Lifting in Club Swimming

Weight Training For Teenage Swimmers

by Ashley Illenye, Swimming World Magazine Intern. 

A highly disagreed upon topic in high school and club swimming is whether or not young swimmers should be lifting weights.

There are different types of training outside of the pool. Many clubs participate in dryland activities that do not include lifting weights, like running, core exercises, and push-ups/pull ups. However, fewer club teams have organized ifting programs for their high school swimmers. There is a myth that lifting too young stunts growth, but multiple medical journals have found that this is not the case. The question then stands: when is it most beneficial for swimmers to start lifting?

Orinda Aquatics in California, sets a definite age limit. Pre-pubescent swimmers should not be involved with any heavy weight training. As previously mentioned, this is not in fear of stunting growth, but fear of failure and injury to themselves. This could happen when they are younger, but as the body gets more mature it becomes more equipped to sustain heavy weights. This is why lifting isn’t introduced until swimmers are in high school, when the body is matured enough to handle it.

A divide then emerges. Should a swimmer wait until college until they lift weights, or start in high school?

This would lead many to believe that weight training is okay in any pre-college athlete, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Michael Phelps made the 2000 Olympics team in Sydney without lifting. One of the many ways that Katie Ledecky amped up her training between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics while she was training with Nation’s Capital, however, was adding an extra dryland day a week.

Club Strength Training Pros

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Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

There is a very strong argument for and against lifting in high school swimmers. Successful athletes have come out of both training regiments. For safety reasons, it is simply not beneficial for swimmers under 13 to be doing any sort of lifting with weights. However, lifting in small amounts promotes many benefits for age group swimmers that have reached the high school age.

Strength and power in the water is something that can make a large difference in a swimmer. Water is extremely resistant, so some sort of resistance training may go a long way in a swimmer’s battle of getting the feel for the water. Lifting weights can increase a swimmer’s response to resistance to make it easier to get through the water. Being a stronger athlete can be a major benefit to a swimmer’s high school career, preparing them to potentially get into the best college possible.

A post-puberty plateau is also something many swimmers face. Some never escape their personal bests that haven’t been broken since they were 14, haunting them every time they swim. Lifting can be one thing these swimmers utilize to take them to the next level and develop a feel for the water they hadn’t experienced in years.

Lifting may also promote stability in high-school-aged swimmers. Pre-and-post workout stretching can help significantly with joint flexibility while building muscle. This is an asset in the pool. According to Dr. Dave Geier, 91 percent of swimmers have suffered from shoulder pain. The National Strength and Conditioning association’s recommends that to improve joint stability, young athletes can begin lifting.

With a certified coach, trainer or dryland instructor to facilitate progress, joint stability can prevent injury and promote strength for swimmers at an early age. Before they even begin college, they could end up being ahead of the curve in stability and thus injury prevention. Also, if a swimmer feels that they want to be prepared for lifting in college, they can start in high school to make the transition more comfortable.

Lifting Cons in Club Swimming

G. Bovell Muscle Up

Photo Courtesy: Gary Mullen

There are dangers with lifting that can affect anyone, not just club swimmers. Also, there is the point that the “weight training” that some club teams run aren’t as intense as you will experience in college, so there is still room to improve.

Starting swimmers too young on weight training can be detrimental. It is better to wait until their body has matured and they have more natural strength to be able to undertake even just the bar. As teenagers’ bodies mature, there will be a less likely chance that they will have a stability related injury because they have better control of their body. This isn’t only necessarily linked to age and weight training with a bar. Swimmers should know proper push ups before bench pressing, body weight squats before squats with a bar, etc.

Weight training can be dangerous no matter the age, however. This is not to say that swimmers should never lift, but that they only should when under supervision. To that end, swimmers should not come up with their own strength training, they should have some sort of professional set out a schedule so they don’t end up overworking themselves.

Another negative of club lifting is reaping all the benefits before college. Many swimmers go into college, some vary in the amount of swimming hours, but a significant number of athletes improve in college. This is partially due to the intensity in the weight room, run by their specific university’s strength coach. Strength programs can be personalized to the swimmer’s specialty event. Waiting to lift until college can bring another level to your training when it counts the most.

Weight Training Exercises: 13 & Under

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Photo Courtesy:

The National Strength and Conditioning Association explored lifting in a study to prove that lifting does not stunt growth in youth. They did find that there was a 1% injury rate with controlled lifting, but similar results can be found in lifters on every level. They compiled a list of calisthenic exercises for pre-teens to prepare them for lifting when they are older. These serve as a guideline for any exercises for swimmers under 13, but should serve for any athletes that haven’t begun lifting. This will prepare swimmers, whether they begin weight training in club swimming or college, for organized lifting and its effects on their training.

  • Provide qualified instruction and supervision
  • Ensure the exercise environment is safe and free of hazards
  • Start each training session with a 5- to 10-minute dynamic warm-up period
  • Begin with relatively light loads and always focus on the correct exercise technique
  • Perform 1–3 sets of 6–15 repetitions on a variety of upper- and lower-body strength exercises
  • Include specific exercises that strengthen the abdominal and lower back region
  • Focus on symmetrical muscular development and appropriate muscle balance around joints
  • Perform 1–3 sets of 3–6 repetitions on a variety of upper- and lower-body power exercises
  • Sensibly progress the training program depending on needs, goals, and abilities
  • Increase the resistance gradually (5–10%) as strength improves
  • Cool-down with less intense calisthenics and static stretching
  • Begin resistance training 2–3 times per week on nonconsecutive days

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff. All swimming and dryland training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants.

11 Comments

11 comments

  1. Matt Seadog

    Swimmers in high school and younger should be working their weaknesses and learning how to lift. They should not be doing Olympic lifts in my opinion, unless they are ready. That is why it is important to work with a true professional who can perform a functional / biomechanic eval. Work should focus on achieve being balance at the younger ages based upon evaluation. That is how I do it. Swimdryland.com

    • avatar
      Fred

      Nice Promotion. I’ll visit your site.

    • Max Hughes

      The differences between me and Julian Sementilli to you

  2. Alex Stuart

    Do power towers count as weight training? I’d attribute a lot of my success to the power tower!

Author: Ashley Illenye

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Ashley Illenye is a junior on the Towson University swimming and diving team. Last season, she placed first in the 1650 free, second in the 400 IM and 10th in the 500 free at the CAA Conference Championships. Other than Swimming World, her favorite news source is the Washington Post. She loves to listen to the NPR Politics podcast.

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