Many first time triathletes, or those looking to improve their swim, feel weak in the water. The immediate natural tendency is to get stronger in the weight room by adding more weight to bench presses, bicep curls, tricep extensions and lat pulls. The problem with this approach is that most of it does nothing to help one swim faster in an open water race or triathlon.
Strength training for the swim specifically is an important part of preparing for a triathlon. However, rather than hitting the weight room in a traditional manner, the best approach is to work the core and simulate the muscle movement used during swimming.
Core training involves training these stabilizer muscles: abdominals, low back, and hips. Strengthening these muscles is the foundation for your strength training program; for swimming, triathlon, or overall strength and health.
This need for core strength is even more important for swimming, given the use of these muscles not only for stabilization, but for the side-to-side rotation that helps propel the body through the water.
Remember, in swimming we are trying to swim more efficiently and slide through the water like a fish or a boat. Fish and boats don't need appendages to move quickly through the water, which shows you just how important these core muscles are to swimming humans.
There are many different approaches to core training, but I've found that simpler is better when it comes to strength work for a triathlon (with the time it takes to train for three sports, most of us don't have a lot of free time left). You only need a minimal amount of equipment to perform this routine.
Since right now is the offseason for many triathletes, we'll cover a three times a week program.
Yoga helps with flexibility, strength, concentration, and balance. All of these are essential for the swim.
Take a one-hour yoga class once a week to work on these areas. Many different types of yoga are beneficial, but classes that combine all of the above are typically best for triathletes.
If you can't make it to a class, start with these exercises at home:
1. Downward Dog
2. Bridge Pose
3. Tree Pose
4. Warrior 2
5. Balance posture (one leg)
One yoga session per week will open up your body to huge improvements in the water, but add the next two exercises for even greater improvements.
Get an exercise ball and rest your knees against it. Grab a medicine ball or small (5 to 10 pound) dumbbells. Extend your arms and legs and repeat for 10 to 15 reps. Add a second set as you get stronger.
Prone Rows (Rhomboids)
Grab two dumbbells (three to five pounds). Lie on your stomach on the ball with your legs straight behind you (balance on your toes).
Start with your arms hanging off the ball and bring elbows toward the ceiling. Hold for one second and slowly lower. Repeat 10 to 15 times, then slowly increase weight and reps.
Prone Pushup From Knees (Deltoids and Abs)
If you have shoulder problems including tendonitis, don't do this exercise. Lie on your stomach on the ball and walk your hands forward until your lower thighs and knees rest on the ball.
Your hands should be a little wider than shoulder width apart. Bend your elbows and come down to where your chest is a fist width off the floor. After 10 to 15 reps, slowly increase reps and add a second set.
Start with no weight and legs shoulder width apart. With hands out in front, come all the way down. Do 10 reps to start. Add a second set and weight (start with medicine balls) as you gain strength.
Crunches on Ball (Abdominals)
Sit on the ball and walk your feet forward until your back is supported by the ball. With your hands on your chest, flex gluteal muscles and curl up halfway. Hold one to two seconds and lower. Do 10 to 15 reps. Increase reps and add second set as strength increases.
Pullups (biceps, triceps, abdominals, pectorals, rhomboids, lats): Start with as many as you can do, and build up to eight to 10.
Using tubing can help swimmers get into the high elbow pull position that will lead to the most efficient stroke and fastest pull possible. It also allows you to train at the actual tempo you need to swim fast. You can easily hook up elastic tubing to any stationary object at your pool, or at home.
1. Put your hands into the handles.
2. Stand far enough back so that you don't have slack in the tubing.
3. Get into a position with elbows up high, head down.
4. Make sure your fingertips point towards the ground and your wrists are straight rather than bent.
5. Pull straight back and brush your hip.
6. Recover down low, as opposed to over the water like you would in the pool.
Make sure you stop with each rep and get into position for the next pull.
You can practice with the tubing until you get tired. For many, this won't take long at all. If you are doing a tubing workout on a swim day, remember you are putting in work that day and you can give yourself a break in your yardage.
If you are struggling to get to the pool this time of year, you can even substitute a pool workout with a tubing workout. Don't do this too often, but the tubing gives you a little break from the water while still improving your technique.
Try this strength training for swimmers three days a week over the next few months and you'll be rocking your swim by spring next year.
Being different never kept Andy Miyares out of the pool; in fact, its what brought him to it.
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