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Training for Swimming?

Coach, I was wondering if you know anything about strength training for swimming? Is there anything you particularly recommend training-wise for a swimmer? It’s not my main thing - I only swim twice a week, usually focusing on shorter distances (<100m) across all strokes - but I am curious as to whether there is a way to improve my swimming by means of my training. (I’m currently training with the 5/3/1 system).

Thank you!

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not CT but just did some research/programming for a swimmer. Who would have guessed squats, pullups & bench. Get stronger overall, and improve flexibility were main takeaways


One of my classmates is a world-class swimmer and S&C coach of France lifesaving team, I could ask him… But from what I recall…

This is true indeed. One of the main mistake his coaches used to do was to neglect legs. Main muscles are obviously the arm adductors (chest and lats) so you should focus on leg and hip extension, horizontal pressing, vertical pulling. Power work is also loved by them, they quite fancy Load contrast (bulgarian style) and are not afraid of using Straight-arm pulldowns or Pullover as explosive movements, things that E. Legeard or our own CT advocated as well. Also, you can’t go wrong with o-lifting.

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Just choose sensible templates that don’t demand too much recovery-wise and I expect that as your lifting improves so will your swimming but if you really wanted to push your swimming opt for templates that allow you to push your conditioning and swim more often. I expect treating it as a motor-skill that you practice often will beat out any would-be ideal lifting program. Like, if you could cut down on lifting a bit and go have a swim directly afterward for a while 4x/wk then I expect that will catapult your swimming forward much more than… not doing it.


Yaaay post-activation potentiation!

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Thank you @masfonos @aldebaran @Voxel! I’ll keep those things in mind.

Yes you are probably correct. The top swimmers, even at high school level, tend to be in the water every day, often even more than that (swimming twice a day on some days). But since my main focus at the moment is probably lifting, I don’t think that would work for me haha.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m not an expert in training swimmers. I worked with only one in my 23 years career.

I am not the best person to ask for advice in that regard.

HOWEVER one thing that I can tell you is that most people who want to train for a sport, regardless of the sport, jump into sport-specific training way too early. The initial focus should be to become strong in the basic movement patterns.

Sport-specific work is an easy sell to athletes because the brain instinctively assumes that doing exercises that look like your sport will automatically improve performance faster than general exercises. That is not exactly the case. I prefer to see “sport specific” exercises as “transfer” movements.

Essentially their purpose is to take the strength and power that you have and train you to apply them in a movement pattern resembling your sporting action, allowing you to then transfer those capacities to the skill itself.

It looks like this:

Just for the sake of understanding, strength transfer exercises refer to lifting movements where you train the specific range of motion required in your sport and power transfer exercises are explosive movements sharing technical similarities with your sport skill.

if you are limited in your capacity in a category, the category to the right will be limited in its potential improvement.

For example, if you lack overall muscular strength, your capacity to produce power (Power = Force x Velocity, if you can’t produce force you will limit your power potential). Not to mention that stronger muscles also normally have a stronger stretch reflex (we saw earlier why that is important).

By the same token, if you have a weak muscle this issue might make it hard to effectively and safely increase your strength in the big basic lifts. If you can’t improve on the big basic lifts you will limited in your capacity to get stronger, which will limit how much power you can generate.

If you never focus on developing general strength (and muscle mass, since having sufficient muscle mass is required to optimize your strength), you can do all the specific work in the world, improvements will be limited. Plus, having weaker muscles means that high speed movements will be more dangerous and more likely to lead to injuries. When you produce a lot of speed, you must decelerate it. Stronger muscles are better at decelerating. If you have weaker muscles, the tendons, ligaments and structure will absorb more of the force when having to decelerate.


Thanks very much for the insight Coach Thibaudeau! Appreciate your time.