YOUNG SWIMMERS AND THEIR NEED FOR A STRENGTH DEVELOPING PROGRAM
Tid Bits of Info
- It has been stated that > 50% of all swimmers develop or have shoulder pain.
- The average high school swimmer will swim > 1 million strokes per season.
- Swimming ranks as a favorite or the favorite activity of people ages 7-17 in the U.S.
- Michael Phelps swam an average of 8 miles per day during his “heavy” training sessions.
- Seek the advice of and treatment of a Physical Therapist if your child or you need a well-rounded exercise routine.
Swimming is a popular sport that can be fun and accessible for many young athletes. In addition to the joy of swimming, it can help young people develop lasting friendships and teach many life lessons. As swimmers become more competitive, they may begin training all through the year. It is not uncommon for these competitive swimmers to participate in 6-8 training sessions and 15 plus hours per week. Unfortunately, the incidence of injury is very high due to over-use type conditions, but these injuries can be avoided. A well-rounded conditioning program that focuses on strength training, proper form, flexibility, and skill development is key for improving performance and avoiding injury.
Competitive swimming has three main phases that have to be addressed during the training sessions: the start, turns and the actual swim need to be “broken” down into component parts and then the training sessions must utilize land and water based drills to promote development of the particular skills.
When a swimmer is attempting to improve speed in the water, it is vital to have the strength and body position that facilitates developing propulsive power to overcome the resistance of the “drag” that is created as the body moves through the water. They must have the power in their arms to pull their body through the water while at the same time they generate kicking power with their legs/feet. Body position in the water can increase or decrease the “drag” through water depending how “aligned” the body is during the swim. Resistance of the water is greatest when swimmers are near or on the surface of the water therefore if they can spend considerable time under the surface they can improve their speed. They need to have the enough strength and flexibility to “hold” their body position properly when they swim.
When these young swimmers are trained, the program needs to develop strength and flexibility in their shoulders, core, hips and ankles. These athletes can spend time in the water and on land to accomplish their strength development goals. When skilled motions such as running, jumping, pulling and pushing are incorporated into the program there is a direct correlation to their swimming strokes and skill set.
Exercise prescriptions and protocols must enhance the swimmers’ strength, power and flexibility. Their ability to generate power secondary to their improved strength throughout the musculoskeletal system will enable them to increase their propulsion force. The proper body posture and alignment in the water will help them to reduce the resistance of the water. If the swimmers are able to keep their hips “high” in the water but not on the surface and their head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles remain in a “line” they will create less “drag” in the water. Their core strength must be adequate to provide the stability to the spine and pelvis that enables them to “hold” their body in the proper alignment while in the water.
Flexibility is critical when assessing a young swimmer’s inadequacies that can prevent them from performing at their best. One easy drill to perform is to have them stand with their back to a wall and maintain contact of their heels, buttocks, shoulder blades and back of their head with the wall. They should be able to raise their arms above their head and touch the wall with the back of their hands without arching their back or moving the other body parts away from the wall. Assessing the flexibility of a young swimmer’s ankles can give insight on how well and efficient they will be able to kick and generate propulsion force. While lying on their back, have the swimmer fully extend both knees and “point” their toes towards the floor as much as possible. The best swimmers can almost touch their toes to the floor due to the flexibility in their ankles into the plantar flexed position.
Land based exercises can help strengthen the entire body of a young swimmer. If they develop strength in their shoulders, core, hips and lower extremities they will have more power to “pull” the water and explode off of the starting block or wall during a flip turn. No one can ever have too much strength. The stronger musculature can help to prevent injuries because they will be more resilient to the forces that are placed upon them when someone swims a lot.
Developing strength and flexibility requires a consistent effort and a regular exercise routine. Young swimmers and athletes can begin a strength development program at any age. They will not experience a large increase in muscle mass until they reach puberty, but they can develop strength. Their program should be based around activities and exercises that are “fun” to perform and concentrate on proper form. Physical Therapists who specialize in orthopaedic rehabilitation can help develop and implement a well-rounded program that will strengthen the shoulders, core and lower extremities and enhance the flexibility throughout their bodies. Increased strength and flexibility will reduce the occurrence of injuries and make the young swimmer better at their sport.
One major downfall of training for swimming events is that most of it is completed in the water. Many individuals don’t completely understand the need for core strength and stability for all sports and exercises. When swimming, the core is used but not challenged enough to strengthen it. This is why land-based exercises are very important for preparing the body to compete in swimming events. As mentioned above, flexibility is also very important to the way an athletes body can move through the water. An adequate stretching/strengthening program that includes a variety of water and land-based exercises should be in place for all swimming athletes.