Strength training and swimming have always been a debated topic. In fact, some argue that strength training and/or plyometrics are not beneficial for swimming performance. I personally performed a comprehensive strength training for swimming review and produced Dryland for Swimmers. However, new research is evolving and new research on how strength training improves swimming starts was recently published.
Strength Training Improves Swimming Starts
A recent study looked at 27 adolescent female (n = 12) and male (n = 9) swimmers (mean ± SD: age range: 14.0–23.6) competing at an international and national level with no experience in weight lifting and barbell exercises were recruited. Before the study, the swimmers had been doing a bodyweight program for 45 minutes before the afternoon twice per week and for 20 minutes on other days.
Two weeks before the study, all athletes were familiarized with the back squat, deadlift, countermovement jump (CMJ), and squat jump (SJ).
Maximal Strength Training
The load was gradually increased during the 6-week training period, as recommended previously. Heavy back squat [read here if you want to learn how deep to squat] and deadlift exercises were performed as 3 sets of 6–8 repetitions in weeks 1–3 and as 4 sets of 2–4 repetitions in weeks 4–6. Sets were separated by a 5-minute rest period. For both the squats and deadlifts, barbell weight was chosen to assure muscular failure during the last 2 repetitions of the targeted repetition range.
Maximal Jump Training
Vertical jumps were executed as unloaded box jumps, and the training program was designed to match the neuromuscular demand of the maximal strength training. Box height, for the box jumps, was continuously adjusted to challenge the athletes but assure a safe and high-quality landing on top of the box.
Before and after the training period, all athletes performed 5 regular freestyle competition starts up to the 25-m mark.
Results on Plyometrics vs. Strength Training for Starts
Strength Training Data
- First to the sixth training session Back Squats of 6–8 repetitions from 43 ± 11 to 52 ± 11 kg
- First to the sixth training session Deadlifts of 6–8 repetitions from 48 ± 15 to 62 ± 20 kg
- Seventh to the 11th training session within the targeted range of 2–4 repetitions for the back squat, barbell weight increased from 61 ± 11 to 65 ± 12 kg
- Seventh to the 11th training session within the targeted range of 2–4 repetitions for the deadlift 71 ± 19 to 79 ± 20 kg (p < 0.01)
- First to the 11th training session, box height increased from 75 ± 9 to 96 ± 7 cm (p < 0.01).
Swim Training Data
Swimming training was similar between groups.
Sprint Start Performance
There was no difference in baseline horizontal take-off velocity between the maximal strength and vertical jump training group. From pre- to post-, sprint start performance, i.e., the 5-m, 10-m, 15-m, and 25-m split times, remained unchanged in both groups. Vertical jump training indicated an improved peak resultant horizontal force times body mass (BM) after 6 weeks of training. The remaining kinematic and kinetic parameters were unaffected.
The main findings of the study were that there was no global effect and that sprint start performance remained unchanged after 6 weeks of training in both groups. However, the pooled data of the junior U17 swimmers revealed an improved sprint start performance over the 5-m, 15-m, and 25-m split times after 6 weeks of maximal strength but not vertical jump training with 2 weekly sessions.
Strength Training Improves Swimming Starts...
For U17 swimmers, it seems strength training improves swimming starts, but clearly more research is needed. Future research needs to assess a more complete power based strength training program. It should also monitor the improvements for a longer period of time. Lastly, it should consider a combination group of plyometrics (likely weighted) and strength training.
Nonetheless, a beneficial research study for swimmers, as it looked at good swimmers, compared two programs and was progressive. However, this study doesn't provide a loud endorsement for swimmers to perform strength training or plyometric training.
- Born D-P, Stöggl Thomas, Petrov A, Burkhardt D, Lüthy Fabian, Romann M. Analysis of freestyle swimming sprint start performance after maximal strength or vertical jump training in competitive female and male junior swimmers. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2019;1:1-1. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003390