Going Dry Part VI- Developmental Considerations
This week’s post will be shorter in length, but no less in importance. We’ve examined the various training components and training targets that comprise an effective dryland program. We now need to put these pieces together.
Prior to doing so, we need to create a framework for how the developmental process shapes the training needs of a group of swimmers at any given time. As coaches work with a spectrum of swimmers along the developmental pathway, they are familiar with how certain training types and training practices are more or less appropriate at any time. I expect very few 8 and under coaches are having their swimmers perform maximum effort swims on power racks. The same principle applies for dryland training. At the same time, as with pool training, swimmers can be exposed to the entire spectrum of training options, assuming the dosage in terms of volume and intensity is developmentally appropriate.
This discussion will be framed around the age of the swimmers, a concept with its own nuance.
Age is the primary factor which determines the content of the dryland training program. However, there is a difference between chronological age and training age. While chronological age is ‘how old they are’, training age is how long have they been training on land. Further, training age is how long they have training effectively. In cases where dryland training has been performed very poorly, this distinction becomes important.
There are different combinations of chronological and training age. However, in cases of normal entry into the sport and consistent training, they will often grow in tandem. The exceptions are late entrants to the sport or transfers from other clubs.
Low Chronological Age/Low Training Age
Everyone who has a low age, chronological and/or training, needs to start at the bottom. The fundamentals are most critical. These need to be addressed patiently. When the fundamentals are addressed patiently an appropriately, the entire training process will be accelerated.
The first issue to consider is that of time. Simply, less will be available due to the limited training time with this group. Due to this constraint, dryland will need to focus on the most important and foundational elements. As a reflection of available time, training volume will be low.
Beyond the issue of time, beginners should start with the foundational skills and progress only as necessary and able. As posture and torso stability is the primary prerequisite for all future training, this element should be the cornerstone of the dryland program for young swimmers. Focusing on torso stability will not only link their appendages, swimmers will be prepared for the more intense training required later in their career.
With young swimmers, range of motion may already be in place. An effective dryland should maintain, solidify, and strengthen these ranges of motion. Any discrepancies should be addressed over time, being aware of the shifting dynamics of the growing body.
While there should be no rush to introduce formal strength training in this group, bodyweight exercises can be introduced with low volume to begin the process of teaching the technical skills that will be required later. The emphasis here is on technique as opposed to strength, although strength will often be a pleasant byproduct.
Low Chronological Age/High Training Age
Hopefully, this is a group that you don’t run into. This young swimmer is the result of overzealous coaches and parents. If you are reading this, that swimmer is likely not a product of your creation. In the event that you inherit such a swimmer, they may have performed a lot of training, it likely wasn’t performed particularly well. It’s usually a rush job. In this case, it’s worth taking the time to go back and start from the beginning. As the chronological age is young, there is time to rectify the problem.
However, a young swimmer with a very strong background in gymnastics may transfer into your program. In that case, be sure to do enough to maintain their abilities, while being cautious of the need to keep them within their peer group.
High Chronological Age/Low Training Age
If you are inheriting a new club, unless they have had a great dryland program, you will likely have swimmers with a high chronological age and a low training age. Despite their age, and potentially their abilities in the pool, they may have little to no experience with serious dryland training, and that experience they do have may be quite poor. The same situation can arise with swimmers transfer into your club team, or join your high school or college team.
In spite of their age, these swimmers need to start at the beginning. However, because of their physical capacities developed in the pool and post-adolescent hormonal state, they may progress faster than very young swimmers. Regardless, the same focus on posture and torso stability should be in place. Once competence is demonstrated here, other components can be integrated, although a concurrent focus on torso stability may be necessary for an extended time.
For older swimmers with little dryland preparation, ensuring range of motion will be of much greater importance. This will be required prior to significant strength loading.
Once you are comfortable with the postural stability and range of motion progress, strength training can be introduced. Be patient. If swimmers are truly inexperienced out of the pool, improvements in postural stability and range of motion will result in improved performance in the pool. As with young swimmers, low-level bodyweight strength movements can be executed to improve technical skill.
This process can be accelerated slightly for those swimmers who have very little time left in their career. In this case, it is about maximizing performance NOW. Due to the limited time left in their swimming career, there is also less opportunity to develop overuse injuries. If you chose to take this route, be very careful. The limited career will be over when the wrong injury creeps up due to greed.
High Chronological Age/High Training Age
Posture sets the foundation for range of motion. Posture with range of motion sets the stage for strength. With posture, range of motion, and strength in place, these qualities can be challenged with fatigue through work capacity training.
With high training age, swimmers are ready to partake in the full spectrum of dryland training components.
Until the required muscle is in place, a focus on strength training outside of the pool is warranted. How do you know when you reach that point? A basic starting point is, ‘if it looks right, it flies right.’ Most coaches know what ‘enough’ looks like. Relative to other swimmers, can their frame hold more muscle? Once they ‘fill out’, a further emphasis on strength work may be counterproductive, particularly if that strength work contributes to further increases in muscle mass. If they still look like a swimmer, you’re probably okay. It’s not very ‘scientific’, but pretty accurate.
An emphasis of work capacity is possible as well, but that will depend on the specific context and the necessity of including it in the program. As addressed in the previous installment, there should be a reason for its inclusion. For some it will never be important. However, for others it may be critical. For the prepared swimmer, it is always an option.
As with training in the pool, swimmers should focus on the work that can directly enhance performance. As with pool training, work needs to be done to maintain foundational skills and abilities, touching on them in the beginning of the season to re-fresh and then maintain throughout the season.
For the mature swimmer with a well-rounded base of physical preparation, any options are viable. It comes down to ensuring that foundational abilities are continually retained and performance-based training is focused on improving areas that more directly impact performance.
The Middle Ground
As these categories are part of spectrum, not everyone fits into these neat packages. By examining the extremes, we can identify the starting and ending point. With this information in hand, you can conceptualize were your swimmers fit on the spectrum.
Just as is done in swimming training, fill in the gaps with common sense, keen observation, and careful consideration. The closer the swimmer is to the beginning stages of the developmental process, the more the training should resemble the novice swimmer. The closer the swimmer is to the final phases of the developmental process, the more training should represent the training performed by those individuals.
When you believe swimmers are ready to move on, make the change. Once the change has been made, watch how the swimmers react over time. Were they truly prepared? Do holes in their preparation still exist? What needs to happen to rectify those issues?
If the process is rushed, the short-term results maybe better. However, they will be a long-term cost in terms of injury risk and premature stagnation.
Developmental swimmers need to start the developmental process with developmentally appropriate training activities. They need to establish a foundation of effective posture and torso stability. With these developmental considerations in mind, we’ll look at how to design an effective dryland program in the following installment.