Try Dryland Training for Improvement & Variety

by Coach Mike Collins

Any day now the fog & rainy weather will break and we will begin to enjoy the sun of Springtime. What a great opportunity to improve your fitness level. Your body adapts to the stress of training over time, and after seeing some improvement, you will often plateau if you continue to stay in the same training routine. This plateau effect causes many people to lose motivation, feeling they can no longer improve. Some will even slip backwards in their fitness level as they begin to train less due to the lack of motivation. Dryland training is a great way to break-through a plateau and move up to a new level of fitness, strength, & speed.

What is purpose of dryland training?

Watching Masters swimmers for the past 8 years I have realized that most people have some pretty major stroke technique flaws. That's no "breakthrough" realization. The interesting part is WHY they have these stroke flaws AFTER they've been shown how to do it correctly. It's because most people CAN'T do certain motions needed to execute efficient stroke mechanics due to a lack of strength or flexibility (Range Of Motion). Many never take their muscles through the full range of motion or increase resistance to build strength. Although water produces some resistance it is still not enough to build significant strength. Dryland training helps increase strength, power, flexibility, & coordination, while decreasing the risk of injury.

What kind of Dryland Training should I do?

Try to develop a dryland program to improve your biggest weakness. However, don't over-do it. Seek balance throughout the body. Ask yourself: What are my biggest weaknesses and what exercises will help me improve? I kind of categorize people into four basic categories:

1. Strong & Flexible.

Optimal but very rare. This what world class swimmers have. They are very loose but have INCREDIBLE strength through a full range of motion. Kind of like a rubber band - It streeeeetttches but SNAPS! back.

2. Strong but Inflexible.

Very tight, limited range of motion. Can produce a lot of power, but only through a small range of motion, often counter productive to forward propulsion in the water. (Your typical weightlifter/bodybuilder type). Stretching and Full Range of Motion exercises in tight areas should be the primary focus.

3. Weak but Flexible.

These people, often women or kids, have great range of motion, but no POWER to move through that range of motion. VASA is for you! Also, dips and pushups will help build upper body strength.

4. Weak & Inflexible.

This comes with age and lack of use, or over-use in a different sport (like the lack of ankle flexibility in runners). Also previous injuries may cause exceptional weakness or inflexibility. A good mix of strength exercises with fleibility work. Over doing one or the other may cause injury.

Where do you fit in these categories? You may find you are in a couple. Maybe your legs are category 3, but your shoulders and arms are category 2.

Making a Routine

There is no "magic" dryland training routine which will make you faster, stronger, and more flexible. The key is to do something you find enjoyable that you will stick to doing. Regularly measuring your progress is a good way to get you to CONSISTENTLY do the exercises. Start with basic calistenics: pushups, dips, crunches. You may get tired, slower, and sore before your body adjusts and becomes stronger. But this is the price necessary for long-term improvement. The following are a few ideas to get you started.


Stretching should be a part of everyone's dryland program. Remember not to stretch too far, too quickly, or when you are cold. Save stretching for the end of your dryland set or after swim workout when your muscles are much warmer and looser. Hold stretches lightly, but for a long time for maximum benefit (:30 seconds to 2:00). A great source for how to stretch is Bob Anderson's book, STRETCHING.

The belief that stretching is the way to increase flexibility, while weights will make you stronger but tighter is not totally true. With light weights used through a "full range of motion" for several reps you can actually gain flexbility while at the same time improving strength.

Crunches, Crunches, Crunches!

The core of your body is where POWER is generated from. If you have a weak middle your body position & stroke technique will often fall apart quickly. Good core strength is essential! Rent or buy a tape like Abs of Steel to give you workout routine ideas that are challenging, productive, creative, and most importantly - SAFE. We now have padded mats at the pool so you will be able to do some dryland ab work. However, a folded towel will still do the trick too.

Try The VASA

The VASA is a swim bench/sled that can improve strength, power, endurance, coordination, and technique. If used properly it can closely simulate the motions used in swimming. Emphasis when using the VASA should ALWAYS be on proper technique! It is useless to make your muscles stronger in motions that are counterproductive to swimming faster! Keeping the elbows high is the most critical factor when using this machine. A booklet which includes several exercises is available for you to look at (at Civic Center Pool). I highly recommend looking through the book. The machine is fairly simple, but their are MANY different exercise which can be executed on it. Get a coach to watch you use it to make sure you are going through the motions correctly.

Dryland Test Set

How many reps can you do in 30 seconds:

Michael Collins is the head coach of the Davis Aquatic Masters (since Jan 89) as well as the USMS Coaches Committee Chairman (since 1994). Collins was named the USMS Coach of the Year in 1990. He has written a workout book entitled A DAM Good Year, and is currently working on an updated edition. Collins travels around the country giving motivational talks and swimming clinics including video analysis. >