Swimming is a complex, dynamic task using the whole body to propel us forward. While many think that getting stronger in the gym will see them swim faster the reality is this is pretty much limited to the top end elite sprinters at an Olympic level and perhaps at the entry level if the basic strength is not there or there is a history of injury. The forces we play with in the pool simply aren’t that great!
Propulsion in swimming comes from locking the hand and forearm onto the water out in front and then using your whole body to rotate the body over the hand. A lot like throwing a ball, swimming is all about the summation of force. The force used to throw a ball starts at the feet, works its way through the kinetic chain (legs, torso, shoulders, arm and hand) to throw the ball with maximum velocity. The same is the case in swimming as forces follow a similar pattern.
So while many are thinking about using their swimming down time as a chance to get stronger with a targeted gym program the reality is it is unlikely to make a great deal of difference. Swimming is about muscular coordination, timing and feel for the water not strength.
Some are thinking of using swim cords to get fit. If you can do it enough to get the HR up there may be some cardiovascular or muscular endurance benefits but most won’t do it for long enough or often enough to offer any dividend for the time invested.
However one thing you can do that may offer a benefit is to practice your high elbow catch. Bands are great at setting the movement pattern for the first part of the catch. Here we don’t pull the arm back; we simply create a paddle with our forearm. The elbow remains in the same position as we grab the water out in front creating a vertical paddle out of our forearm and fingers.
Do this movement enough times and we can ingrain the pattern and also train the deltoid to improve its muscular endurance. Do it frequently enough and we might just be able to change the patterning for when we do enter the water.
With swim cords you can play with:
- Half pulls to get the catch position
- Full pulls to work on the push back
- Kneeling or standing forward rotations, where the cords come from behind you as you go from the “stick-em up position” to hands, elbows and shoulders flat and level
- Paddles are also great for scapula retraction work to overcome the hours we often spent hunched over a key board.
Otherwise this swim down time is a great place to explore the internet for swim advice. Probably start with swim smooth and effortless swimming websites but there is no end to the options available. Watch as many videos of elite swimmers as you can and work on visualising their stroke. This can help with laying down the neural patterns for us for when we do return.
Some pools are starting to open up if you are super keen but for most a different route may be worth the investment.