Preseason Training for Teen Swimmer

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General Conditioning for Swimmer

My 14 year old daughter is joining the swim team this year. Although she swims recreationally during the summer, this will be her first year in competitive sports. There is no pool at her high school. I understand they begin practice in a pool at another school in one month. Until that time, their swim coach has organized an after-school general conditioning class on the weekdays where the kids will run and do calisthenics. It is not mandatory so I'm wondering if would be better to have her start lifting weights instead.

Lap SwimmingAlthough swimming would provide the most benefit, you could consider other forms of exercise during your general conditioning period. See Classic Periodization.

Studies showing the beneficial effects of weight training in swim training appear to be mixed; Tanaka & Swensen (1998) review of the scientific literature concluded that resistance training offered little benefit for swimming endurance stating...

In contrast to running and cycling, traditional dry land resistance training or combined swim and resistance training does not appear to enhance swimming performance in untrained individuals or competitive swimmers, despite substantially increasing upper body strength. Combined swim and swim-specific 'in-water' resistance training programs, however, increase a competitive swimmer's velocity over distances up to 200 m. Traditional resistance training may be a valuable adjunct to the exercise programs followed by endurance runners or cyclists, but not swimmers; these latter athletes need more specific forms of resistance training to realize performance improvement.

However, Aspenes et al. (2009) found that two weekly sessions of dry land strength training improve the swimming force. The calisthenics you had mentioned the group would be performing should be sufficient to begin developing general strength and muscular endurance.

If your daughter does not have access to a pool until next month, 2-3 non-consecutive days per week of running would be somewhat beneficial and certainly better than nothing at all during the beginning phase of her conditioning period. Although there is relatively little transfer of fitness (running to swimming performance) for experienced swimmers, there may be some general fitness improvements for those with relatively little athletic conditioning (Tanaka 1994). See Cross Training and Specificity of Aerobic Training.

Even though swimming would be dramatically more beneficial than running for your swimming goals, you may want to encourage your daughter to take advantage of the preseason training offered by your coach, if she does not have access to a pool at this stage. Also, building comradeship with her peers (working out with her teammates) can be a rewarding experience if she's up to it.

However, running beyond 3 non-consecutive days per week may increase her risk of injury without much additional improvement in fitness. See Frequency and Duration of Running Study.

Brent S. Rushall, Ph.D, an exercise science professor at San Diego State University explains in his Annual Planning for Swimming Fitness:

The basic preparatory phase can include activities drawn from sports which are related to swimming. For example, surf-ski paddling (arm-dominant work), upper body gymnastic activities (also arm-dominant work), and running (basic circulatory function), have carry-over possibilities for basic swimming fitness. Such activities usually contribute to some basic physical capacity that is required in the sport. This phase of training would also include the greatest amount of auxiliary training (medicine ball work, free-standing exercises, specific remedial resistance work, etc.). However, because such activities are beneficial for establishing a physiological base, does not mean that they are just as beneficial when highly specialized training is employed. At that time, they have the potential to disrupt refined neuromuscular patterns associated with skill.

To all intents and purposes, when a swimmer is not swimming, the adaptations of swimming totally lack stimulation and undergo a level of inactivity that is equivalent to bed rest. Such an assertion may be questioned by many coaches who believe in "cross-training" and the value of doing non-swimming activities to benefit swimming. However, the research evidence is very clear that training effects are very specific and for an unnatural sport such as swimming there is very little benefit, if any, from doing activities other than swimming (Rushall & Pyke, 1990). For example, Costill, Sharp, and Troup (1980) concluded that swimming strength is best achieved by repeated maximum exercises that duplicate as closely as possible the skill of swimming. The most appropriate exercise that they suggested was a series of maximum sprint swims.

Professor Rushall, also outlines a sample land based general conditioning program for younger swimmers.

Aspenes S, Kjendlie PL, Hoff J, Helgerud J (2009). Combined strength and endurance training in competitive swimmers. J Sports Sci Med. 1;8(3):357-65.

Rushall BS (1994), Annual Planning For Swimming Fitness. Nswimming Coaching Science Bulletin: 2(6).

Rushall BS, Marsden J, Young C (1993). A suggested program of foundational conditioning exercises for age-group swimmers: A manual for coaches. NSwimming Coaching Science Bulletin, 2(1), 1-23.

Tanaka H, Swensen T (1998) Impact of resistance training on endurance performance. A new form of cross-training? Sports Med. 25(3):191-200.

Progressive Preseason Conditioning

We actually have access to a pool at our local YMCA. I encouraged my daughter to “get into shape.” When we go to the Y which this time of year has been more sporadic, she is not working out at the same intensity as her coach would have her work. She needs someone to motivation her like in her PE class. I agree I think it's good to get to know the other kids. Two good friends will be on her swim team but they are not attending the preseason conditioning classes. That's why I'm now encouraging her to go daily to conditioning. She does a workout at the Y but isn't pushing herself. She has only swam once or twice because she didn't know what to do to practice in the water. I thought about seeing if she could have a session with someone, but there are some times I can't go get her after school.

It would be most ideal if she could start swimming in 3 non-consecutive days, if you are able to find a way to get her to the pool. This would be much more beneficial (and sport specific) than running and calisthenics that she would otherwise be doing in the class you have mentioned. An alternative approach, possibly decreasing boredom would be swimming twice a week (eg: Mon & Thurs) and conditioning class on two other days (eg: Tues & Fri). Understandably, compromise may need to occur between the ideal training schedule and your availability to get her to the pool.

Perhaps, she can invite her two friends to swim some laps with her at the Y as her guest, if they are not already members. If they are already members, you could talk to the other parents about taking turns once a week transporting the kids to and from the Y. After they get done with their laps, then they could be given some time to have some fun in the pool or around the Y.

If it is within your budget, a personal swim coach would be very useful to provide her guidance, particularly with her swimming techniques. They should have experience with the special needs of young novice swimmers, since many swim coaches would likely start her out with too many laps, especially in a group setting since they are likely working with more conditioned swimmers. Likewise, even the group lap swim programs at the Y will likely be be too much for your daughter at this early stage. Ask to speak with the Aquatics Director and see if she can suggest someone.

Without a personal swim coach, your daughter can begin by doing a few laps of each basic stroke, but not too much at this early stage. Contrary to popular misconceptions, she does not need to be pushing herself much at this point. Being she is not accustomed to regular swim training sessions, even the least amount of swimming will yield significant results at this early stage, as long as it is consistent and progressive with adequate recovery. The training response is all relative to her current state of fitness. All that is required to make progress at this point is swimming regularly at a mild intensity with subtle weekly progressions.

The most important thing is she develops enjoyment in this process. It is very common for parents like us, and even coaches to push kids young too hard. Then they end up never enjoying the process and even developing ill feeling toward exercise. Pushing herself hard will come later and it should be her decision, as much as we would like to see her progress rapidly and succeed.


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