As a sprinter you need to train the same way in the weight room as you would in the pool. A big misconception that sprinters have is that they have to lift heavy weights all the time to get strong. That would be like doing all resistance training in the pool, which nobody does.
Most sprint swimming programs go through different phases of training during a season. Typically they do a variety of endurance, power and speed work. The same thing needs to be done in the weight room.
A Variety Of Workouts
To get the most out of training, you need to change what you do every so often because your body gets used to the same thing over and over again. It wouldn't make sense to do the same workout in the pool every day so why would you do the same thing in the gym every single day.
If a season starts in April and goes into September like a typical summer season you need to balance the type of lifting you do. April should consist of endurance lifting, May power lifting, June speed lifting, July power lifting, and August speed lifting. By the end of the summer you will be stronger and faster with more endurance, which is the goal of a sprinter.
For example, if you need to be able to go 48 seconds as fast as you can in the 100 free, that requires all of the components discussed above. The fastest sprinters in the world do not really pace the 100. The first 50 split is within a second of their best 50 time. When you take away the time it takes to turn you are looking at only a couple tenths of a second slower. That means the first 50 is approximately 98% effort so you definitely need endurance to finish off the race.
Choosing The Proper Exercise
Choosing what exercises to do is hard for a swimmer. Not everything obviously translates from the weight room to the pool. That is why the weights are important, but when it comes down to it, swimming workouts are even more important.
Getting the most out of the gym means being smart and not doing exercises that put a lot of stress on the knees and back such as power lifting exercises. That is why I do not do any squats, cleans or dead lifts.
I have seen way too many people get injured doing these exercises, and the benefit you will get in the pool does not outweigh the chance of injury. I would suggest lifting 3 times per week doing exercises of every muscle group each time.
This would consist of doing approximately 12 exercises every workout. Using more free weights and machines that are independent for each side of the body are the best. If there are hammer strength machines in your gym, those are the best to use to get the most out of each arm or leg independently. You need to learn to balance each side in the gym like you would do in the swimming pool.
For chest I would choose incline chest press because in freestyle the upper chest and shoulders are important which this exercises utilizes. The lower chest and middle chest do not get used in freestyle like the upper chest.
In swimming the back muscles are the most important which is why I do 3 exercises. These would be lat pull downs with a wide grip, seated row with a narrow grip, and standing pull downs. This one obviously is the best exercise for swimming since it is similar to the actual stroke.
For triceps I would choose some sort of standing triceps exercise with a curved bar or rope.
The best exercise to do for bicep curls is seated independent free weight curls.
To finish up with the major muscle groups of the upper body, I would suggest standing shoulder extensions. You get plenty of work on the shoulder in the pool so be careful about how much weight you do on this exercise. The most common swimming injury is the shoulder.
For the quad muscle I would do seated quad extensions.
For hamstrings I would suggest a hamstring machine on your stomach that is slightly curved in the middle.
The best machine for calves is a seated independent calf machine to ensure you work each side equally.
The Leg Press
There are many different machines you can do for leg press. The one I found to be most beneficial for swimming is a seated leg press instead of a laying down machine.
When you push off the wall after a flip turn you are in a seated position so by trying to mimic that in the weight room is the best way to increase your power off the wall.
Most people want to go all the way down on this machine but in swimming you push off the wall at a 90-degree angle so there is no need to go any farther than that on this machine.
Lastly, one legged step ups on a plyometric box that is tall enough to bring your leg to a 90-degree angle.
As I stated earlier if your season is 5 months long, the first month of the season should consist of endurance training in the gym. First off you need to find two exercises that are close by each other because you are going to superset back and forth between each one.
For example you would start off with bicep curls, then go to tricep extensions, and repeat that set of each exercise 2 more times. There would be no more than 15 seconds rest between each set. Only the time it takes to finish one and walk over to the other is your rest.
You do the same thing for every exercise making sure you pair up with a different muscle group. For example you wouldn't want to do lat pull downs and seated rows together.
You would start the first week at 12 reps, second week 15 reps, third week 20 reps and fourth week doing 25 reps. The goal is to be able to keep the same weight throughout the whole month as the reps increase. You should be fatigued almost at failure by the last set of each exercise.
The Second & Fourth Months
The second and fourth month should consist of heavier lifting to gain strength and power. During this stage of training you want to superset as well but take a little more rest in between sets. Anywhere from 45 seconds to 1 minute is a good amount of time to rest.
The reps for the first week should be 3 sets of 12. The second week should consist of 12, 10, 8. The third and fourth week should consist of 10, 8, 6. Obviously with the number of reps decreasing the amount of weight should increase. Each set should be hard to finish and the last set should be or come close to failure.
The Third Month
Month three should consist of speed work at your goal times for a 50. During this period you will be doing 3 sets of each exercise at race tempo. If your goal time in the 50 free is 21 seconds and your tempo in swimming is 1 cycle per second, you need to do 21 reps in 21 seconds in each exercise.
This cycle involves supersets as well with only about 30 seconds rest between lifts. The goal each week is to increase the weight and still be able to get the same amount of reps in the same amount of time.
During each exercise as you feel the lactic acid set in you need to be able to push yourself with losing speed. If you can keep the speed in the weights you will be able to learn to keep the speed and tempo in the end of your race. In the 100 it can be won or lost in the last 10 meters.
5 Weeks Before Competition-Speed Lifting, Mon-Wed-Fri
- Week 1-30 Seconds Rest.
- Weeks 2 And 3-1 minute Rest.
- And Week 4-2 Minutes Rest. Goal Is To Keep Speed At 1 Rep Per Second
The Fifth Month
To finish off it is necessary to learn how to taper in the weight room. Some people believe in taking 1 month to 6 weeks off of weights before their big competition. That never made sense to me. They don't take 6 weeks off in the pool. They gradually do less and less so their body is rested properly. That is the same philosophy I take when it comes to weights.
The last month of the cycle should be similar to month number 3 but less reps. Start off the first week exactly the same as month 3. Then the second week you cut the number of reps to 10 in 10 seconds with 1-minute rest between sets.
Week 3 should be the same, 10 reps but only 2 sets instead of 3. Week 4 should consist of only 2 lifting days with at least 3 days between, and the same reps but only 1 set of everything with as much rest as necessary for maximum speed. Then you take one week off completely and you are ready to swim faster than ever.
Try Something New
Obviously everyone has a different way for training in the gym as they do in the pool. Nobody believed in my swim coaches' philosophy when he first started coaching and now that he has had success it is more accepted.
Going out on a limb and trying something new is hard for most people. If you are afraid to try new things you will never reach your potential. This program works for me and I know it can work for you as well.