Analyzing the Benefits of Cross Training for Swimmers

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Analyzing the Benefits of Cross Training for Swimmers

Whether they’re a club, high school or collegiate level athlete, most swimmers have participated in a dryland or weightlifting practice in addition to regular swim practices. These are just some variations of cross training, a method that swimmers can use to improve their in-water performance as a whole.

Any type of training outside of the water that is designed to enhance swimmers’ performance can be considered cross training. Dryland practices and weightlifting are some of the most common forms of this method, but they aren’t the only ones.

Participating in activities including running, surfing, water polo, boxing, soccer and yoga are some less common forms of cross training. While these activities vary significantly, they can all benefit swimmers in one way or another.

Isolating Muscle Groups

Cross training can be used to isolate specific muscle groups within an athlete. Although swimming utilizes a wide range of muscles, certain groups are used more consistently than others and different strokes require strength in different muscle groups.

Surfing is one activity that can be utilized to improve core strength for swimmers. Abdominal strength gained through surfing benefits swimmers in maintaining their body line in all strokes and strengthening dolphin kicks off walls and in butterfly.

Dryland training can help to isolate muscle groups including the lats, which are used heavily in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly through exercises like pullups.

Taking up boxing to complement swim practices or even incorporate into a dryland workout can help to isolate swimmers’ shoulders. Boxing motions, including roundhouse, uppercuts and windmills, can be helpful in gaining shoulder strength and mobility, and imitating arm rotation in swimming.

Helping Prevent and Recover From Injuries

At times, swimming can be a monotonous endeavor that wears down muscle groups. Cross training can help create variety within swimmers’ routines and to strengthen frequently used muscles like shoulders and lats.

Yoga is one form of cross training that is particularly useful in preventing injuries. Stretching out muscles and joints before or outside of practices can lower swimmers’ chances of experiencing muscle strain, pulled muscles or muscle tears. 

Cross training can also lead athletes to use different muscles than those frequented in swimming, therefore lowering the wearing down of these tissues and chances of a repetitive strain injury resulting from overuse.

Injured athletes can also use cross training to maintain their physical fitness while unable to swim a full practice. Swimmers with a shoulder or upper body injury might benefit from alternative forms of training like running or biking, but an athletic trainer or coach should always be consulted when using cross training while injured.

Active Recovery Tool

Cross training methods can be useful to swimmers in recovering from hard practices. Surfing, running and yoga are all ways for swimmers to recover and drain lactic acid after a workout. These are all activities that can be taken at an athlete’s desired pace, and can therefore be used as a type of extended warm down.

In a 2019 interview with Swimming World magazine, Olympic hopeful Michael Andrew said he picked up surfing as an additional workout and form of liberation from the pool. Participation in cross training can help swimmers to wind down from intense practices and meets and find a form of exercise that isn’t as mentally taxing as their primary sport.

Improve Overall Fitness

In general, almost any sort of cross training will have some sort of physical benefit for swimmers, so long as it isn’t abused or used as a substitute for swim practices.

Core strength can be improved through yoga and surfing, and rotation and mobility can be improved with boxing. Running and biking can help improve swimmers’ cardiovascular endurance while games including soccer and water polo can assist in mobility and strengthening frequently used muscles in swimming.

Dryland and lifting are some of the most common forms of cross training because they are versatile and coaches can incorporate various movements and circuits into a single workout. Dryland exercises are especially useful for building swimmers’ aerobic capacity, and improving younger swimmers’ overall fitness levels.

Weightlifting is useful to swimmers because it can be altered to target specific muscle groups and increase explosive power off swimmers’ walls and in sprints. This form of cross training should be used by athletes over about 15 or 16 years of age. The isolation of muscle groups in this training is practical for older swimmers who specialize in specific strokes and race distances.

Cross training can be a useful tool for any swimmer looking to boost their in-water performance. When considering implementing cross training into a swimmer’s schedule, it is important to be sure the athlete isn’t overworking themselves or replacing swim training with cross training. Cross training should function as a healthy way to give both swimmers’ muscles and minds a break.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.