Science of Performance: Core and Respiratory Dryland Training

By G. John Mullen

SANTA CLARA, California, October 15. THE two previous posts concerning dryland training (See here and here) were background information, laying the foundation for understanding strength training for swimmers. Overall, there is not a lot of information on strength training for swimmers, but the main conclusions were:

  1. High volume dry-land training does not enhance performance.
  2. High-intensity, low volume, short duration dryland training has the highest potential of improving sprint and endurance swimming performance.
  3. There is a lack of research on this area, despite its common use. 

Although dry-land and strength training are used as synonyms, they are far from the same. Dryland isn’t only strength training, as other facets have potential for improvement. Here is information on two additional forms of dryland training. If you want more on dryland and have written dryland programs for your entire team, purchase Dryland for Swimmers!

Core Training:

Many believe core training is mandatory for swimmers, yet the research is lacking on this notion. Other studies and sports have found positive associates with core training on throwing accuracy and proprioception (Lust 2009). In fact, studies have suggested core training can improve throwing velocity by  about 4.9 percent in handball players (Saeterbakken 2011). Balance has also been suggested to improve with core training (Sandrey 2013).

Only one study (that I’m aware of) has assessed core strength and swimmers. Weston (2014) assessed core training in swimming, using 20 national-level junior swimmers (around 16 years old) who were split into either an intervention or control group. The intervention group completed core training, which included lumbo-pelvic complex and upper region extending to the scapula three times per week for 12 weeks. The core training group had a significant improvement in the 50m swim (about 2 percent improvement) as well as on land tests. Peak EMG activity also increased.

Improving core strength in each plane of motion with varying resistances and loads is key for improving core strength. Too often core programs only strength the saggital plane (crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts). Instead, adding core training of the hips, posterior core, rotation, as well as adding dynamic movements and static movements is key for success.

Beginner Core Program

Perform 2 – 3 x / week
Abdominal Bracing 2×10 (hold 5 sec)
Hip Abduction with Band 2x:30
Anti-Rotation with Band 2x:30
Hands over Head Curl-up 4×5
4-Point Hip Extension 2×10 (e)
Maximal InhaleExhale x10

Respiratory Training:

The first time I mentioned respiratory training on Swimming World was in 2013. Since then, I’ve used respiratory training frequently and with great success. For those who aren’t familiar with this form of training, the relationship between breathing and swimming is unique compared to other sports, as land-based sports do not require breath holding. Swimmers have a high respiratory capacity mainly related to elevated lung volumes, compared with both nonathletic peers (similar sex, age and health status) and athletic peers from other sports (Cordain 1988; Magel 1969). These differences may partly express genetic advantages and partly come from swim training (Cordain 1988) where restricted breathing, water immersion and the prone position of swimming are suggested to be conditions that can explain the high-respiratory capacity. From other sports (rowing, cycling and running) the impact of respiratory training on competitive performance is unclear (Sheel 2002; Riganas 2008; Volianitis 2001) but if respiratory capacity is a modifiable ability seen in swimmers, it might also be adaptable to proper stimuli.

Three studies have investigated the impact of respiratory training on swimming performance in athletes at equal performance-levels (Kilding 2010; Wells 2005; Lemaitre 2013) but with contradictory findings.

Kilding et al. (2010) found significant improvements in 100m freestyle performance from 30 repetitions of maximal intensity inspirations, Wells et al. (2005) did not find any change in 200m freestyle performance. The intervention in the latter study was inspiratory and expiratory muscle training for 30 repetitions at 50–80% of maximal inspiratory and expiratory pressure before every swim training session across 12 weeks (ten sessions per week).

Lemaitre (2013) split two homogenous groups of ten swimmers (M=13, F=7; between 13 – 18 years) into a respiratory and non-respiratory training group over an eight-week period. During this time period, the swimmers had the same training sessions 5 – 6 times/week. Respiratory muscle strength and endurance, performances on 50-meter and 200-meter swim trials, effort perception, and dyspnea were assessed before and after. The Respiratory Muscle Endurance Training (RMET) consisted of the use of a SpiroTiger, which helps prevent hypocapnia (a state of reduced carbon dioxide in the blood) despite hyperventilation. The training consisted of 30 minutes of TS per day, five days per week. The results showed that ventilator function parameters, chest expansion, respiratory muscle strength and endurance, and performances were improved only in the RMET group. Moreover, perceived exertion and dyspnea were lower in the RMET after both the 50-meter and 200-meter swims. Performance improved 3 to 4 percent.

More recently, 100-meter performance was predicted by forced inspiratory volume over 1 second (Noriega-Sánchez 2014). This is the first study to demonstrate the correlation with inspiratory speed with swimming performance. The faster a swimmer can inhale likely aids performance by allowing the swimmer to inhale air quicker and increase the amount of air they can inhale in a limited time. Swimmers with high inspiration speed may need less respiratory frequency, produce less inspiratory muscle fatigue, increasing active limbs blood flow and reducing fatigue in these limbs, and consequently may improve performance.

Another avenue for respiratory training is for recovery. Deep breathing was shown to activate the sympathetic nervous system greater than in professional swimmers after five minutes of controlled five-second inhalation and five-second exhalation breathing (Palak 2013).

Also, incorporating maximal exhalation with core training is possible:

Have Fun

One immeasurable aspect of dryland training is having fun. As you create your team’s dryland program, make sure they are enjoying it! If the team doesn’t see the benefit or enjoy the activities, they are unlikely to make gains and improvements. No single dry-land routine fits each swimmer perfectly, and if a swimmer isn’t interested in the dry-land program, it is unlikely they’ll improve. Just don’t get carried away with these features, as some overindulge in dry-land and become too sore, potentially disrupting their motor programming and technique. Make sure to have fun, while making improvements.


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  2. Sandrey MA, Mitzel JG. Improvement in dynamic balance and core endurance after a 6-week core-stability-training program in high school track and field athletes. J Sport Rehabil. 2013 Nov;22(4):264-71. Epub 2013 Jun 24.
  3. Saeterbakken AH, van den Tillaar R, Seiler S. Effect of core stability training on throwing velocity in female handball players. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Mar;25(3):712-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc227e.
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Dryland for Swimmers

The Dryland for Swimmers ebook and video database is the most comprehensive dryland program and guide for swimmers. It includes a detailed dryland research analysis, club programming, and individual programming. 

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