of getting as much vertical distance as possible per jump. It is also a great idea to perform long jumps, which works on improving horizontal distance since both vertical and horizontal distances are needed on the start.
The pulling muscles (lats, posterior deltoids, etc.) are used during upper body propulsion in swimming. The breaststroke pullout provides a good example of how training power and improving power in the pulling muscles of the upper body can translate to an improved performance. This is one of the most explosive pulling actions you will see in a swim race and it is an element of a race that is very crucial to performance. Since it is the first movement off each start and turn it is a factor in developing maximum speed quickly. A swimmer with weak pullouts is basically playing catch–up after every turn and has very little chance of beating someone with equal swimming ability.
Including pulling power exercises in a swimmers strength training program will teach these muscles to generate force at a faster rate, thus, increasing the athletes total pulling power. Increasing a swimmers pulling power will assist their ability to create more propulsion during each stroke cycle. This will not only allow a swimmer to increase their speed, but also will assist in maintaining proper body position and alignment in the water. This applies to all four strokes, regardless of the difference in different stroking patterns.
One of my favorite ways to train for a more powerful breaststroke pullout is the Overhead Medicine Ball Toss (OMBT) (Figure 2), which replicates the breaststroke pullout closely.
The two movements are very similar. This exercise may be utilized in two ways. You may perform this exercise with the goal of completing as many reps as possible in a certain time period (i.e. Work/time) when working on power endurance. The OMBT can also be performed with the focus on generating as much force as possible (i.e. Force x Velocity) during each repetition when working on raw power development.
The following is an example of a power development training session focusing on the lower body (Figure 3).
The workout consists of three 4-exercise circuits, with the red lettering indicating a new circuit. A 45 second rest period is taken between the first (the strength exercise) and second (the power exercise) exercise of each circuit. The movement of the 1st exercise should be controlled on the eccentric portion (negative) and a good tempo on the concentric portion (positive) portion. The 2nd exercise should always be fast and explosive. The 3 and 4th exercises are not related to the power exercises but are functional and core exercises that are specific to swimming..
Next is an example of power endurance workout (Figure 4), where the focus is to hold on to power for a longer duration.
The 45 second rest period is eliminated to improve power endurance. This particular workout is focused on the pulling muscles. The 4-exercise circuits follow the same pattern and concept from above.
These are just a few examples of the many training programs and exercise that can be used to increase power in the major muscle groups used in swimming. While building strength may benefit the swimmer, adding exercises that focus on speed, or applying that strength quickly, gives more specificity to the demands of the sport. These exercises have been integrated into all of our swimmer’s strength training programs and we have seen tremendous time improvements during this time period.