The Benefits of Off-Season Weight Training for Competitive Swimmers

November 12th, 2014
by Sheryl "Scotty" Scott, Aquatics Director

Maximize time away from the pool for better times when you dive back in
Source:usms.org Article written by Chris Ritter

Now that long course season has ended, some swimmers will take a break from the pool. For some, this signals a chance to reset and take a mental break while others simply want to give their bodies some rest. If you take advantage of this natural break in the swimming season to increase your strength, it will pay off in big dividends as you start to race in the new year and into next year’s short- and long-course seasons.

When you increase your strength, you allow yourself to perform at a higher level through a couple of avenues. First, you’ll see improvement because a stronger muscle is a more durable muscle. A muscle tears or gets injured because it can’t absorb and control the force placed upon it, either over time through endless repetition or suddenly in a single moment.

With many swimmers experiencing injuries, specifically in their shoulders, there’s a tendency to avoid exercises that use the shoulder exclusively. This is backwards thinking. If you want strong, uninjured shoulders, you need to strengthen them in a balanced and progressive manner, over time. If you can perform push-ups and any number of strict pull-ups, your shoulders are more than likely going to be durable for many swimming seasons than someone who couldn’t perform those exercises.

Strength training also increases your swimming performance by increasing your muscles’ capacity for strength and power. If the few pounds of strength required to move yourself through the water is all the resistance that you ever put upon your muscles, a swimming race can get tiring very quickly. But if you’re placing appropriate and increasing amounts of tension on your muscles through strength exercises, such as pull-ups or rows, this will increase your muscles’ maximal and overall strength capacities. This translates to the water when you’re at the end of a race and your muscles are tired and you need everything they have to finish as fast as you can. If you have a high ceiling of strength or a bigger capacity because you’ve done strength training, then your muscles will have another level to recruit in those final stages of the race.

Lastly, committing to a strength-training program at the start of your off-season will offer you a mental break and some training variety. Everyone needs a break now and then from staring at the black line and pursuing new strength improvement challenges at the gym can be a great avenue for that. Many swimmers thrive on achieving things they never thought they could; in the weight room, that could mean finally being able to do a real pull-up. You can carry that mental strength and confidence into the pool and race better than ever next season.

About the Author—Chris Ritter
Chris Ritter is the founder of RITTER Sports Performance online training programs and the author of the e-book, SURGE STRENGTH, which details how to strength train specifically for swimming performance. Ritter, a swimmer himself, has a degree in kinesiology and exercise science and he specializes in training athletes of diverse abilities, ranging from beginners to Olympians.