T Nation

Weight Training For Swimming

Actually for Triathlon.

I am using strength training to increase my Triathlon performance. Doing dead lifts, squats, and BP in rotation four to five times a week in addition to the swim, bike, and run training.

Swimming is my weakest sport. I shouldnt use the term weak since I finished in the top one third of my last triathlon. Considering I am older that 95% of the male competitors I think that is pretty good. But I want to improve my swimming to be as strong as the other two sports.

Should I keep doing the three primary compound lifts or stop diong the BP and do lateral pull downs or high rows instead to improve my swimming?

I was not a competitive swimmer in HS or college so I have no idea what type of weight training swimmers use.

I’m no expert by any means, but pull-ups would be an excellent additional choice of exercise. Both specifically for swimming and just for general athletic performance.

EDIT: And more importantly your current strength training is missing an upper body pulling movement, so neglecting that will lead to imbalances.

make swimming your priority.

The gym will get you stronger, the pool will get you better at swimming.

Triathlon uses a lot of movements. Stick to getting stronger overall and get better in the pool.

As JFG mentioned, you need time in the pool to improve your swimming. I suggest doing a mix of longer distance work and some timed intervals (you will have to work out what is a challenging time but realistic time for your capabilities).

As far as weight training goes, pull ups and core work are the main things for swimming. Most people don’t realise the importance of torso rotation. I would also add Romanian Deadlifts would be useful for running (or at least I found that when I did my first triathlon).

Also have you ever had coaching? Effective coaching can help massivelyfor improving efficiency in the water.

Thanks IW25.
I started doing core work last year and noticed a big improvement in swimming and running.
This week I did five swim workouts instead of two. I have a door frame pull up bar and will start doing a few pull ups several times a day.
This is going to be the year that swimming catches up to my run and bike.

My ex wife’s brother is a swim coach. They all swam in HS and college. I once asked her to give me some coaching and she said I would never be a good swimmer because of my body geometry. Fuck her and her brothers. I may not become an elite swimmer but I know I can improve.

[quote]dpcavana wrote:
Thanks IW25.
I started doing core work last year and noticed a big improvement in swimming and running.
This week I did five swim workouts instead of two. I have a door frame pull up bar and will start doing a few pull ups several times a day.
This is going to be the year that swimming catches up to my run and bike.

My ex wife’s brother is a swim coach. They all swam in HS and college. I once asked her to give me some coaching and she said I would never be a good swimmer because of my body geometry. Fuck her and her brothers. I may not become an elite swimmer but I know I can improve. [/quote]

Yeah, just because you are not going to be an elite swimmer, doesn’t mean there is not room for improvement. Also I really do believe 100m or 200m intervals are the way to go on a challenging time. For example, when I was training for the 400m swim in a sprint triathlon I did 10-20 sets of 100m on 1:45. Any time I did under that would be my rest. After not swimming for quite a few years before getting back into it, I did find my lats tiring quickly, which is why I recommend some higher rep work with pull ups and rows.

Out of interest what distance do you do? I did my first sprint triathlon a month ago and am considering doing another.

Sprints.
I was going to do the Kemah Olympic but it sold out in two days and I missed it and had to do the sprint.
But from what peoe were saying, the sprint swim was more challenging. It was cross current and cross wind. The Olympic swim was straight in off the boat.

No problem swimming a mile without stopping in a pool but I am not very fast.
I will start doing more interval work. So that’s two laps and rest, two laps and rest, repeat 10 times?

[quote]dpcavana wrote:
Sprints.
I was going to do the Kemah Olympic but it sold out in two days and I missed it and had to do the sprint.
But from what peoe were saying, the sprint swim was more challenging. It was cross current and cross wind. The Olympic swim was straight in off the boat.

No problem swimming a mile without stopping in a pool but I am not very fast.
I will start doing more interval work. So that’s two laps and rest, two laps and rest, repeat 10 times?[/quote]

Assuming its an olympic size pool then yes. Main reason I like intervals is a) my coach had us do loads when I was younger and swam competitively and it seemed to work
b) I find it too easy to go through the motions when doing one long swim, whereas if you set a challenging time for intervals you have to keep the pace up.

Swimming program is just like any other program. Follow one.

It should involve Long Slow Distance, Sprints, intervals, etc. you don’t get fast doing sprints all the time. You get fast by following a program thqt includes sprints, etc.

Good luck

Hey dpcavana,

Internal rotation flexibility to have a bent arm recover in your freestyle and external rotation strength (think band pull apart and any external rotation band stuff) plus plenty of thoracic mobility will help a boat load.

This may not be what you are necessarily looking for but one of the guys helped me a lot with my training. Anytime I hit a plateau I go to him. They do an online consulting program that you could try out. I know they do some work with a few Ironman Triathletes so look into it. Couldn’t hurt to get opinions from a coach. This is their website

thestrengthresource.com/consulting-2

Honestly I’m going to catch shit for this but I don’t care. I’ve been finding what research I can on dryland training for swimming to find out what actually works. And long story short, there is no (0%) carry over from strength increases in the gym to actual swim performance. Get swim lessons, and I definitely recommend learning how to scull. You can search youtube for ‘Front scull’

coachsci.sdsu.edu/swim/training/costill1.htm

coachsci.sdsu.edu/swim/training/tanaka.htm

Drag will always trump whatever power you can throw at the water, learning good technique will allow you to ‘slip through the water’ - and if you do learn to front scull, notice that your forearm and hand will be the only parts of your body you want to create drag, as the rest of your body slips through.

[quote]Sean.Butler wrote:
Honestly I’m going to catch shit for this but I don’t care. I’ve been finding what research I can on dryland training for swimming to find out what actually works. And long story short, there is no (0%) carry over from strength increases in the gym to actual swim performance. Get swim lessons, and I definitely recommend learning how to scull. You can search youtube for ‘Front scull’

coachsci.sdsu.edu/swim/training/costill1.htm

coachsci.sdsu.edu/swim/training/tanaka.htm

Drag will always trump whatever power you can throw at the water, learning good technique will allow you to ‘slip through the water’ - and if you do learn to front scull, notice that your forearm and hand will be the only parts of your body you want to create drag, as the rest of your body slips through.

[/quote]

I would say this isn’t true, in the sense that if you’re a swim sprinter then land work and increased strength will almost definitely allow room for you to improve as long as you have technique down. Also there is kind of a difference between land work and strength increases, in that land work such as core work etc may not really come under strength increases but should improve swimming ability. As for learning to scull to create less drag, if he’s doing a triathlon then he’s obviously going to be doing frontcrawl.

I would tend to agree with you that strength increases in the gym aren’t going to really affect long distance swimming ability (and therefore triathlon ability), maybe in a sprint triathlon which I believe is ~400m it might help a tiny bit, but in a normal distance triathlon I doubt it will do much. So as people have previously said, stick to getting more practice in the pool and doing a variation of distances and speeds etc to improve your swimming. But feel free to carry on your land work and follow some of the suggestion of previous posters for torso rotational work and lats etc.

(Edit: just realised by front scull you may have meant frontcrawl?)

My personal opinion on weight training for swimming and triathlon in general would be to stick on the path you are on with the compound lifts however as others have mentioned you are missing a pull in your training. I am not sure how much tri training you do or how you split up your training volume/intensity between your swimming/cycling/running however I’ll assume you can train twice a week. If I were to train twice a week I would split it up like so:

Session 1
A Snatch grip high pulls (if you aren’t confident from the floor due to technique there is nothing wrong with hang IMO till you are comfortable from the floor)
B1 Back squats (full depth, if you can’t work on hip and ankle mobility with goblet squats and various mobility exercises till you can! Full depth will have a ridiculous carryover to your cycling and running)
B2 SLDL (see CanditoHQs tutorial for this, best IMO. Helps lengthen and strengthen the hammies which can get shortened from the cycling)
C1 Bench press (everyone knows the drill for this one)
C2 DB Row (form is key, all about scapular retraction, swimming develops the lats, upper pec and anterior delt well but not the traps so much so getting a good squeeze will strengthen the scapular retractors which makes for healthier and stronger shoulders)

Session 2
A Power cleans (the classic “athlete” exercise, simple enough to do but may take time to really nail, like the SGHPs if you aren’t comfortable from the floor do them from the hang)
B1 Front squats (strengthen the shit outta your legs and abs and upper back, IMO one of the best exercises going)
B2 Knee flexion exercise (GHRs if you can do them, Nordic curls are always good or even lying leg curls, GHRs or Nordic curls would be optimal)
C1 Dips (Streghten and stretch the pecs and anterior shoulder, focusing on good, deep ROM before adding weight)
C2 Pull ups (I highly recommend the “tactical” pull up used by SFGs and Pavel, the hollow body position is great for the abs and seems to transfer nicely to the pool for me)

With regards to sets and reps and I would keep the “A” exercises between 1-5 reps with anywhere from 3-6 sets.

The BSQs and SLDL I would do anywhere from 5-8 reps for 3-4 sets.

The bench I would use 5-8 reps and for the DB rows anywhere from 6-12 reps both for 2-4 sets.

For the front squats and knee flexion exercise keep the reps from 3-8 and sets 2-3.

Finally for the dips and pull ups keep the reps from 3-8 and sets 3-5.

The main message of the story is use compound exercises for lowish reps and with regards to exercise to help improve each of the three discipline for swimming lots of upper back work including scapular retraction in the form of rows and squats for stronger kicking, the upper back work should help minimize the chance of shoulder issues. For the cycling squats and the knee flexion exercises will strengthen your quads and hammie whilst the SLDL will stretch the hammies (which can get “tighter” from riding whilst still strengthening them), in addition the upper back work should prevent any issues if you ride with a kyphotic posture which is very common. The running is similar to the cycling, strong hip extensors (think the explosive lifts and SLDL) as well as upper and lower back for better posture whilst running.

There are many ways to skin the strength training cat and it comes from experience really, that is very similar to what I did when all I did was competitive swimming (I competed in 400IM, 800FC and 1500FC) with the addition with loads of things like band pull aparts and rotator cuff exercises, hell, some of us did band pull aparts every day pretty much!Final point for the strength training don’t go feeling that you need more conditioning work at the end, all your tri training should provide your conditioning for your sport and if it doesn’t address your training as you are fucking up.

So now that I’ve covered how to strengthen the muscles needed for swimming and the other two disciplines I’ll give some insight on how to improve your actual swimming. When a competitive LD swimmer you do a lot of swimming however swimming is about 2% of a tri race. Given that it is more about technique and efficient movement than fitness, don’t think I mean do no swimming and just technique but put some effort into being a more effortless swimmer! Spend the first part of your session on technique, ideally with a competent swim coach, and then follow it up with fitness appropriate to your distance (I am aware that open water swimmers and triathletes use their legs less when swimming and utilize the stroke more). Don’t worry about your swim fitness too much, the three disciplines complement each other nicely and have good CV crossover between them!

If anyone has any questions please ask!

Former College swimmer here. I’ve done a decent bit of coaching in my day

To be honest, weight training is the least important thing you need to be worried about right now. Yes, dryland and weight training can be extremely beneficial to those who have their technique at a high enough level. But your body positioning in the water, along with proper stroke mechanics, are going to improve your swim time more (and with less energy expenditure) than any dryland exercise will.

Drag is the enemy here, and you need to do everything you can to reduce it. I used to be able to take 10 strokes per length of a 25 yard pool and swim it under 15 seconds easily. The biggest difference between me and someone just swimming is that I would glide after every stroke. Because I had low drag, I could carry the momentum of every stroke. Most people flail about and stop any forward momentum due to the high drag they incur due to bad swimming mechanics. A good, quality swim stroke should feel easy and almost effortless. For more proof, look up David Nolan’s high school record breaking swims in the 100 yard free and back. Dude is a phenom among phenoms. And he looked like he was expending far less energy then the other swimmers in his heats (who, BTW, were ELITE high school swimmers.)I got to watch one of his races in person. Swimming is one of those sports where sometimes, more is not better.

And to whomever posted the stuff about learning to skull YES YES YES THIS. “But he’s not sculling, he’s front crawling!” A proper scull teaches you how to hold a proper body position (you should be pressing down with your chest and almost swimming downhill), AND how to properly “catch” the water for maximum propulsion with an early vertical forearm. Sculling has immense carry over to pretty much every stoke, and it can also save your shoulders from impingement and tendonitis from improper stroke mechanics.

Pull ups and pull overs are a decent exercise, as well as planks and russian twists for your core. But really, you should get a coach. And if you’re training in a lap pool, learn flip turns. They’ll suck at first, but the added intensity from having to hold and control your breath will get you into better shape faster. Mix intervals with long slow swims, but frequency is more important that intensity and duration. You’re already pretty fit from the rest of your training-now you need to get more efficient. Go for 4-5 shorter, technique oriented swims with a 10-15 min workout at the end over 2-3 longer, draining sessions.

TL/DR
Look up Early Vertical Forearm, sculling, swimming downhill, and proper breathing technique. And better yet, get a coach.
Intervals twice a week, long easy swims twice a week.

coachsci.sdsu.edu/swim/training/sharp1.htm

Here’s a study providing something to justify dryland strength training for very short events. But you have to wonder how much the power will diminish during a 50y/m race, and if the time spent in the gym would of been better off spent in the pool working on technique.

I use sculling to teach swimmers how to apply pressure to the water. I do this with strapless paddles. If you lose pressure, the paddles fall off. This skill carries over to every stroke. And as mentioned, it is a way to practice body position, breathing, and a few other things you could argue as well. One thing I really like doing, is having kids scull with their ankles dorsiflexed, and then halfway down the lap to plantarflex them, they instantly start moving faster. It really explains how drag>power, and how the smallest deviation from streamline will cost them.

As far as sculling being preventative of shoulder impingement, I don’t really see how. The argument I’d make for strength training and swimmers is to strengthen the upward rotators of the scapulae, traps, (specifically lower traps) and serratus. Google downward rotation syndrome. As well, many times an anterior pelvic tilt might be the driver of kyphotic posture, so strengthening the glutes in that case would be a valid reason.

I’m not saying swimmers should never to strength training, I’m saying it’s for different reasons than swimmers and coaches think they’re doing it now.

My experience is very dated, but I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents worth anyway. I used to be a competitive distance swimmer and lifeguard at a beach with heavy surf during the late 1970’s, and competed regularly in triathlons throughout the 1980’s. My problem was the opposite of yours - I was a very good swimmer (I could keep up with the semi-pro triathletes until I was in my early 30’s), an okay cyclist, but a terrible runner. I’m not built for running at all and would always injure myself whenever I tried to increase my mileage. The good news for you is that you’re not likely to injure yourself by upping the amount of time you spend in the pool.

I agree with the advice that others have given, that you need to spend more time in the water working on your stroke. Elite swimmers may do a bit of strength training, but they’re already spending several hours a day in the pool. Another alternative to hiring a private coach, would be to join a local Masters team that has a coach. Aside from being cheaper, you’d be able to get advice from the other swimmers as well as the coach.

The other thing I would recommend is spending time swimming in open water once you’ve ironed out the difficulties in your stroke, as pool and open water swimming are very different. In the pool you keep your head down and follow the line at the bottom to swim in a straight line. You look up to make your turn when you see the T at the end of the line. Nailing your turn is important in competitive swimming, and even distance swimmers need some explosive strength in their core and legs to get through the turn quickly, and to get a good push off the wall.

You obviously don’t have turns in open water swimming, but several other variables also come in to play. In open water you need to swim with your head in a higher position, so you can see in front of you and also to be able to lift your head out of the water quickly to get your bearings. This requires more strength in your lower abs than swimming in a head down position. You also need to be able to judge the currents and use them to your advantage. For example, if the current is pushing you to the right, you’ll want to aim for a point to the left of your destination. That will get you there more quickly than if you have to constantly adjust course. Finally, open water is generally colder than pool water and it’s a good idea to be acclimated to it.

One final thing: I wouldn’t pay any attention at all to comments about your “frame geometry”. Open water swimming is very different than competing in a pool. My old college roommate had the perfect swimmers frame , held several school records and he’d beat me in the 1,000 yd. freestyle by upwards of 40 seconds. He couldn’t keep up with me in the ocean though. Lynne Cox set a world record for swimming the English Channel at the age of 15 and went on to complete many unique open water swims, like swimming from Alaska to Russia across the Bering Sea without a wetsuit. She was the slowest kid on her high school swim team and doesn’t look anything like a competitive swimmer.

[quote]Sean.Butler wrote:
As far as sculling being preventative of shoulder impingement, I don’t really see how. The argument I’d make for strength training and swimmers is to strengthen the upward rotators of the scapulae, traps, (specifically lower traps) and serratus. Google downward rotation syndrome. As well, many times an anterior pelvic tilt might be the driver of kyphotic posture, so strengthening the glutes in that case would be a valid reason.
[/quote]

Shoulder impingement may not have been the right term haha. I used to use a very “windmilly” style pull with my arms much straighter than a typical stroke, and it killed my shoulders.

Once I started focusing on sculling and getting a more vertical forearm, my shoulder pain almost disappeared. What I’ve found is that improper stroke mechanics (whether from too straight of an arm, or from dropping the elbow too early) seems to cause most shoulder pain, and doing drills to improve stroke mechanics seems to help alleviate this, whether the source of the pain is tendonitis, impingement, or something else.