Strength training and swimming: Things to consider

Strength training and swimming: Things to consider

A teammate asks, regarding my strength training routine:

Would you recommend something similar for me (only been swimming 1.5ish years very haphazardly), or do you think the benefits are only for those who have slowed their pool gains down significantly?

My answer: “Yes, but….”

Yes – because:

  • Weightlifting and calisthenics are good for you, both in promoting strength and general musculoskeletal health, and in preventing injury.
    • If you learn to deadlift properly, for example, you’ll never throw out your back lifting a heavy box.
  • Getting stronger will, in general, help you swim faster. At least, a little bit faster (see next point).

But – because:

  • Strength training is a “low leverage” activity for improving swimming speed. The highest leverage, by far, is in swim technique.
    • So, unless your technique is already in the range of excellent-to-perfect (and even Olympic swimmers are constantly working on their technique), strength training is not the most efficient method of swimming faster.
  • My routine involves several “free weight” exercises – which are the best way to lift weights, but also potentially dangerous. In doing squats, deadlifts, overhead press, and bench press, you must use proper lifting technique, or your efforts may easily backfire.


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Strength training for open-water swimming

Strength training for open-water swimming

Notwithstanding this post’s title, my strength training routine – which I started about 6 weeks ago – is only partly tailored for open water swimming. It’s a balanced, total-body routine designed for strength, simplicity, and sustainability.

Strength means not designed for maximum muscle mass (the former helps swimming, the latter does not).

Simplicity means using only a few basic gym equipment, and that I can remember the routine easily without writing it down.

Sustainability means giving myself the best chance of consistently doing the routine over the long term. It’s integrated seamlessly into my everyday life, and it’s brief (no more than 30 minutes per session).…

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There (should be) no running in swimming

There (should be) no running in swimming

Should swimming events involve running? Unless it’s part of a triathlon, obviously not… right?

Yet often, they do! You won’t see any running at the Olympic 10K open-water event. In Beijing, competitors started by jumping off a floating platform, and finished by slapping a floating touchpad. At sub-elite level events, though, it’s fairly common to both start and finish on a beach.

Of the six open-water events on my summer itinerary, only two – the 2-mile Cable swim in Virginia and the 6K in Colorado – have in-water starts and finishes. The rest will require negotiating a stretch of sand at some point. The Columbus Open-Water Swims start and finish on the beach.

This matters to me because I have a hip replacement and am really not supposed to run, ever. Do the few seconds I lose on a beach-start really matter in a 20, 30, or 60-minute race? Sure, it matters less in a longer race, but actually yes, it does matter.

It’s not just the time lost entering the water, but also the time lost from poor positioning.…

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One Hour Postal results

One Hour Postal results

The results from the first USMS Long Distance Championship of the year – the 1 Hour Postal Swim – are now up. I placed 9th of 77 among men age 25-29. It was a competitive year – my 5,265 yards would have placed 4th last year.

Somewhat annoyingly, I got beat by 35 yards or less by 3 guys. Even worse, I would have placed 4th among men 30-34 – an age group I joined less than 2 weeks after the swim.

None of that really matters, of course, except for purposes of point calculations.…

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Swimming Slow vs. Swimming Fast

Swimming Slow vs. Swimming Fast

“You’ve got to swim fast to swim fast.”

That’s Rob Orr, long-time Princeton men’s coach, doing his best Yogi Berra impression.

“Swim slow to swim fast.”

That’s the title of an instructional video that generated some lively discussion on the USMS discussion forum this week.

Who’s right? Well, I guess it depends. How’s your technique? If you’re already relatively “fast” (which usually means efficient), you probably have good technique and would benefit from swimming “fast” (as in hard) to simulate racing.

But if you’re not already an efficient swimmer, you probably should be focusing more on slow, mindful drilling than on sprint sets.

It sounds like a chicken and egg problem, but it’s not. If you can’t swim slow (correctly), you won’t swim fast (period).…

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Go the Distance

Go the Distance

Go the Distance is a nice little motivation hack. Each day (or week, or whatever), you enter how far you’ve swum into your account at usms.org. The online tool keeps track of your total distance accumulated for the calendar year, and posts that number online each morning – along with ~1,500 other participants.

It’s a reason to get to the pool on days when you might otherwise not. If you’re motivated by numbers, you can pursue “milestones” (50 miles, 100 miles, 500 miles, etc.), which sponsor NIKE rewards with various goodies – a swim cap for 50 miles, a water bottle for 250, up to a $250 gift certificate for 1500.

Or if you’re motivated by sheer competitiveness, you can peruse the list and, oh I don’t know, find someone you want to “beat.”

Such as one Dave Radcliff, a 76-year old member of the 1956 Olympic team, who has swum 107.81 miles this year, to my 95.76

Dave, I’m coming after you!…

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