Building strength as a swimmer is a tough one. You would think that swimming 1.5-3 hours a day, six days a week, for months on end, would help make you stronger. But no, it doesn’t. Yes, it definitely helps you build and maintain your level of endurance/aerobic capacity, but help you gain strength it does not (crossing my fingers there’s at least one Star Wars fan out there).
So how do you go about building up your strength to benefit your swims? Dryland. Dryland, for all of you non-I’ve been swimming since I was six years old swimmers out there, is just a term that some swim coach came up with at some point in time that refers to exercises/workouts on land. Things like plyometrics, static holds, body weight exercises, and weight lifting have all been referred to as dryland by my coaches throughout the years.
I find a good mix of pretty much any kind of those things you like will be beneficial in the pool. That being said, this year I’ve really fallen in love with using the Vasa Trainer SwimErg to help me strengthen my arms to get a more efficient and powerful propulsive phase in the water. If you don’t have a SwimErg, any rack machine with a cable pulldown at your local gym comes in at a close second. You’ll want to fix the cable pull down to be set as high up as it allows, stand below it, and practice your catch and propulsive phase. Start with 5 lbs just to get the hang of the movement, and work your way up from there. While doing this exercise it’s extremely important to make sure you’re allowing your shoulder blade to glide up and down properly to avoid injuring your shoulder joint. You want to make sure you shoulder blade is gliding upwards as you set yourself up to catch, and gliding downwards as you set your catch and pull down.
One way to help keep this motion from putting the power into your shoulder joint? Keep your elbow from dropping in to your side. It’s the same way I’m always nagging on you about keeping your elbow forward and up in the water to allow you to create your paddle, just a different way of thinking about it since you’re vertical for this exercise.
Keep in mind, you’re going to be moving less weight in the water because of buoyancy. This is why dryland is SO IMPORTANT to gaining strength. You can never get as strong in the the water as you can on land!