Balancing dryside and wetside training for swimmers can be a challenge. USA Swimming defines dryside training as “any training a swimmer performs outside the pool” (Frost, 1999); many of us think of weight lifting and calisthenics. Wetside training, as you might imagine, is any training a swimmer performs in the pool.
The problem with wetside resistance training is that it builds muscular strength, not endurance. Specifically referring to the front crawl stroke, Vliet, Carol & Toussaint found that weight resistance training can lead to small improvements in sprint performance with little to no improvement in endurance. This outcome is not surprising due to the muscle types being trained; typical weight resistance does not train endurance muscles. However, if you add some battle rope training to your regime, it can provide the necessary resistance training to increase your endurance strength.
Let’s take a look at the front crawl stroke. Many muscles in our bodies are utilized in this stroke, and the pulling stroke of the front crawl creates almost 90% of our propulsion (Funk, 2009). The upper body front crawl stroke can be broken into six phases: entry, catch, downsweep, insweep, upsweep, and overwater recovery (Char, 1991).
Our range of motion comes from the shoulder, flexion of the elbow, and rotation of the forearm. The shoulder girdle is comprised of three bones, and several tendons, ligaments, and muscle groups allow us to move the shoulder in the 360-degree motion that is the essence of the front crawl stroke (Ho, 2010).
All the deltoids, lats, pecs, and biceps are the prime working muscles in producing the motion of this stroke, and the muscles of the shoulder girdle and forearm also assist in the stroke. Each one of these muscle groups contains endurance muscle fibers, and a great way to train these muscles to improve endurance is to use battle ropes.
Battle Rope Drills
1. Alternating Waves
This endurance exercise trains the endurance muscle fibers of the upper back and upper arm. The muscles of the shoulder girdle must also assist in stabilizing the rope.
To perform the drill, take the end of a rope in each hand and move your arms up and down. Keep your arm strokes small, which results in smaller and faster arm movements. The upper part of the stroke should end at shoulder level, while the lower level should end at your waistline. The resulting alternating strokes cause the rope to produce alternating vertical waves.
2. Double Waves
This exercise is very similar to the alternating waves above; just hold both ropes together with both hands and make the same up and down arm motion. Since the rope ends are held together and the arms are near the centerline of the body, different muscles are trained: the shoulder girdle muscles, biceps, triceps, and muscles of the forearm. The main difference between the two exercises is that you need to keep your abdominal muscles tight in order to maintain good control of the rope.
3. Side-to-Side Waves
Hold one end of the rope in each hand as in the alternating waves drill and lift the rope to waist level. Twist and swing your arms from side to side, creating a horizontal double wave with the rope. Creating this motion will use much of your upper body muscles, including the deltoids and rhomboids of your upper back, your lats, and your abdominal obliques.
4. Thumbs Up Double Waves
Hold each end of the rope with your thumbs pointing upward and move your arms up and down as you did in the alternating waves exercise. The change in hand position allows for additional muscle groups to be exercised; you’ll work your lats, triceps, and upper muscles of the shoulder girdle, and your lower abdominals are activated to stabilize your body during the drill.
5. Double Circles Waves
Hold one end of the rope in each hand as in the alternating waves drill. Swing each end of the rope in a circular motion, similar to a double-dutch jumping rope exercise. This exercise works the same muscles described in the side-to-side waves drill.
Sample Dryside Training Regimen Using Battle Rope DrillsThe following sample of battle rope drills can be used as part of any dryside training plan to assist in developing muscular endurance. The purpose of these drills is to train and develop your type 1 muscle fibers that are involved in the six phases of the front crawl pulling stroke.
1. Alternating waves 3 x 1 minute, with 30 seconds of rest between repetitions.
2. Side-to-side waves 3 x 1 minute, with 30 seconds of rest between repetitions.
3. Double waves 3 x 1 minute, with 30 seconds of rest between repetitions.
4. Double circles 3 x 1 minute, with 30 seconds of rest between repetitions.
5. Thumbs up double waves 3 x 1 minute, with 30 seconds of rest between repetitions.
6. Double circles 3 x 1 minute, with 30 seconds of rest between repetitions.
Keep in mind that the above regimen is merely a suggestion. The key principle is to train your musculature for endurance, and the longer you perform the exercises, the more type 1 muscle fibers get trained. The number of repetitions and time can be tailored to each swimmer’s skill level and age.
Many different forms of battle rope drills are used to train both muscular strength and endurance. The exercises mentioned in this article are only a small sampling of the drills available when using these rope drills. Drills mainly translate to the direct training of the muscles we use in the front crawl stroke. By adding these drills to their dryside training, your athletes will gain muscular endurance that will complement wetside training.
Chris Myers is a USA Cycling Level 2 coach, a USA Triathlon Level 1 coach, a USA Swimming Level 2 coach, and a Peaks Coaching Group elite coach.
Dr. Lisa Colvin is a USA Cycling Level 2 coach, a USA Triathlon Level 1 coach, a USA Track and Field Level 1 coach, and a Peaks Coaching Group elite coach. She holds a B.S. in Health and Physical Education/Biology, a M.S. in Exercise Science/Counseling, and a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology.
Chris, Lisa, and the rest of the Peaks Coaching Group coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. They can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frost, D. (1999). Middle distance swimming. Retrieved from http://www.swimmingcoach.org/articles/9911/9911_1.htm.
Funk, L. (2009). Swimmer's shoulder. Biomechanics of Swimming, Retrieved from http://www. shoulderdoc.co.uk/article.asp?article=769.
Ho, S. (2010). Emedicine. Biomechanics of Swimming, Retrieved from http://emedicine.medscape.com/ article/93213-overview.
Vliet, R., Carol, M., & Toussaint, H. (n.d.). Effects of strength on sprint swim performance. Retrieved from http://www.azswimminggauchos.org/azasg/UserFiles/File/Effects of Strength training on Sprint Swim Performance(1).pdf.
Exercise demonstration images retrieved from http://mymadmethods.com.
Battle rope image retrieved from http://totalperformancesports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Battling-Rope-.jpg.