Transfer Dryland to the Water

In Injury Reduction, Periodization by Admin1 Comment

You have worked your tail off! You’re stronger than you have ever been. You even did the “extra credit” dryland work on the weekends. Yet, your performance doesn’t meet your expectations. 

What is going wrong? I thought dryland was supposed to help your swimming performance? 

Good news! You might be in the right room but in the wrong seat. I’m giving a full webinar on this topic on 5/3, but here’s some tips to get you started! 

You’re holding a plank incorrectly.

Regardless of team or 1:1 athlete, I rarely see a plank held correctly at first. There’s some simple corrections that need to be made to clean this up and transfer more of your power and strength to the water. Plankpose.com did a nice job showing some of the common faults I see during planks. 

This is the most common position I see with swimmers. What is wrong with this? 

  • Let’s start at the head. Is this the head positioning you want to mimic in the water? NO! Stop doing it during planks. Your neck should be in alignment and you should be looking down at the ground with eyes gazing slightly ahead of the hands. 
  • Look at the low back. The low back is supposed to be a stable joint that handles force. Unfortunately, many swimmers end up getting locked up in their thoracic spine and their low back becomes mobile. Think about pushing off the wall into your streamline. Do you want this arch? Negative ghost rider. Talk about drag. Engage your glutes to help get out of this position. 
Start tucking your tailbone while completing a plank or push ups. This will make it more specific to your streamline and put you in a more stable position. 

What does an incorrect plank hold during dryland mean for swimming performance? If you’re not holding this position correctly on land, chances are you’re not holding the straightest line in the water either. Then it doesn’t really matter how strong you are or how powerful you are. Your force isn’t going in the most optimal direction and you’re increasing drag. 

These are two major pieces that can slow you down.

The swimmer who holds the best body positioning over the course of a race usually does quite well! 

You’re mobile in the wrong places.

As I mentioned above, swimmers get really locked up in their thoracic spine (mid back) and then transfer movement to the lumbar spine (low back). This is similar to playing with fire. At some point, fire wins. 

Raise your hand if you or one of your swimmers has had shoulder pain? Raise your hand if you or one of your swimmers has had low back pain? 

I bet a majority of the hands went up. The human body is very good at fighting through limitation. Lock up the thoracic spine? FINE! I’ll just move with my lumbar spine. Swimmers can get away with this robbery for a short amount of time, but eventually father time will show up. 

Let’s go back to the arched position during the plank. Say you hold that position a majority of the time while you’re swimming from wall to wall. Then you go to initiate a flip turn and your low back screams out in pain. This is due to the rapid rate at which you exit the arched position into a more rounded position. Instead of being more neutral, you’re going from one extreme to the next. Eventually a little muscle called the QL will make itself seem like it has taken your brain captive and won’t even let you sit down without excruciating pain. Remember, the lumbar spine is supposed to be supportive and stable. 

Next, you’re trying to get maximum length out of your stroke without proper thoracic spine mobility. All of the sudden you’re performing a hard shoulder shrug during each stroke.

Hello, neck pain! Hello, improper dispersion of force through the shoulder girdle. Hello, shoulder pain. 

Again, you might be able to lift a house. You might practice your underwaters more religiously than brushing your teeth, but it doesn’t matter until the correct portions of the body are mobile and stable. You could have all of the strength and power in the world but lack the ability to undulate and use force for forward gain. Again, right room. Wrong seat. 

Dryland will maximize your potential. Yet, you have to focus on the little, mundane, basics of each movement.

Dryland is not hard. It is hard to do the basics, well, day in and day out. 

Feel like this is a sticking point for you? Add these exercises into your routine a few times a week. 

Mobility 

Stability

You worked on force development but not RATE of force development.

This is where I see the biggest misses when it comes to strength for swimming. Swimmers put in the time and get way stronger. They can apply much more force compared to their starting point. However, minimal focus was placed on rate of force development. 

Strength is amazingly important to injury prevention and performance. It is a necessary building block. However, swimming is a time based sport. How quickly you can generate a MEANINGFUL force is also important. This is a simple tweak with dryland programming. 

Take an elite level powerlifter. When the lifter steps up and initiates a deadlift, there’s no award for going the fastest. The lifter can take time generating force throughout his or her body and complete the lift in a nice, steady manner. 

Now look at a swimmer. There is an award for going the fastest. It is called an Olympic Gold Medal. 

Producing meaningful force quickly is very valuable in swimming. Strength is your base. Speed is your weapon. 

The simplest way to start working on rate of force development is to implement jumps in dryland. These require no equipment and are effective for all levels. 

Here are three of my favorite jumps for swimmers. Think about horizontal jumps helping with start performance and vertical jumps helping with walls. 

Want more tips?

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