The Timing of Strength Training

In Injury Reduction, Periodization by AdminLeave a Comment

Looking at the bodies of the athletes competing in Budapest, I think it is pretty clear that swimmers are strong, able-bodied athletes. However, a less addressed topic is the timing of strength training. 

When should we train? Before swim practice? After Swim practice? 

A Facebook discussion this weekend re-ignited this thought process. 

The Timing of Strength

Strength training can be your greatest asset. It can also make other sport training sessions seem extra tough. Athletes fear soreness, being tight, and lacking the performance they are capable of in practice. When does it fit in to a busy training schedule? What other variables do athletes need to consider? Let’s dive in!   

Off-Season/Early Season

For the swimmer or triathlete, this is your golden time to get stronger. These sports are so high in repetition! Making the focus something other than the sport practice for a while will provide relief to the body, manage imbalances, improve your performance platform, and provide a huge mental break. 

If possible, strength train before your sport practices at this point in the season. Complete the strength sessions when you are most fresh. Just accept that the sport specific work on strength days might feel sluggish. Make these your lower volume days in the water! 

It is fun when a swimmer completes a strength cycle, swims less, and GETS FASTER! I talked about this a little bit in last week’s blog. Sometimes a refocused approach and less swimming is actually more. 

It is always fun when a triathlete hops on the bike for a power test after a strength cycle and hits a new best.

They often look back in disbelief and say, “I’m not even biking much right now. How is this possible?”

Strength doesn’t have to be the enemy! When implemented properly it will catalyze your performance in sport! In the off-season/early season, make it a more primary focus. Decrease training volume in sport practice so you can increase your strength volume without causing injury. Remember, training is about balancing the overall workload correctly. Timing and volume management have potential to be the special sauce you’re looking for! 

In-Season/Championship Season

Now your focuses being to shift. Strength takes a back seat to sport practice and decreases in overall volume. The biggest mistake athletes make is that they completely stop strength training in season. I understand the fear associated with soreness, tightness, and lack of energy for sport practices. Yet, this move is leaving short-term and long-term performance benefits on the table.

Not only that, strength is a necessary ingredient for life!

If possible, position the strength training sessions after your sport practices. This way you are most fresh for the movements you will be doing come race day! 

Now the big key is to manage overall training volume. I understand swimming and triathlon are often associated with high volume training. However, a balance can still be achieved.

As the season progresses, increase the intensity of the strength training and decrease the number of repetitions. 

Pro Tip: Mix in isometric holds to your training. This is a great way to maintain strength without adding more repetitions to the joints! 

Example: Hold the bottom position of a goblet squat for 10 seconds. Complete three rounds of one 10 second hold. 

Managing Volume

If you have ever experienced a nagging shoulder, a bum knee, or an aggravated something or other, your volume of training has probably played a role. One thing I think you should start with is an assessment of your events.

If you’re a sprint freestyler, do you really need to do 5000+ yards? Even better question, is doing 5000+ yards actually hurting your performance? 

Do a little research on the human body and energy systems. You might notice that a lot of swim training does not fit human physiology. Why? “Because that’s how it has always been,” is usually the response I hear.

I think we are behind the 8-Ball on swimming program progression.

All athletes will benefit from better volume management. Do not get caught up in each session volume. I am more worried about weekly and monthly training volumes. We all have a sweet spot and if we drift above that spot too long, injuries begin to surface. 

For example, some of the masters athletes I work with are under a strict “quota” of yardage for the week. We set this quota based off of experiences with injuries and performance in the past. An athlete might have an allowance of 15000 yards for the week. The rule is that as soon as they hit 15000, they are done swimming for the week. 

I’m not worried about how they get to 15000 (Ex. 3×5000, 5×3000). I’m just worried about the weekly volume. Taking a look at training from this approach will set you up for long-term success.

The person who can train the longest injury free will do quite well for themselves in the end. 

Action Items

  1. Think back to the last time you were injured or dealt with pain. I want you to think about what your training volume was like at that time. Stay away from that amount of volume. If you approach that amount too often, you know what is around the corner.
  2. Assess yourself! Strength is more beneficial when you know your weaknesses. Just saying, “my shoulders are weak,” might not tell the whole store. What if it is actually your thoracic spine that is the issue. Be informed and benefit greatly. 
  3. Pick something and focus on it! At different points in the season pick your correct focus. Is it strength? Is it sport? Know when the focus is supposed to shift and adjust accordingly.
  4. Assess your events! Does your training even make sense physiologically? Although we like to think of swimmers as superheroes, they are still governed by physiology.

Let’s Talk Off-Season

Want some pointers for the off-season? Attend our live webinar on August 15th! 

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