Swim exercises to help you swim faster
Heading into the off season it is time to take stock on areas to improve on for next season and for many it is the swim that would be the choice of being able to roll out some new PB’s and come out of the water stronger and faster. Exercising on dry land in addition to your water time will make you a faster swimmer and for us triathletes it also means that if we can do 2-3 additional ‘hits’ on the swim specific muscles groups per week in a shorter time frame then it talks to drive to the pool and get in the water then it makes for a really good return on time the valuable time invested.
“Why do land training and “how do I get better at swimming, without going swimming?” Land training, or swim-specific strength exercises, are a great way to make up for time lost from not being able to swim quite as often as you’d like, or to top up your swimming by gaining a little extra free speed without having to get wet. The principle behind doing land training is to add an element of strength training we don’t normally get in the pool.
Swimming in water doesn’t provide a stable enough surface to build muscular strength (hence the use of paddles, swim bands, dragging towels and all manner of other odd techniques that high performance swimmers have used over the years).
By performing these swimming specific exercises on dry land, we can develop a strong foundation on which to build endurance, technique and speed.
Most of these exercises can be performed anywhere, apart from the chin-ups, no weights are needed and they can be performed in front of the TV. So now there are no excuses for not spending 20-30mins a few times a week working on these exercises.
To ensure you don’t overdo when starting these routines, gradually increase the number of reps over the weeks
Apart from the exercises listed below – don’t neglect the abs. These are a key aspect of swimming, being the source of power for proper body rotation, propulsion through the legs, and turning. Instead of full sit-ups, use crunching movements instead to keep the spine safe. I like to warm up first by doing at least 100 crunches – straight or in multiple set. After which you can get into the routine below.
Push up with elbows close to torso
This is a fairly simple exercise, but with a slight twist to make it specific for freestyle swimming. We expect to produce a great amount of force from such a tiny little muscle – the triceps! The last third of the freestyle stroke (from belly button to beyond hip) is essentially a tricep extension. A press-up is the easiest way to develop strength in these muscles. A swimmer’s push-up is like a traditional push-up, but with your elbows tucked in tight to your sides at all times. This is a lot harder than your traditional press-up, as it uses less “chest”. These can also be performed on your knees if you find a full on press-up a bit hard. Thus is also the technique that is used in yoga for a push up – although usually done at a slower pace.
3 x 10 reps with 1min rest between – the total number of sets, progress this from week to week
There are two ways to do this exercise depending on what you have available around you. Doing a chin-up with an “overhand” grip (fingers away from you) encourages the use of all the major swimming muscles. It’s also size/weight-related. Your arms need to transport your body forward during a swim, so there’s no excuse for not doing at least one chin-up. The technique involved is simple – arms should be at least shoulder width apart, use an overhand grip, and pull your chin above the bar. Trees are perfect for chin-ups and can be incorporated into a training run. Chin-ups are difficult, so start with one and build up your number of reps each time you try.
Stretch cords or swim bands are also known as Therabands. You can attach these long pieces of elastic to door handles, pipes and other immovable objects around the house or hotel when travelling. Then use them to work on your strength and also your control over the underwater phase of the stroke. The beauty of using these is that you can concentrate on utilising the full length of your stroke. Get your technique right first – shrug shoulder, bend hand under wrist, wrist under elbow, then push back beyond your hip. Start slowly to nail your technique before moving on to faster reps. Grab the band further up (towards anchor point) to increase the resistance. Using the correct technique, 15mins of swim bands is nearly 30min in the pool.
Example session to start
10 x 30sec (double arm or with each arm) – 15secs rest after each – number of reps per session will increase gradually each week
These three dry land exercises are just a few of the many available that may is used but in my experience are three of the best to fit into the time staved age group triathlete. I have seen athletes I coach still swim extremely well of limited water time while travelling with work but maintaining a regime of the above plus sit ups these 2-3 times per week.
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