The buzz word of our modern lifestyles is ‘busy’. We’re all constantly striving to find time for training in among a hectic schedule of work, family and whatever else is filling the hours of the day. So having a quick session up your sleeve that needs little time, equipment or preparation is perfect for when you find yourself with 20mins free, but no run shoes, bike or pool for training.
In this feature I’ll outline a quick upper body strength workout that will build strength in the primary muscle groups used for swimming, and have some cardiovascular benefits as well. Remember: even a 15min session is worth doing, and done often enough, big gains in strength and endurance can be made.
Warm up for the workout with a low-intensity circuit of all four exercises detailed on the opposite page. If you’re struggling to find a suitable bar to do pull-ups from, you can perform this routine with just three exercises instead of all four – simply replace the pull-ups with more burpees (or an alternative exercise of your choice).
To make the warm-up of a lower intensity, on the press-ups put your knees down on the floor; for the burpees just perform squat thrusts (don’t stand up between reps, just jump the feet in and out); for tricep dips bend your knees in towards you so that the loading on your arms is reduced; and for the pull-ups keep your feet on the ground. This allows you to recreate the movements without straining cold muscles. Complete about 15-20secs worth of each exercise at a moderate pace before moving immediately onto the next (in the order stated above), and repeat the circuit three times without stopping. This should get the blood flowing into the muscles, and you’ll begin to feel warm enough to start the main set. With a minute of rest, the warm-up will take about 5mins in total.
The main set is based on the idea of EDT – Escalating Density Training – and works as follows.
Set a timer running for 15mins. The idea is then to simply perform as many reps as you can of each exercise during that time window. Perform exercises in the stated order and swap between them whenever you like. You rest as much as you need to, but the timer never stops. Keep a count of the total number of press-ups, burpees, dips and pull-ups you complete in the 15mins – these become your targets to beat next time round. The most effective way to get the most amount of reps out is to do about 50-60% of the maximum reps you can do early on in the session, before switching to an alternative exercise to vary the stress on the muscles.
Towards the end of the time period, you’ll probably find that you’re having to perform single reps of some exercises as the muscles will be getting very fatigued. When you next perform the session, aim to beat the number of reps in each exercise and you will start improving your muscular endurance. Avoid the temptation to cheat by compromising the quality of your technique – you have to be consistent to really see and measure improvements.
Also be aware that this type of training is very tiring and can lead to a lot of muscle soreness the first couple of times you do it. If you’re concerned that you aren’t up to a 15min block to start with, do 10mins first of all and ease yourself in more gently. For variation you can alter the width of your arms on the press-ups and the pull-up exercises. On the tricep dips, alter the height of the support and raise your legs up to increase the loading on the muscles. There’s a lot to be gained from a simple 15min strength workout, so don’t dismiss the benefits of this type of training until you’ve tried it. It will take several weeks of dropping it in regularly to see real improvements, but they will come with perseverance, so hang in there!
Big swim gains can be made in just 15mins. Here’s how…
Exercise 1 Press-ups
Done correctly, press-ups primarily work your chest and triceps (which are both used in front crawl swimming), and also help to develop core strength. This is only true if you hold a taut body position, though, so make sure that you don’t sag or arch your back, and complete a full range of movement (chest to the floor up to arms locked straight) on each rep.
Exercise 2 Burpees
Burpees are an all-body exercise that will get your heart rate up and give the session a lot of cardiovascular benefits. Start in a press-up position, and jump your legs up towards your hands (as if doing a squat thrust). Stand up straight from this position; once you’ve reached full height, drop back down, jump the legs back into press-up position and repeat from the beginning.
Exercise 3 Tricep dips
As the name suggests, these work the triceps, which tend to take a hammering when swimming front crawl. Start with your hands behind you on a raised ledge (the edge of a bed or sofa, for instance) and your feet out in front of you, resting on your heels. Dip down until your backside touches the floor, and then lift yourself back up. Start with your feet raised on a bench to increase the loading as you get stronger.
Exercise 4 Pull-ups
Wide-arm grip pull-ups work the latissimus dorsi (lats), which are a crucial swimming muscle group. Make sure you go from hanging down with straight arms to getting your chin above the bar each rep. If you’re struggling to perform full pull-ups from the word go, start with negative reps (where you use your legs to get up into the finish position and lower your bodyweight slowly from the top), or start with your feet on the floor.
Andy Blow is a respected coach and sports scientist who won the Xterra Age Group World Championships in 2000