The answer is YES (Yay) and No (Boo).
I had one coach tell me that swimmers begin to lose their feel for the water within 48 hours of being out of the water. Yikes! I always figured that this is why swimmers practice twice a day during the week and once on Saturday (not counting swim meets). That or he was just messing with me…
Swimming is different from a lot of other sports because if you want to be good at it, you don’t get an “off” season. Not that I would have it any other way. I’m proud of all of the time I spent with my face in the water. I think swimming is one of the most difficult sports there is and I don’t know if I would have the same respect and dedication to it if it were anything less.
So what happens when you can’t get to the pool? Are there workouts that can be done on land that substitute for swimming?
Let me just preface this by saying that swimming is weird. A person who swims regularly will become better at other endurance sports as they become more fit in the water. For whatever reason (probably because humans aren’t built for water) you can take that same endurance athlete, train them on land, and not see them become a better swimmer. Like I said… swimming is weird.
While I can’t think of anything that is a 1:1 substitution, there are exercises that can be done on land that really compliment water work. They won’t make up for an extended period out of the water, but they will work here and there.
- Rowing Machine: Great form of cardio. Works the arms, core and legs. I like to do pretend swim practices on the rowing machine (like 4 x 500s D1-5, etc). I think it works a lot of the same muscle groups used in the pool.
- Vasa Trainer: Simulates underwater work and gets some good cardio in the upper body. It can also be set up next to a wall with lots of resistance for the athlete to work the legs by ‘jumping’ off the wall, against the resistance. It works the arms more efficiently than the legs, which is a limitation.
- Stretch Cords: Great for circuits and short bursts of power. Most efficient when doing upper body exercises. Promotes lean muscle mass. I am a reformed stretch cord junkie.
- TRX Machine: You’re able to work the whole body. It is possible to do strength, cardio or circuit work. They use a limited amount of space and are easy to bring wherever you go. It is easy to adjust difficulty because it uses your body as resistance. I think TRX compliments most sports and if they’d been around when I was in high school, I would have been a TRX junkie.
- Medicine Balls: They come in different weights and go hand in hand with swim training. There are exercises that can be done alone, but they work best with a partner of similar strength/ability. They do not travel well.
- Free Weights: Done correctly, they isolate selected muscle groups and work the core more effectively than Nautilus machines. It is a myth that free weights make everyone bulky. It is possible to lift free weights and maintain lean muscle mass.
- Core Work: I don’t know a decent swimmer who doesn’t also have a strong core. There are a lot of options here and no wrong answers.
- Cardio: If you can’t make it to the pool, do another form of cardio.
- Yoga/Stretching/Pilates: I find these forms of exercise to be very challenging. Sure, it is a different kind of challenge, but it is good to work on lengthening your muscles, balancing your body and controlling your breathing.
- Mental Imagery: I am a big believer in the power of the mind. I absolutely believe that positive thinking yields positive outcomes in events we can control. I even think it can help with events we can’t control. Someone else might have a different philosophy but this works for me.
I think these 10 forms of exercise are a good place to start for anyone in the position of missing a water workout. In fact, they all work so well in conjunction with swimming that I don’t see why they’d be ill advised for triathlete to include them in their regular workout routine (unless that triathlete is training for an Ironman). I’m just a swimmer though. You guys are the triathletes – you tell me what you think about using them when you can’t get to the pool or including them with what you’re already doing.
*On a side note, I did not include Cross Fit in this list because I’m still learning about it. Feel free to share your views on Cross Fit if it is something you do. I’m curious about it.
Categories: Swimming Substitutes