MORE POWER TO YOU!
By Doug Huestis Head Coach Bay Masters



If you are a Masters swimmer who swims in competition occasionally, you probably may have thought about how to develop a bit more power in your strokes. Of course, you could do a few more 'speed sets', some more work with fins or use larger hand paddles.

These are all good ideas, however they all overload your muscles in a relatively small way compared to dry land work. If you want to get really strong; strong enough to make a difference in your swimming power you need to "pump weights" --"lift iron" -- "hit the weight-room". How important is it in developing your best potential? Consider that over and over "research has verified that powerful swimmers are faster" (Costil,et.al.).

To be an effective use of your time, your dry land work must not only be working only those muscles used in the sport of swimming, but also be working them in a way that does not develop excessive muscle mass.

Lastly, your dry land work should not be "a mirror" of what you do in the pool. If you do countless strokes in the pool swimming up and down your lane it serves little purpose to duplicate that same style (high repetitions-low resistance) in the weight room. You might as well swim another swim practice -- but then your power output would remain the same (and some research seems to indicate that it would actually decrease your ability to develop power).

WORK THE PRIME MOVERS

The muscles you want to increase the strength of are the prime movers of swimming. No sense building up muscles that are just going along for the ride! Also, you want to do exercises that most efficiently "hit" those muscles.

Previously determining which exercises were best was largely trial and error. Now we have the use of Electromyography (EMG) to pinpoint exactly which muscle groups are maximally stimulated during specific movements. Basically these machines measure the electrical charges that are generated during maximal muscle contractions. The end result is that we now know exactly which exercises are best for building the muscles that are used in swimming fast!

WHAT SCIENCE TELLS US

Following are the muscle groups that play a major role ('prime movers') in swimming fast, as well as the three best exercises to develop them. After each exercise, in parenthesis, will be the percentage of maximum 'EMG' readings. Most any competent weight room trainer should be able to show you how to do them.

UPPER BODY:

Pectoralis major
1) Decline dumbbell bench press (93%)
2) Decline bench press, Olympic bar (89%)
3) Push-ups between benches (88%)

Pectoralis minor
1) Incline dumbbell bench press (91%)
2) Incline bench press, Olympic bar (85%)
3) Incline dumbbell flys (83%)

Medial, Posterior, Anterior Deltoids (two exercise each, same order)
Medial) Incline dumbbell side laterals (66%)
Medial) Standing dumbbell side laterals (63%)
Posterior) Standing dumbbell bent laterals (85%)
Posterior) Seated dumbbell bent laterals (83%)
Anterior) Seated front dumbbell press (79%)
Anterior) Standing front dumbbell raises (73%)

Biceps (long head)
1) Biceps preacher curls, Olympic bar (90%)
2) Incline seated dumbbell curls, alternating (88%)
3) Standing dumbbell curls(alternate) (84%)

Triceps (outer head)
1) Decline triceps extensions, Olympic bar (92%)
2) Triceps press downs, angled bar (90%)
3) Triceps dip between benches (87%)

Latissimus dorsi
1) Bent-over barbell rows (93%)
2) One-arm dumbbell rows, alternating (91%)
3) T-Bar rows (89%)

LOWER BODY:

Rectus femoris (quadriceps)
1) Squats, to 90 degree angle, with shoulder width stance (88%)
2) Seated leg extensions, toes straight (86%)
3) Hack squats (78%)

Biceps femoris and Semitendinosus (hamstrings), two exercise each, same order
B. femoris) Standing leg curls (82%)
B.femoris) Lying leg curls (71%)
Semitendinosus) Seated leg curls (88%)
Semitendinosis) Standing leg curls (79%)

Gastrocnemius (calf muscle)
1) Donkey calf raises (80%)
2) Standing one-leg calf raises, alternating (79%)
3) Standing two-leg calf raises (68%)


TORSO ('POWER ZONE'):

Be sure to do (daily, if possible) --- work the abdominal muscles, the internal and external obliques, as well as your lower back muscles (erector spinae). Needed to stabilize the trunk during kicking and stroking motions, as well as for quick turns. Ask your weight room trainer for 'favorite exercises' as there is, to date, no EMG research findings as to best exercises.

REPS, SETS, AND 'REST INTERVALS'

So now that you know what exercises to do, just how many repetitions (reps) and sets per exercise should you do? First of all don't try to do all of the above exercises in one session. A good way to break it up would be to UPPER BODY exercises one day, and LOWER BODY exercises on another. In fact I would suggest you do no more than 4 to 6 exercises for UPPER BODY, and no more than 3 to 5 exercises for LOWER BODY (plus 'abdominals'), in any one dry land training session.

If you try to do too many exercises in any one session it just becomes an 'aerobic session' -- and defeats the purpose of developing power. Focused intensity is the key to success. But you can do TORSO (abdominals) every session if you wish.

In order to keep from gaining excessive muscle mass (muscle hypertrophy) -- you need to realize that the way for you to gain muscle power without gains in muscle mass is to force your body to increase muscle strength by training your neural system to be more efficient. Body builders have a lot of strength, but they also have a lot of muscle mass. You want to be like an Olympic weight lifter -- some of them compete in the same weight category (that is with no increase in muscle mass) for successive Olympics, but are still able to increase their 'lifts' (i.e., become progressively more powerful).

In fact, strength researchers have found reps in the 1 to 5 range maximally increase strength with minimal gains in muscle mass, and reps in the 6 to 15 range maximally increase strength through muscle mass gains. I would suggest holding your 'reps' in the 5 to 8 repetition range. As far as number of sets per exercise there is no clear-cut answer, but a good rule of thumb is to do between 3 and 5 sets. The following chart shows the critical relationships in this matter.

TABLE 1 -- RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MAXIMUM NUMBER OF REPETITIONS, INTENSITY AND THE TRAINING EFFECT.

Maximum number of repetitions
% of Maximum (of 1RM)
Training Effect
1
100
Relative strength increases through enhanced neural drive.
2
94.3

3
90.6

4
88.1

5
85.6

6
83.1
Optimal compromise of maximal strength and hypertrophy gains.
7
80.7

8
78.6

9
76.5
Best hypertrophy gains leading to increased maximal strength.
10
74.4

11
0.3

12
70.3

13
68.8
Strength - endurance gains and lower hypertrophy gains.
14
67.5

15
66.2

16
65

17
63.8

18
62.7

19
61.6

20
60.6


So what you want is called neural adaptation, the positive changes in both the motor unit recruitment and synchronization of those motor units to act in unison. And if you can train your muscles to recruit more fibers in any given muscle contraction during your dry land work, you should be able to 'bring on line' more fibers (and thus generate more power) in the pool!

The trick is to give yourself adequate rest between sets -- at least 1 minute -- when doing high resistance lifts, so you can perform your 'reps' at the necessary intensity required. And don't forget to properly warm-up for each exercise -- usually done with lighter weights and moderate repetitions.

As far as how many sessions per week are required, that is determined by the minimal amount of time required for regeneration and repair of the muscle fibers. Usually a good rule of thumb is 24 to 48 hours between UPPER BODY work sessions, and 48 to 72 hours for LOWER BODY. Generally the more muscle mass you have, the more recovery time you need. The same holds true for the age of the athlete.

Now go get pumped!!

Doug Huestis coaches Bay Masters (BAY) in San Francisco. He has served as a member on the USMS Sports Medicine Committee, where he authored numerous articles on ‘Swimming Physiology and Training.’ He holds a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology, and was Head Masters Coach for The Olympic Club (1990-1997) where his swimmers broke over 225 Masters National and World Records and won 4 USMS National Championships and 2 FINA Masters World Championships.

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