There’s a lot of stuff out there about training, but not nearly as much that applies to swimming. It’s one of a few sports where just getting “bigger” isn’t necessarily a good thing, and that changes some things. In this post, I’ll cover a few basics regarding training for competitive swimming and how they can help you reach your potential.
Swimmers can benefit a lot from lifting, although most won’t lift until they get to the college level. However, there are a lot of exercises that can benefit swimmers at every level. What’s important when lifting for competitive swimming is to remember that more muscle = less flexibility. Going for your one rep max might look really impressive and will probably build more muscle, but that muscle won’t be able to help you in the water. I recommend doing between 6 (for Olympic lifts like the dead lift) and 10 (for most other lifts and for machines) reps. Also, dumbbells are preferred to using a machine because doing the exercise with a free weight will utilize and strengthen all the auxiliary/supporting muscles as opposed to just the primary one.
The classic dead lift is a great full body exercise. It’s important to note, once again, that you should not be lifting for your one rep max weight. This is entirely counter-productive when it comes to competitive swimming.
Make sure to keep the elbows relaxed; you don’t want to be bending them and cheating the exercise but you also don’t want to lock them.
A good arm exercise for practical strength, which is more important in swimming than just having bulging biceps!
A machine exercise, do this one slowly to really get the most out of it.
Dumbbell Bent Over Row
You can also do rows with the bar, but I prefer dumbells.
Another classic lift, doing squats with the traditional Olympic bar is better than using machines like the leg extension and leg curl in my opinion. Squats use every muscle in your legs!
I’ve always heard it said that swimmers can eat anything. While this is true, swimmers who want to reach their peak performance should definitely have some common sense and structure to their diet. The most important thing to keep in mind is that during swim season you’re working out for anywhere from two to five hours per day, and this uses up a tremendous amount of the body’s energy.
It’s very important to put back in what your body is burning when it does all that work, and that means carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are what your body burns first when you’re working out. Bread, pasta of any sort (I ate more boxed mac and cheese dinners in college than I care to admit), and fruit. Yes, sugary stuff does count as carbohydrates, but what you really want are complex carbohydrates. Sugars shoot through your system very quickly, providing no real benefit. Better carbs, like those found in the foods I listed, will last a long time and will be there when you need them!
Protein is as important as carbohydrates when it comes to training. It is the basic building block that will rebuild your muscles after a hard workout. Here’s an easy way to calculate how many grams of protein you should be shooting for each day: 50% to 75% of your bodyweight. A protein supplement is almost certainly required. I prefer ON Gold Standard whey. A single container lasts a long time, up to 3 months depending on how often you take it, so it’s a good investment. I recommend taking it within 30 minutes of working out whether you’re in the pool, hitting the weights, or doing dryland. It will help your muscles recover while also providing the protein your body needs to train at a high level.
Ah, sleep. The one thing everyone knows they need and yet everyone gets too little. When you’re training, you need to be getting enough of it – at least seven and a half hours in my opinion. Plan on taking about 30 minutes to fall asleep as well. You can use this website to help you find the ideal time to go to sleep based on when you need to wake up. Once you have a sleep schedule, stick to it! Even on the weekends, try to stay within two hours of your in-week bedtime and wakeup time. It will help immensely when that alarm goes off for morning practice.
Last but not least, mental stress needs to be kept under control. That means getting on top of your classes and staying there. It also means keeping relationship stress to a minimum. The second source is typically harder to manage than the first. I’ve seen countless swimmer couples (or “swimcest” as some like to call it) decide that the week directly before the championship swim meet is the best time to have a fight or break up and their timing could not possibly worse! Not only are they completely stressed out and unfocused, they often distract their teammates as well. If you’re mentally stressed, how can you expect your body to handle all the physical stress it’s being put through?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got about managing the stress that comes with swim season training was simple: “when you leave the pool, leave the pool”. In short, when you’re not at the pool or otherwise working out don’t be thinking about it. Don’t spend your hours outside the pool thinking about training, or that big meet coming up and their stud that you are going to have to race. Relax. The pool will still be there when you go to practice!
Stay tuned for more about training, coaching, and swimming in general! In the meantime, check out the social media accounts at the bottom of the page so you’re always up to date.