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Distance swimmers usually aren’t the biggest and most muscular swimmers in the pool. Your strongest and most muscular swimmers are usually the sprint swimmers, followed by the middle-distance swimmers and only at the very end will you find your distance swimmers.
That said, weight training for distance swimmers can still definitely help to increase your overall speed in the pool and help you to become a better swimmer.
In a recent article, I discussed the different types of “strengths” used in swimming. You can read the full article here- Strength and conditioning for swimmers.
In short, there are 3 different types of “strengths” used in swimming and sports in general, let’s take a look at them as it is important to understand in order to optimize your weight training-
Maximal Strength: The largest quantity of power or force that a swimmer is able to produce within a certain movement or action. In swimming, maximal strength can apply to the start and turns off the walls.
Strength Endurance: The swimmer’s ability to produce a specific amount of force or power in the water and being able to sustain that amount of power over the course of a race. This applies to the majority of the race in any given event, not just for distance swimmers.
Peak Power: The maximum rate of work that a swimmer can apply to their body. Typically found near the end of a race as the swimmer pushes their body to the limit to achieve the maximum amount of speed that they can with the energy left.
All of these strength qualities play an important for distance swimmers to swim faster and perform better in the water. However, it is quite important to take note that a lot of the time these strength variables overlap each other.
For example, a swimmer won’t be able to develop strength endurance in a certain movement if at first, they don’t have the required amount of maximal strength for that movement.
A more practical way to explain this would be to give you an example. Let’s say a swimmer is given the task to bench press 60kg for 20 reps (strength endurance), but their maximal strength is only enough to bench press 1 rep of 60kg.
Thus it is impossible for that swimmer to develop strength endurance at that level since their maximal strength isn’t enough yet.
Putting it into the perspective of training for a distance swimming race you might give a swimmer the task of swimming 20×100’s holding 1:10, but the swimmers 100 PB is only 1:00. Thus it would be nearly impossible for that swimmer to hold 1:10 for 20×100’s, maybe 4-6 would be possible, but not 20.
So by now, I hope you have caught onto what I am trying to explain. It might seem like the most practical and logical way for a distance swimmer to improve would be to directly train strength endurance but without a good base of maximal strength that would be nearly impossible.
Thus it is most important for the majority of non-elite swimmers to first focus on maximal strength before working on things like strength endurance. Maximal strength takes months and in many cases even years to develop to a high level.
Only highly elite swimmers need to focus on the smaller and more advanced details like directly training strength endurance and peak power.
Weight training for distance swimmers can be very beneficial. Exercises used may not necessarily differ from those of sprint swimmers, but the reps ranges and weight used will. Weight training for distance swimmers can help to strengthen major muscle groups and increase muscular strength and endurance in the water.
Keep in mind, weight training definitely can help and can be a great tool to further enhance your swimming performance, but swimming technique is always number one priority so make sure to nail your technique first. Consider checking out my article on the 7 steps to perfect distance swimming technique.
Weight training for distance swimmers
With all that said, I am going to give you a list of weight training exercises that you should focus on to develop a solid base of maximal strength over the coming months and years.
The following list of weight training exercises can be done by distance swimmers, middle-distance swimmers, and even sprint swimmers. The point isn’t about what class you fall into, the point is about improving maximal strength in and outside of the pool.
These exercises are compound exercises, meaning they focus on training more than one muscle group at a time. This is good for swimmers since swimming requires most of the body’s muscles to fire at the same time for optimal speed in the pool.
DISCLAIMER: Weight training exercises are probably one of the best ways for swimmers to develop maximal strength and become stronger, but they are also easy to get injured on if you don’t use proper technique. See my article on the 8 weight lifting guidelines for swimmers to stay safe in the weight room.
Always make sure to learn proper technique before going heavy on these movements. Consider asking someone with experience for advice.
8 Best weight training exercises for endurance swimmers
Here are 8 top weight training exercises for distance swimmers-
- Barbell back squats
- Barbell front squats
- Bench press
- Overhead press
1. Back Squat
The back squat is one of the most effective weight training exercises for swimmers to develop lower body strength.
Many muscle groups are used during the back squat including the- quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abs and even the arms (but only at low levels of activation).
Many strength coaches recommend the back squat for developing maximal strength and explosive power. The back squat will help you to build strong legs which in return will help you to develop a solid kick.
A good kick is an very important part of being a good endurance swimmer as it is the driving motor behind your stroke when you start to get tired near the end of your race. Developing it can be the difference between gold or last place.
2. Front Squat
The front squat is very similar to the back squat, but the focus is slightly different.
During the front squat, there is much more quadriceps activation and less glute activation. The front squat requires a more upright position and more stability.
Further, everything is mostly the same. Maximal strength and explosive power will also be developed during this movement.
Overall, the front squat is a great weight-lifting exercise for distance swimmers. It will also help you to build a stronger kick, and will help with things like balance and stability in the water which are important for good swimming technique.
3. Bench Press
The bench press is one of the most effective weight lifting exercises for developing overall upper body strength. The majority of emphasis is placed on the chest, but the shoulders, biceps, triceps, and abs are still activated and trained.
The bench press is an effective weight training exercise for swimmers to develop maximal strength and it can even be geared towards strength endurance specifically in the later stages. The bench press can help you to develop a strong upper body, which is important for all swimmers.
4. Overhead Press
The overhead press is another awesome weight training exercise for swimmers to improve maximal strength.
It is a great compound exercise for swimmers to develop strength in the shoulders and arms.
The shoulders play a large role in having a powerful and good arm stroke in the water, along with the biceps and triceps. The overhead press trains all of those muscles, ultimately making it a great weight lifting exercise for swimmers.
As swimmers, we are also in the overhead position a lot of the time. Thus strengthening it will help to protect the muscles in those areas from injury and will also improve your swimming efficiency when in the overhead position.
Tip: Weight training isn’t the only way to become a faster swimmer, tech suits can also help to enhance your swimming performance in the water, consider checking out my article on the 8 best tech suits for distance swimmers.
The deadlift is one of the best compound weight training exercises out there. Almost all of the muscles in the body is used during the deadlift.
Muscles from the upper back all the way down to the calves are activated during the deadlift.
The deadlift can help swimmers to develop a lot of maximal strength and explosive power, whilst strengthening a lot of important muscles.
There are many variations of the deadlift that place emphasis on various muscle groups. For distance swimmers I recommend the trap bar deadlift as it has been shown to be the most athletic deadlift variation and will train all the important muscles used in swimming.
Quick Note: When performing the deadlift make sure to push your chest out, retract your shoulder blades, and keep the lower back in a rigid position to avoid injury.
6. Pull Ups
The pull-up is another great compound weight training exercise for developing upper body strength. There are high levels of lat activation during the pull-up.
The lats are large muscle groups largely used in the arm stroke. They are responsible for helping the swimmer to develop large amounts of speed in the water by developing a strong pull.
The pull-up can be performed as a body weight exercise, but also as a weight training exercise by adding weight to it using a weighted belt or weighted vest.
Further, the pull-up also trains the upper back, arms, and abs, making it a great compound exercise for endurance swimmers, like yourself. Consider checking out my article on why every swimmer should do pull-ups for more information.
7. Chin Ups
The chin-up is very similar to the pull-up but places more emphasis on bicep activation. That being said, there are still very high levels of upper-back and lat activation during the chin-up.
Like the pull-up, chin-ups will also help to develop large amounts of maximal strength and explosive power in the upper body. It can be performed both as a bodyweight exercise but also as a weight training exercise by adding weight to yourself when performing chin-ups.
Overall the chin-up is a great weight training exercise for endurance swimmers that will help you to develop upper body strength and a stronger pull.
The dip is the final weight training exercise on our list. Dips are another excellent compound exercise to develop upper-body strength and power.
The dip uses the chest-, triceps-, and bicep muscles. Dips have some of the highest levels of tricep activation out of all of the exercises on this list. The triceps are responsible for a strong and powerful pull.
Like the last few exercises, dips can be performed both as a body weight exercise but also as a weight training exercise. I recommend making sure you can do it properly using just your own body weight first and then add weight.
Quick Fact: The tricep muscles make up 2/3 of your arm muscles, making them an important muscle group to train.
Progressive overloading: Becoming stronger.
Before I finish off this article there is one more very important aspect to cover when it comes to weight training for distance swimmers, and that is progressive overloading.
Progressive overloading is a term used to describe the progressive increase in workload or resistance on a trainee. Ultimately this progressive increase in resistance over time will allow the endurance swimmer to become stronger and faster.
If you do not apply progressive overloading in your weight lifting program you will not be able to become stronger after a certain number of weeks and you will plateau. Thus it is highly important to do so.
You need to understand the fact that the human body is constantly becoming stronger and adapting to the resistance you apply to it. If you are able to bench press 60kg today your body will adapt to that and become stronger.
To avoid plateauing you need to increase the resistance. Luckily this is quite easy and there are a few ways that you can do it-
- Increase the weight (lift more).
- Do more reps.
- Increase the total amount of sets.
Those are some of the most basic and effective ways to apply progressive overloading to your weight training. You don’t have to increase weight or volume every workout. Increasing it a little bit every 1 to 2 weeks will be sufficient for swimmers.
So there you have it a full guide on weight training for distance swimmers. I highly recommend swimmers to do weight training. It will definitely help you to become stronger and faster inside and outside of the pool.
I know you might still have hundreds of different questions regarding weight training for swimmers. Luckily for you, I wrote a full guide on weight lifting for swimmers answering some of the most common questions among competitive swimmers.
You can read it here- Swimming and weight training, the swimmer’s ultimate guide.
That said, if you enjoyed the article and found it helpful, consider checking out my blog for more swimming content. I cover a wide range of swimming topics helping you to become a better and faster swimmer.
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