Dry-land Training

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    I have been trying to explain this to my staff but for some reason it is a very sensitive topic. From an evolutionary perspective it seems insane that we even have to have this conversation.

    When looking at nature, aquatic animals learn to swim by swimming and optimize swimming by more swimming. It is unnecessary for them to do auxiliary exercises to increase the strength of muscles used when they swim. However, it is a common belief by humans that dissimilar training on land will produce desirable training outcomes for swimming performance. If one is to apply this logic back to nature, then amphibians should be the fastest swimming animals. Their added ability to work on land and increased “athleticism” should allow for a greater ability to work in water. Yet, we know this to be entirely untrue. It is well known that a fish is a better swimmer than a frog despite the frog’s superior athletic ability. In fact, the frog’s adaptations gained on land impair its abilities in the water. Could this potentially be the same for humans?

    Is there a different lens I should be viewing this from? If I’m misunderstanding something in physiology please tell me!


    Holy crap! Someone who gets it! You have no idea the number of years I’ve tried to explain this to coaches and especially S&C at the college level. You’d think I was speaking Russian.

    You are dead on about fish. Take birds. They don’t run on the ground to increase “athleticism” so they can fly faster. They just fly, faster.

    Check out “Science of Swimming site” by Dr. Mullen. He has a PhD in Physical Therapy and has an interesting take on lifting/dryland.

    There is intelligent life in the universe!

    Just an FYI. The fastest male in 100 back DI dosen’t lift.

    ? All that is not shared... is lost.


    We need to be careful when using those examples. Anthropometry, range of motion, motor unit recruitment, etc. Birds are born to fly, fish born to swim, humans born to walk upright on land.

    More swimming isn’t necessarily the correct answer. I need to change specific things about my body, which is designed to walk upright on land, to swim efficiently in water. Anthropometry: I can’t change my height or arm span but I can change my weight; currently I need to lose some weight. Range of motion: my arm can abduct upward while internally rotated 90 degrees to a certain point before I feel a stretch in the lats, pecs, coracobrachialis, etc; I want to increase that range of motion to attain the Phelps/Ledecky pull distance. This ROM has nothing to do with walking upright on land (or hunting a sabertooth tiger) only swimming. Motor unit recruitment: nothing else in my everyday life requires me to forcefully adduct the arm while internally rotated 90 degrees; this is purely for efficiently swimming through water.

    Don’t forget that 2 motions used in a swimming race are land-based: pushing off the wall and the block start. It is near impossible to overload the leg/hip extension during the push off the wall because of the glide and the “walk” back to the wall; recovery time is long and you can’t change the density of water. This can be overloaded better on land using countermovement jumps and hip hinge swings. Squats and deadlifts are irrelevant because they don’t replicate the power requirement or range of motion we would need. I also need to increase my range of motion in my overhead arm extension prior to and during internal rotation of the arm. This can’t really be accomplished by swimming because I will routinely reach my current comfortable ROM then begin the stroke. There are a few things I can do on land to apply a stretching pressure beyond that in the pool: dynamic and static stretching generally applies to tendons while eccentric resistance exercise specific to the movement will increase the length of the muscle fiber by adding sarcomeres to myofibril segments (think intercostals, serratus anterior, lats, pecs, tricep long head, coracobrachialis).

    So, you’re correct. Dissimilar training is useless for high-level athletes.




    You make a great point about the structural demands of our bodies. It’s interesting that humans are the only animal that can’t instinctively swim yet we have all dedicated ourselves to bettering it. It sounds like you have a background in strength and conditioning so I would love to hear more of your thoughts!

    I agree that work on land can get the job done but do all or even most swimmers need it? If weight is the issue than any exercise that accomplishes that goal will help. Although it does seem that most coaches forget that swimming is a great exercise to lose weight. Also, you can’t out train a bad diet.

    If ROM is a limiting factor that isn’t being developed by swimming, then we can potentially do some work on land to help that. But forcing kids who have ample ROM to do mobility work seems like a waste of their time.

    Same goes for kids who are limited by their jumping ability. The athletes I have coached who have weak push offs are normally the ones with poor streamlines and underwater skills. It seems our time would be a lot more well spent working specifically on that. The extra push offs you do alone will overload their legs/hips and you will accomplish that goal. I coach a kid right now with a 42” vertical but is just an average swimmer. Why are we still spending any time working on his jumps? (That’s obviously a question directed at myself and my team).

    E.L. Thorndike’s Theory of Identical Elements states that transfer of training lessens as the tasks grow apart. There are identical elements between a jump on land and a push off the wall but the posture is entirely different. I agree there can be some benefit but blanketly saying this will help everyone seems incorrect.

    I can’t deny that land training can help with starts but is it really ideal? Could our time be better spent working on actual dive starts? It seems that doing 15-20 good starts 2-3x a week would build some serious leg strength. And those athletes would be able to work on their entry and breakout which all know to be just as important at the start itself.

    “By training everyone the same we will destroy as much talent as we create”


    You’re correctly applying the principles of specificity and individuality as well as the law “I only have so much time”. As coaches, we want a complete set of tools to train various levels of competence and fix individual discrepancies. Your 42″ vert probably doesn’t need to spend more time on his triple extension; sounds like your staff identified that which is exactly what we should be doing as coaches.

    Everything I’ve written on these forums I might apply to an individual in pieces *if they need work on that specific piece* and if it’s a higher priority item. I only work with adults now, 18-24yo, so the focus is equally spent on power and technique. They also have time on their own to do things in the gym/pool. Sounds like you deal with children and adolescents so your prioritizations will be different.

    ROM becomes an issue after puberty when muscle builds faster. If I started bodybuilding at 14, by 18 I would probably have horrible ROM for throwing a baseball, running, swimming, eggbeater, etc. Everything except deep squats and bench presses. However, if I’ve been swimming since 10-12yo, with good technical ROM, then it won’t be an issue as I build *swimming* muscle into adulthood. It will probably stay with me for years… assuming I don’t get into bodybuilding.

    I guess there are 2 things I’ve been consistent about in these forums:
    1) Rushall is correct that weight training is irrelevant for improving swimming performance. However, in this area, he’s generalizing by grouping every exercise into the term “weight training”. I’m being specific. The hip hinge is a very underdeveloped movement in swimmers (and water polo players). Notice I’ve never said to do pushups, pull ups, deadlifts, lunges, and TWISTING MOTIONS!, etc like every other site (looking at you USMS and NSCA) because those *are* irrelevant. Laughs: https://www.nsca.com/uploadedFiles/NSCA/Resources/PDF/Education/Articles/Assoc_Publications_PDFs/land-based_strength_and_conditioning_%20for_swimming.pdf

    2) You need overload to continue improvements and this can be broken down into multiple single biomechanical motions that combine into a complete skill [isolated biomechanical power specificity and complex biomechanical power specificity]. Costill says that to overload your complete swimming motion swim faster; this works for the complex biomechanical power skill of swimming because water increases resistance exponentially. However, 15-20 good starts will initially overload an athlete’s triple extension on land but after 40-60 starts every week for 8-12 weeks it has adapted (assuming the athlete isn’t gaining weight). The movement speed becomes comfortable so an overload must be applied somewhere to continue muscular development. I would *not* apply weight to a swimmer on the block. I would break the complex skill into isolated motions (in this case the hip hinge and countermovement squat) and apply some weight (5-10% bodyweight creates a minor overload that has been shown to limit the impact on technical proficiency of a complex skill). The block start is a 1 rep-max (in terms of maximum bodyweight power) exercise. After benching 135lbs 40-60 times a session for 8 weeks I’ll be really comfortable at 135lbs but my 1RM progression will have stopped. I need to add weight to keep progressing.

    If John has an awesome start then looks like a parachute when he’s in the water he needs to work on his streamline. If Anna has been doing starts for 10 weeks but still looks like she just falls forward maybe developing power in isolation should be programmed for her.

    Good discussion


    The practice of “dynamic correspondence”? Kinda. Big buzz word especially in the S&C community at least here it is. For those that may not be familiar with D.C. It was first used by the late Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, of the former Soviet Union. He developed the basic criteria for the “specific exercises”.
    1. That the exercise duplicates (not mimics) the same neuromuscular pathway/joint angles as seen in the execution of the competitive skill.
    2. That the exercise develop strength over the same ROM as it is displayed in the execution on the competitive skill.
    3. That the exercise duplicates (not mimics) the same type of muscular contraction as seen in execution of the competitive skill.

    Using the criteria from above it’s really hard to find an exercise that duplicates (not mimics) starts other than doing starts. I guess Dr. Costill, would say “want to be better/faster at starts, then do starts faster/better”. Just doing whatever number of starts per week if not timed, you have no idea if they are getting faster. Just increasing the load probably not going to solve that. Pwr=F/T.

    I believe it’s more a biomechanical issue and acceleration problem, not reps and loading. More specifically biomechanically joint angles at hip and ankles etc. Are the hips lower than their head? (won’t be very fast) and RFD is at the wrong angle. Those corrections will have the greatest return on improving start efficiency. etc. Think track starts, the running kind.

    We do between 10-12 starts a week and between 6-8 SLJ per week. We only do 2 starts at a time with attention to PERFECT, with the SLJs, (do them from the blocks) its about getting them to understand that you will travel further if everything stays connect. Once a month we set-up the reaction plates and get reaction times. The funny thing is, well it’s not really funny, It’s had little to no impact on reaction time. The women are still in the .67 with stdev .033 and the men in the .65 with stdev .032, that’s 50/100 swimmers. Those RT’s track very close to what the top 8 at Seniors/NCAA average. My guess is that’s probably why they don’t do land base sports:)

    Comments on your post about land base vs. aquatic posture. 100% true. That’s the angle Bill Boomer and Milt Nelms come from, in that we have to “reshape” how we position ourselves in the water. We work on it to exhaustion here “Create shape before movement”, “don’t let the boat sink”, “hold the line” etc.. If they can “get it” and apply it to their swimming it’s the best time spent with the greatest impact.

    Just thoughts

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    Speaking of biomechanics, body type, and that sort of thing, I had a revelation the other night. I have been putting more of an emphasis on turns and underwaters this past season because that is a weakness for me. A couple of months ago I swam in a meet where there were 25’s and I noticed that one person that I was even with in a 25 breast, I was getting beat by over half a second in the 50 in the same meet. I got on and off the wall fast and my pullout felt fine so it didn’t really make sense why I was losing so much ground on the second 25 because I closed with good speed. If my pullout on the start is even why do I get destroyed on the pullout off the wall?

    I think it’s not even the pullout it’s self, but the initial push power off the wall. A long time ago, when I used to lift, I had a horrible squat. It’s because of my body type. I have a longer femur which forces me to lean forward more to hold my center of gravity. You can read more about it here https://www.boxrox.com/how-femur-length-affects-squat-mechanics/ . Squats just don’t work for my body type and I hated them. It occurred to me at practice the other night that femur tibia ratio affects your posture as you push off of the wall. I have always struggled with this too, it doesn’t really feel natural. If you think of a flip turn like you are sitting in a chair on the wall, you don’t want your feet too far away from the plane of where your streamlined arms are pointed. The longer your femur is than your tibula, the further your feet are going to be away from that plane unless you get in some weird angle. If you try to get your feet in the same plane it will force your torso away from horizontal to the bottom. This will create a less powerful push off. I can only glide 10 meters off of the wall even in the tightest streamline possible but I think it has more to do with push off power than a bad streamline. I get on and off the wall quick, so clearly I am losing ground from 25-30. My scm vs lcm times in the 50 breast and fly are 30.92/31.19 and 25.91/25.92 so, clearly I am terrible off of the wall. The scm times should be faster.

    I looked at a lot of pictures of elite swimmers who have a big discrepancy between sc and lc and pretty much all of the swimmers who are way better in lc vs sc all have longer femur and shorter tibias. People like Adam Peaty, Sarah Sjostrom, and some are really obvious like Missy Franklin. There are others too. I was watching Peaty’s sc 100 breast https://www.floswimming.com/video/6060634-watch-adam-peaty-cracks-100m-breast-euro-record-with-5594 and he just gets destroyed off of the walls. His start is bad too and a lot of people say it’s his streamline but I also think it has to do with the push power off of the wall. Due to the angles of his legs, he doesn’t get as much power as the other swimmers and you can see him losing ground immediately off the wall.

    Swimmers with shorter femur to tibia ratio are better off of the walls. They talk all the time about Michael Phelps having a long torso and smaller legs all the time. It’s no so much the length but the ratio of the legs bones. You can be huge like Matt Grevers and have a normal ratio so I’m not saying the longer legs the worse it is.

    I also think the femur to tibia ratio has a big impact on underwater fly kicks. All of the swimmers with freakish underwaters have a lower than avg femur to tibia ratio. For some reason, the angle of the legs seem to be more powerful with a shorter ratio. People like Phelps, Lochte, Dressle all have lower than avg and some seem to be on the extreme end like Shields and Hoffer. Ratios and angles make a difference. Two swimmers that are the same height and weight can have completely different body types.


    I’d agree. We have currently the fastest 100 backstroker in DI and he is long bodied and short legged. He has unbelievable underwater work.

    Just and FYI,
    I’m currently working with some software KINOVEA.org, it’s a free download and for the everyday coach it is all they would need. I will say this is it dosen’t play well with Windows 10, but still gets the job done. It can do just about everything Dartfish can do and save you $2k. It would allow you to measure the distance you talk about or come really close. I use it with our kids on underwater work, angles in starts, turns, Br & Fly.


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