Plyometric Training for Speed Swimmers
Donald A. Chu, Ph.D., PT, ATC, CSCS

Plyometric training for speed swimmers? Are you sure? Maybe for explosive starts, but what is the best way to train fish on dry land? A "complex" training program with a variety of plyometric exercises, strength and endurance work is an excellent way to train speed swimmers for any distance. Complex training is a workout system that combines strength work and speed work for an optimal training effect. Speed swimming demands an explosive start, powerful push-offs the wall during turns and sprint finishes.

The format that I have used with elite, national and international speed swimmers is a one-hour, dry land workout three mornings a week. These workouts consist of medicine ball trunk exercises, a medicine ball squat series, circuit weight training and plyometric push-ups. This article will discuss the former three. Plyometric push-ups have been covered in previous articles. The key to achieving results with this program is the "coupling" of plyometric training with resistance exercises. The effect is improvement in both strength and power. No other system improves the muscles ability to generate explosive strength like "Complex" Training.

Plyo balls (medicine balls) provide a resistance that can be adjusted on an individual basis based on the weight of the ball and number of repetitions performed. Because most medicine balls are relatively light (6-20 pounds), it is necessary to perform a high number of repetitions. Typically 25-30 repetitions per exercise is not unusual in the execution of a single set. Plyo balls TM can be found in heavier weights and are used as the individual adapts to the exercises with lighter weights.

Yet another method of training aimed at developing overall body tone and endurance is to perform combinations of these exercises in one-minute sets. Choose 10-12 trunk exercises and perform each one for one minute. Suggested exercises for swimmers include:

Crunches Lie on your back. Hold the Plyo ball at your chest and crunch upwards bringing the ball to your knees. Extend the arms so that you reach forward.  
Reverse Crunches Begin by holding the Plyo ball between your knees. Lean back at a 45 degree angle and bring knees up towards your shoulders. 
Pullover Crunches Begin lying on your back, holding the Plyo ball overhead, crunch upwards touching the ball to your knees.  
Pullover Crunch with alternating toe touches Same as pullover crunch with alternating to touches with a bent or straight knee.  
Pullover to a straight leg Lie on the back, holding the Plyo ball over the head with straight arms so that the ball rests on the floor. Raise a straight leg, and pull the Plyo ball over to reach and touch the toe of the extended leg. 
"V" Ups Assume the same position as in the above exercise. Pull the Plyo ball over the head and bring both legs up together to form a "V" with the body. Return to the ground and repeat. 
Trunk Rotation Sitting up with the Plyo ball placed at the lower back. Turn both shoulders and rotate the trunk to one side. Pick up the Plyo ball with both hands. Turn the trunk with the Plyo ball and set it down behind you on the opposite side. Repeat the action. 
Hip Rolls Lie on your back holding the Plyo ball between your knees with your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees. Rotate from your torso, touching alternate knees to the floor.  
Trunk Twist Lean back on a 45-degree angle; holding the Plyo ball with straight arms that are parallel to the thighs. Rotate the entire trunk and arms through a full trunk rotation, repeat side to side. 
Superman with a flutter kick Lie on your stomach with the Plyo ball behind your head. Lift both feet and shoulders off the ground, flutter feet while maintaining the position. 

The squat series with a medicine ball will develop strength and endurance in the lower body. The series includes jumps to work on explosion and power. Most of these exercises can also be performed in one-minute sets. Jumps are usually performed in sets of 10-15 repetitions. Concentrating on maintaining proper form during these exercises will decrease the chances of injury during dry land conditioning.

Squats Holding a 20-30# Plyo ball behind your head, squat to a thigh parallel position.
Front Squat to a Push Press Place the Plyo ball on the chest. Perform a parallel squat and accelerate the ascent pushing the Plyo ball overhead in one motion. Lower the ball to the chest and repeat.
Split Squat Split your legs apart (front to back) so that you have a large, but comfortable distance between the feet. Keeping the torso erect, lower your hips straight down until your rear knee almost touches the floor, then return to the start by pushing with the legs to lift your hips straight up.
Super Fire Hydrants Place the ball on the ground in front of you. Bend at your waist to place both hands on top of the ball. Raise one leg out to the side until it is parallel with the floor. Alternate legs.
Super Fire Hydrant Jumps Assume the same position as stated above. Begin with your feet together. Jump up, straddling the legs and bring them back together for the landing.

* You can also perform a breaststroke kicking motion and land feet together.
Frog Jumps Place the Plyo ball on the ground in front of you. Place both hands on the ball with your legs bent. Explode upwards, placing hands above your head in a streamline position, as if pushing off the wall.

* To make this exercise more difficult, place your hand on the side of the Plyo ball or on the floor.

The weight circuit is meant to focus on muscles that are vital to an elite swimmer's performance. The circuit emphasizes strength in the back, trunk, shoulder and scapular stabilizers . Each exercise is performed at approximately repetition maximum (RM) for 8 - 12 repetitions. The athlete performs one set and moves on to the next exercise. The circuit is performed 2-4 times. The circuit includes machine weights, free weights, medicine ball throws and hurdles.

Number of Repetitions
in Set
Chest Press
Seated Row
Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns
Bent Over Rows
(Elbows held high)
Glut-Ham Machine
(Back Hyperextensions)
Shoulder Press
Leg Press
Back Squat
Standing Overhead medicine ball throws to a mini-trampoline or
solid wall
Standing Backwards throws at a solid wall
24-42" Hurdles 5 x 5 times through, per circuit rotation

The height of these depends on the ability of the athlete. Line 4-6 hurdles in a row. Begin standing on a 12-36 inch high box. Step off the box and jump over the hurdles consecutively.

This method of training enhances trunk stability as well as increasing endurance and strength. The variety of exercises offers a fast paced workout for swimmers and other athletes.

(Before beginning any exercise program consult with your physician.)


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