Swimmers require a tremendous amount of muscular strength and endurance in order to perform in the water. Swimming is considered a ‘total-body’ workout, therefore strength training all the major muscles outside of the pool or open water is key. One area you do not want to forget about is the core. The core is comprised of abdominal muscles, back muscles and all the muscles surrounding the the pelvis : upper/lower abdominals, internal/external obliques, tranverse abdominis, erector spinae (lower back), hip flexors and gluteus minimus and maximus (just to name a few).
In order to move your body efficiently through the water, a coordinated effort of the arms and legs must occur. The key to this coordinated movement is a strong core. In general, all powerful movements ( in any sport) originate from the center of the body out; never from the limbs alone. Therefore, before any powerful, rapid muscle contractions can occur in the outer limbs, the spine must be solid and stable. The more strong and stable your core muscles are, the most powerful the extremities can contract.
A small medicine ball (approximately 6-15 lbs) is all you will need to complete these exercises. Core exercises can be done every day if you like. Tacking these on to your existing strength training routine is a great way to target and enhance your core strength. Not to mention, if you happen to suffer from any lower back pain, weak and unbalanced abdominal strength is often the culprit. A stronger core will help improve overall posture, and should reduce strain on the spine.
1. ‘Full Sit-Up w/ Shoulder Press': Anchor your feet on the ground while holding the ball at your chest. Perform a full sit-up, lengthening through your spine, as you shoulder press your medicine ball towards the ceiling. Exhale the ball and body up and inhale your ball and body back down. Make sure as you lie down you unravel each vertebrae one at a time starting at the base. If you would like to make the movement more challenging, change that shoulder press into a self-toss. You’ll also be challenging your eye-hand coordination.
2. ‘Seated Torso Rotation': Keeping your heels anchored to the ground, lean your body back to 45-degrees. Holding the medicine ball at your chest, twist side to side, looking the direction you are going while keeping your chin up and shoulders back. You can make it more challenging by elevating your legs into boat pose (i.e. keeping legs lifted at a 90-degree angle). You can make it less challenging by keeping your feet anchored and sitting up taller providing less strain on your lower back.
3. ‘Straight Leg Lift': Gripping the medicine ball between your feet and starting with your legs in the air (a little bit lower than 90-degrees), slowly lower your legs toward the ground keeping them as straight as can be. Make sure to keep your lower back down by drawing your navel inward. Aim to get them as close to the ground as possible, as long as you do not feel pain when performing the movement.
4. ‘Leg Extension or Seated Pike with Medicine Ball': Gripping the ball between your feet while starting in a tuck position, slowly extend your legs straight in front of you into a pike position. Your arms should be anchored beside you while performing this exercise. As you lengthen your legs, your elbows will bend and draw towards the ground. Draw your knees back into your chest each repetition.
Everyone’s different as far as strength training workouts are concerned. You can perform these movements for repetitions or for time, it’s entirely up to you. Any of these exercises can be modified to be easier by eliminating the medicine ball altogether. For some, just lifting and maneuvering one’s own torso (i.e. body weight) can be enough!