Commonly, on pool decks around the world, we see very young swimmers performing some sort of dry-land activity- typically exercises that emphasize strength, power, and conditioning. Regretfully, these exercises are executed even when little ones have forgotten how to do a squat or are unable to carry out a proper push-up without stressing the glenohumeral (shoulder) joints, and therefore increase their risk of injury. Surely, these components are vital for fast swimming, but not necessarily the first thing that we want to see young swimmers do when they are introduced to dry-land training.
Although no evidence exists that resistance training is harmful for youth athletes during professional supervision, there are no guarantees that club teams have qualified strength coaches working with them to ensure safe weight lifting. The most recent data suggests that children’s training-induced strength gains are primarily related to neural adaptations and potentially intrinsic muscle adaptations, rather than hypertrophy (Granacher, et al., 2011). In addition, each child is influenced very differently to a training program at such young ages depending on their physiological plasticity (Kreamer, et al., 1989). However, we still see young swimmers do lunges around the pool deck, high volumes of improper pushups, and squat jumps. Consequently, this just might increase the risk of injury. Instead, teaching basic movements on land and progressing with patience is a much more effective way for young athletes to excel. These workouts can still be prescribed to be fun and competitive, we just need to think outside the box.
Figure 2, by Kreamer and colleagues, illustrates an overview on neuromuscular development throughout an athletic lifetime. It is clear that a young athlete should first and foremost find enjoyment, and a balance can be found between fun and instructive. In doing this, young swimmers will be prepared for an intense era of training.
Why Be Careful?
A cross-sectional study was done on swimmers between 14-15 years of age, and out of 26 knees examined 69.2% revealed one or more abnormalities, compared to a control group where 32.1% of the knees showed one or more abnormalities, making knee abnormality frequency statistically significant in swimmers (p=0.013) (Soder, Mizerkowski, Petkowicz, & Bldisserotto, 2012). Similarly, in another study, 80 Australian elite swimmers aged 13-25 completed 23 clinical tests, of which 53 swimmers underwent an additional MRI examination and 91% of the swimmers reported shoulder pain; 54% unilateral and 37% bilateral pain (Sain, et al., 2010).
So, sufficient evidence exists for competitive swimmers to engage in stabilizing training to properly develop knees and shoulders to minimize the risk of injury. Ideally, strength, power, and conditioning should be held off before a group of swimmers progresses through a fundamental base of training. Movement Based Training
By shifting focus on teaching the swimmers about proper biomechanical movements on land, you are most likely helping the health and longevity of a swimmer. Isometric work tends to be an effective tool in helping young swimmers understand proper neuromuscular engagement and basic technique by causing them to deliberately think about their own movements. Written out progressions for wall sits and isometric split-squats are great to include in a young swimmer’s dry-land program. To add, it is important that the swimmers are taught to be more aware of, and in control of, their scapula. Below are two upper-body exercises influenced by Bridge Athletic, and can be helpful movements to stabilize important muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. These movements are based on the trend that was shown in my own master’s project to decrease knee and shoulder pain in young swimmers between 10-14 years of age.
To improve your lower body awareness and balance, progress through the following sets: 15s 1-Leg Balance in to 5 Toe Touches x2 30s 1-Leg Balance in to 5 Toe Touches x2 30s 1-Leg Balance in to 10 Toe Touches x2 60s 1-Leg Balance in to 10 Toe Touches x2
Make a count each time your leg in the air touches the ground for support. Move to the next progression once you are able to complete the balance and toe touch without the opposite leg making contact to the ground.
Progress through the following sets:
Week 1 & 2: 3 x 5 Pumps + Handles Week 3 & 4: 2 x 10 Pumps + Handles Week 5 & 6: 3 x 10 Pumps + Handles Week 7 & 8: 2 x 15 Pumps + Handles Week 9 & 10: 2 x 20 Pumps + Handles
Perform the exercises back-to-back with only a quick “shake out.” To Conclude
We encourage coaches to be creative and careful when designing and prescribing dry-land workouts with young and fierce swimmers for a couple of seasons before cranking up the intensity and volume– remember that their swimming volume starts getting fairly high around 10-12 years, which, in many instances, is enough. Therefore, focusing on the young athlete’s longevity in the sport is, and always should be, #1 priority by including safe injury preventative movement training in your weekly dry-land routines.
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Granacher U, Goesele A, Roggo K, et al. Effects and mechanisms of strength training in children. Int J Sports Med. 2011; 32:357–364. PubMed doi:10.1055/s-0031-1271677
Kraemer W, Fry A, Frykman P, Conroy B, Hoffman J. Resistance training and youth. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 1989; 1:336–350.
Sain, M. L., Walton, J., Linklater, J., Appleyard, R., Kirkbridge, B., Kuah, D., et al. (2010). Shoulder pain in elite swimmers: primarily due to swim-volume-induced supraspinatus tendinopathy. Brittish Journal of Sports Medicine (44), 105-113.
Soder, R. B., Mizerkowski, M. D., Petkowicz, R., & Bldisserotto, M. (2012). MRI of the knee in asymptomatic adolescent swimmers: a controlled study. Brittish Journal of Sports Medicine (46), 268-272.