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The Importance of Dryland Training for Swimmers

This article is Part 1 of 2 about the importance of dryland training for swimmers, featuring Tim Crowley and Dan Daly, among the World’s most respected coaches; we are privileged that they are a vital part of the Vasa community.  Read their answers to key questions important for every swimmer, swim coach, and triathlete.

Vasa: How would you define “dryland swim training” for competitive swimmers?

Coach Tim Crowley:

To me, any training out of the pool should have a specific goal and purpose and not just fill time with exercises that will not make the swimmer more resilient and faster in the pool. An effective dryland training program should:

  •  Decrease the incidence of overuse swim injuries.
  •  Create muscle balance
  •  Teach proper exercise techniques training outside of the pool to avoid injury
  •  Increase specific strength and power within the swim stroke.

Too often, dryland programs are less than optimal due to a lack of equipment or logistics (too many athletes and not enough space or time). Getting proper equipment based on a well-thought-out plan, available space, and the number of athletes involved is critical. Creating progressions in the training plan and overload is essential. Otherwise, the only way to make the program progressively more challenging or harder is through higher repetitions. Swimmers need strength, power, and consistency to thrive in the pool.

Swimmer learns early vertical forearm technique poolside
The Vasa Trainer Pro allows swimmers and coaches to maximize swim-specific strength while improving swim technique.

Coach Dan Daly: 

Dryland training is specific strength and power training performed by swimmers on land. It’s a complementary and supplemental program designed with the swimmers’ events and seasonal schedule in mind to decrease the potential of injury through muscular balance and increase speed through fast-twitch strength and power development. 

Ask the Coach How to Swim Faster
Coach Dan Daly demonstrates swim-specific strength exercises on the Vasa Trainer Pro

A needs analysis can help the strength and conditioning professional tailor a program specific to the team’s needs and individual swimmers, balanced between the ideal and available resources of the team. 

Dryland programs are often limited by the skillset of the swim coach, whose scope may not cover strength training, or by a strength coach in charge of an entire athletic department, without a specific background in swimming. Facilities vary from basic on-deck equipment to full-fledged department weight rooms.  As strength training gains validity in performance swimming, there is an increasing number of strength and conditioning professionals who focus on swimming and offer consulting and remote programming designed around fundamental principles.  

Vasa: How important is dryland training for the long-term development of swimmers?

Coach Tim Crowley:

It is essential if a swimmer is to realize their full potential. Dryland training should be done with a qualified strength coach who understands the training demands of the swimmer and can deliver age-appropriate workouts. By high school, serious swimmers should be in the weight room most of the year. When swimming large volumes, 2 x 30 min sessions are reasonable based on the athlete’s time and energy commitment. Too much training outside of the pool can easily lead to mental burnout or lack of improvement in the pool.

Coach Dan Daly:

Dryland training is an essential competitive edge that the swimming world is just beginning to realize. Young swimmers should be introduced to age-appropriate fundamentals, technique, intensity, and etiquette early on.  This establishes a foundation for the prime development years to gain strength and power that can be maintained at a high level for a lifetime into the masters’ age groups. Training outside the pool is a balanced piece of programming that can improve long-term physical health and performance and boost the individual’s and team’s morale and, hopefully, a lifelong relationship with the sport. 

Dryland training for swimmers
Swimmers, triathletes, and surfers use Vasa’s portable, versatile Swim Cords for swim-specific training and many exercises for strength and injury prevention or rehabilitation.

Vasa: Is developing muscle mass in swimmers essential for high performance?

Coach Tim Crowley:

No. Many still equate size with strength, and this is not universally true. This does not mean that swimmers will not increase muscle size, but this is not the primary objective for competitive swimmers. I have worked with many swimmers who have gotten very strong with little or no change in muscle size. Strength, power, and explosiveness are what is needed for high performance. The athlete’s muscle fiber composition (fast vs. slow twitch muscles) and hormone levels will play a part in developing muscle size. Hypertrophy at the expense of mobility and power will not yield superior results in the pool.

Washington Jefferson College Swim Team train on Vasa Trainer
Washington Jefferson College swim team’s dryland program relies on a “fleet” of  Vasa Trainers!

Coach Dan Daly:

No. While a certain amount of functional hypertrophy, or increase in muscle mass, may accompany any strength training program. The goal is often not to add mass, a more physiological change, but to add strength and power, a more neuromuscular adaptation. Individual differences in muscle development are dictated more by a swimmer’s age, gender, genetics, event, nutrition, and recovery. Workloads, even at sprint program volumes, often exceed ideal ratios for significant muscle growth, in addition to nutritional challenges of maintaining a neutral or surplus caloric intake to yield such results.

Second, to increase fast twitch motor unit recruitment to increase sustained force production and power in the water through lower volumes of higher intensity resistance training. This approach maximizes strength and power, with a minimum effective dose of training stress to minimize fatigue and soreness and maximize performance. However, it is important to keep long-term goals and planning in mind, work through periods of higher volume training and fatigue, fully realize improvements in the gym, and peak for key events within the seasons. 

About the Coaches

Tim Crowley and Dan Daly are among the World’s most respected coaches; we are privileged that they are a vital part of the Vasa community.  They have contributed useful workout and technique videos, which you can find in our Video Library.

Tim Crowley discusses Dryland Training for Swimmers

Tim Crowley
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Montverde Academy
Author: High-Performance Aging & The Powerful Triathlete



Ask the Coach Dan Daly How to Swim FasterDaly Daly, CSCS
Dryland Strength & Conditioning Coach