“But Coach, I signed up for swimming, not running!” (Coaches’ Corner May 6, 2019)

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Coach Jon, SR1.

Ever swimmer who has had to attend dryland has thought these words, and perhaps even said them aloud. Why does swimming include dryland training? Isn’t there enough aerobic training in the pool?

The answer to these questions, as with so many others in life, is…complicated.

We do plenty of training in the water and, theoretically, that should be “enough” aerobic training, which makes the purpose of dryland even more confusing…perhaps it’s just a coach’s way of “torturing” their swimmers?  Truth be told, this is not the case. The coach’s goal is to make the swimmers the best they can be. This is through placing a swimmer in a group that will optimize their skill set and level with their swimmates, creating a season plan that will allow swimmers to “peak” at the right time, and running practices that will improve swimmers’ technique, endurance, fitness, confidence and abilities. Dryland plays into this.

Having coached swimming for five years now, one thing has become clear: many developing athletes don’t know how to use their body or apply it optimally for tasks such as swimming, diving, and other general athletic tasks. This is where dryland can be used strategically.

One goal of dryland (either during activation or a stand-alone dryland session) is to increase an athlete’s body awareness and teach them how to use various muscles and maneuver their body in ways that can optimize swimming performance. An excellent example of this is the “plank” exercise or, my personal favourite, “leg raises”. These exercises are key in helping a swimmer establish and become familiar with what a body line is and gain ease at getting into that position. At the same time, the exercises also develop the muscles required to maintain a streamlined body position. The goal is for this practice to translate into swimming, so that a swimmer will not “worm” or “snake” through the water as they swim.  With all of the water movement along the body when an athlete is swimming, it is much harder to feel and be aware of this body position. Enter dryland, where the athlete holds the position for an extended period of time, and becomes hyper-aware of what muscles must be used to maintain the position.

Another important part of dryland is the “cross-training” component of it. A swimmer in the water does not feel the effects of gravity or elevation while training. However, a runner experiences gravity’s fullest effects, as the heart must pump blood against gravity at an increased demand. This results in physiological changes to the heart musculature, in essence increasing the heart’s efficiency. A swimmer who takes advantage of the benefits of running is thus gaining an edge on the competition who do not train to this extent.

And this is ultimately your coach’s goal: to find a way to give you an edge on your competition in any (legal) way possible to help you achieve success.

So, as dryland begins next week, rather than moaning about it or suspecting your coach simply enjoys watching you suffer, look at the training as an advantage you are gaining on your competition, and push yourself to see how big of an advantage you can make it!

For more on this topic, check out this NY Times piece, The Heart of a Swimmer vs. the Heart of a Runner here.