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Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton

28, Weight Lifting & Swimming: Scientific Controversies

Rating: 8 votes, 5.00 average.
I read somewhere that 28 is the number of times you must do something before it becomes a habit.

Yesterday, I did the Nautilus circuit for the 5th time since May 7th, so 23more times and I may start doing it habitually.



Mr. Meat #2 {for some reason, posted Mr. Meat #1 got removed, so I am replacing him with Mr. Meat #2. Is this what Cremepuff looks like underneathe her tight Nike?): Jimby after 23 more Nautilus sessions? (Note: I wonder what equipment I need to train my face to snarl this muscularly?)


Right now, I am lifting Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; swimming Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and playing tennis, awfully, based on today, on Sundays.

Another piece of lore that I read somewhere, and I believe is probably as true as the 28 times business, is that once you get up to speed, weight lifting wise, you can "maintain" strength gains by lifting at least once a week, though twice would probably be better.

Ditto for those who prefer strength training but want to "maintain" aerobic conditioning. Once Mr. Meat (above) gets into decent aerobic swimming shape, in other words, he should be able to maintain this by swimming once (though preferably twice) a week. I don't think this is competition-worthy shape, but it's enough for "health purposes" shape.

(Why do I feel I could bet this guy all the money I have now, and all the money I'm ever gonna get, on a 1650 race, and that this would be the smartest investment I ever made?)

I have a number of questions/comments about weight lifting that I would like to hear answers to, preferably answers based on some kind of literature from the reasonably recent exercise physiology data world.

If you Google "strength training for swimming performance," you get all kinds of recommendations, the gist of which is that it's going to help your performance.

But if you do the same search through Google Scholar or Medline, the picture changes rather dramatically. I will paste in below some of the abstracts I was able to find from actual researchers, as opposed to muscleheaded aficionados.


  1. One of the arguments for masters swimmers to weight lift is to counter so-called sarcopenia of aging, the progressive loss of lean muscle mass, which begins around age 25 and proceeds at about a 1 percent per year rate in the sedentary.
  2. On the other hand, in his studies of masters swimmers, aged 22-88, from national competitions, Joel Stager told me that these tended to score in the 82 percentile for their age in terms of explosive strength as measured by vertical leaps, this despite not doing a land sport that requires jumping. Moreover, masters swimmers also seemed to measure much higher in lean muscle mass than age-matched individuals in the general population, this despite not doing weight training per se, but just swimming.
  3. Drs. Stager and David Costill, both very big names in the exercise physiology world, and both masters swimmers themselves, expressed doubt that weightlifting helps swimming performance because the muscles needed to swim fast are very, very specific and almost impossible to simulate with weights (though Dr. Costill suggested the VASA trainer might help somewhat.)
  4. Dr. Costill did indicate that sprint training works as a kind of aquatic strength training in and of itself, adding that "muscle does not know whether it's pushing against water or a piece of $8000 equipment."
  5. Another oft-cited rational for strength training is to help remedy muscle imbalances that can build up when a certain set of muscles are trained way out of proportion to their antagonists. Many of us with shoulder twinges, for instance, are taught to do external rotator cuff exercises with stretch bands, plus other stretch cord calisthenics to build up the scapula muscles, etc. The idea here is to give roughly equal strength to all the rotator cuffs and ancillary muscles mediating movement of the complex shoulder joint. Otherwise, you get a situation akin to a galley ship being rowed on one side by a bunch of Herculeses, and on the other side by a bunch of weaklings. Besides going in circles, the boat kind of breaks down after awhile.
  6. When I interviewed Dara Torres two years ago, she did an amazing array of dry land exercises. She told me that in her earliest incarnation as a sprinter, she did very heavy weights. But now she's having much more success with all this balance ball, core-related, swimming simulating, dry land training. I will try to post one picture now and some more in my next vlog in order to show some of the things she was doing after her stretch cord butterfly simulations (can't remember for sure, but it seemed like she would do sets of stretch cord pulls, much like swimming sets of 100s--all out for a minute or so, rest 30 seconds, repeat, and so forth; to the accompaniment of Golden Oldies music, like Baba OReilly, blasting on her boom box.)





Anyhow, if you have any ideas about this, I would love to hear them. Let me paste in a few links to some articles I found from a literature search:
1) Sports Med. 1998 Mar;25(3):191-200.Links
Impact of resistance training on endurance performance. A new form of cross-training?

Tanaka H, Swensen T.
Department of Kinesiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA. tanakah@colorado.edu
In accordance with the principles of training specificity, resistance and endurance training induce distinct muscular adaptations. Endurance training, for example, decreases the activity of the glycolytic enzymes, but increases intramuscular substrate stores, oxidative enzyme activities, and capillary, as well as mitochondrial, density. In contrast, resistance or strength training reduces mitochondrial density, while marginally impacting capillary density, metabolic enzyme activities and intramuscular substrate stores (except muscle glycogen). The training modalities do induce one common muscular adaptation: they transform type IIb myofibres into IIa myofibres. This transformation is coupled with opposite changes in fibre size (resistance training increases, and endurance training decreases, fibre size), and, in general, myofibre contractile properties. As a result of these distinct muscular adaptations, endurance training facilitates aerobic processes, whereas resistance training increases muscular strength and anaerobic power. Exercise performance data do not fit this paradigm, however, as they indicate that resistance training or the addition of resistance training to an ongoing endurance exercise regimen, including running or cycling, increases both short and long term endurance capacity in sedentary and trained individuals. Resistance training also appears to improve lactate threshold in untrained individuals during cycling. These improvements may be linked to the capacity of resistance training to alter myofibre size and contractile properties, adaptations that may increase muscular force production. In contrast to running and cycling, traditional dry land resistance training or combined swim and resistance training does not appear to enhance swimming performance in untrained individuals or competitive swimmers, despite substantially increasing upper body strength. Combined swim and swim-specific 'in-water' resistance training programmes, however, increase a competitive swimmer's velocity over distances up to 200 m. Traditional resistance training may be a valuable adjunct to the exercise programmes followed by endurance runners or cyclists, but not swimmers; these latter athletes need more specific forms of resistance training to realise performance improvement.



2. Effects of repeated days of intensified training on muscle glycogen and swimming performance.

Original Investigations
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 20(3):249-254, June 1988.
Costill, David L.; Flynn, Michael G.; Kirwan, John P.; Houmard, Joseph A.; Mitchell, Joel B.; Thomas, Robert; Han Park, Sung

Excerpt from abstract:
Nevertheless, their swimming power, sprinting (s-22.86 m-1), endurance (s-365.8 m-1) performance, aerobic capacity, and muscle (m. deltoid) citrate synthase were unchanged as a consequence of the 10-d training regimen. Four of the 12 swimmers were, however, unable to tolerate the heavier training demands, and were forced to swim at significantly slower (P<0.05) speeds during the training sessions.

3. Dry-land resistance training for competitive swimming.
Physical Fitness And Performance
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 25(8):952-959, August 1993.
TANAKA, HIROFUMI; COSTILL, DAVID L.; THOMAS, ROBERT; FINK, WILLIAM J.; WIDRICK, JEFFREY J.
Abstract:
TANAKA, H., D. L. COSTILL, R. THOMAS, W. J. FINK, and J. J. WIDRICK. Dry-land resistance training for competitive swimming. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 25, No. 8, pp. 952-959, 1993. To determine the value of dry-land resistance training on front crawl swimming performance, two groups of 12 intercollegiate male swimmers were equated based upon preswimming performance, swim power values, and stroke specialities. Throughout the 14 wk of their competitve swimming season, both swim training group (SWIM, N = 12) and combined swim and resistance training group (COMBO, N = 12) swam together 6 d a week. In addition, the COMBO engaged in a 8-wk resistance training program 3 d a week. The resistance training was intended to simulate the muscle and swimming actions employed during front crawl swimming. Both COMBO and SWIM had significant (P < 0.05) but similar power gains as measured on the biokinetic swim bench and during a tethered swim over the 14-wk period. No change in distance per stroke was observed throughout the course of this investigation. No significant differences were found between the groups in any of the swim power and swimming performance tests. In this investigation, dry-land resistance training did not improve swimming performance despite the fact that the COMBO was able to increase the resistance used during strength training by 25-35%. The lack of a positive transfer between dry-land strength gains and swimming propulsive force may be due to the specificity of training.
(C)1993The American College of Sports Medicine

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Updated May 18th, 2009 at 12:50 PM by jim thornton (post new picture)

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  1. Jazz Hands's Avatar
    I read a lot of research to inform my training and diet, but sometimes the research just hasn't caught up to the practiced reality. Strength training and swimming is, I am 100% certain (yes, one hundred percent), one of those cases.

    The main problem with swimming strength training studies is that they are too short. I've always said that the benefits of strength training on swimming are long term. This is because, in my opinion, the biggest effects come from body composition changes. Body composition takes more than a few weeks to change substantially, and it has to change quite substantially to have a measurable effect on swimming performance.

    Now, if you do a search for the effects of strength training on body composition, you will find tons of articles. The gist: lift weights and you tend to store energy as muscle instead of fat. This is desirable for almost any sport. There are studies (woo, studies!) showing that faster swimmers tend to have more lean mass and less fat mass. Beyond that, it's just common sense. Muscle is what you use to propel yourself. Fat presents drag. Duhhhh.

    I'm getting into broken record territory, but I'll say it again: lifting weights is legal cheating. It's like using anabolic steroids or competing against women if you're a man. In both of those cases, we consider something cheating because it gives people an advantage in body composition. It's cheating if you use hormones to that effect, but we allow it if you use strength training. My advice: use strength training.
  2. The Fortress's Avatar
    :P:P:P

    You keep reading outdated abstracts. I'll continue being a musclehead aficionado!
  3. EricOrca's Avatar
    Mr. Zonesman,
    I have done a lot research on this subject, as I'm desperate to achieve some reasonable success at the "Zones" level. My experiments on myself, are showing that weight training, dryland training will make a huge difference, but like training for a triathelon or marathon (both of which I failed at, since I have a siatic nerve damage @ L4-L5) it does take month's of daily dedication to achive results, as Jazzhands mentioned above.

    I noticed in my first months of training that I lacked 2 things, brute strength and endurance.In the picture behind Dana, is a Cable cross machine, we have 2 of these at our local gym and it is excellent for simulating all the strokes with the benefit of increasing resistance beyond that which one can experience in the pool. I cross train on a road bike, which is excellent for lactate tolerance training. I have noticed immediatly, that if I dont ride during the week, I suffer in the pool; IE get winded faster. Also proper dietary intake is just as important and must be included in the overall project . Like lots of fish! (yum)
  4. jim thornton's Avatar
    Jazz, Leslie, and Mr. Orca,

    First of all, I want to make clear that I am not in any way criticizing weight training, nor am I trying to disparage your allegiance to it or your conviction that it is helping your swimming performance. If anything, I have been convinced by your blogs to give it a try myself, and I am definitely going into this with an open mind.

    What I am questioning is the paucity of research literature that I was able to find that actually proves it works. I don't mean to imply that your convictions stem entirely from anecdotal evidence. Leslie, I think you were the one who mentioned at some point how Ernie Maglicho (spelling?) called weight training "free speed" for swimmers.

    Ernie is good friends with Dave Costill, and the two have actually written a book on swimming together. So I suspect they have discussed the topic, perhaps even debated it.

    The way I look at it is:


    • To prove something, science is the best option we have. It may be imperfect, but it is as close to an evidence-based approach as we can come.
    • There either are or are not studies that suggest that resistance training of some sort improve swimming performance. If these studies exist, I would like to find them. If they don't, perhaps we could suggest to someone like Joel Stager (who directs the Counsilman Center for Swimming Science at U. Indiana) that he should look into getting a grad student to do one
    • Leslie points out the studies I cited in my vlog are all dated. That is the case for the second two, but Tanaka's study is fairly recent. Moreover, this one looked at weight training over a somewhat longer term--i.e., a whole training season. Granted, years of weight training might work better than months. However, if it leads to a significant change in swimming performance, it would seem you'd see at least a tiny change after months.
    • These studies are focused on college swimmers. It may well turn out that weight training has more advantages for older swimmers because of the sarcopenia of aging phenomenon. Again, this could be a good topic for research if it hasn't already been researched.
    • Jazz, you mentioned storing fuel as muscle as opposed to fat. I think you meant in muscle, right? Basically, in simplistic overview, we have dark meat and white meat. The dark meat, like in a goose, is fueled by fat and allows great endurance. The white meat, on the other hand, is fueled by glycogen and allows sprinting. Cattle have plenty of dark meat, hence it's possible to have cattle drives whereby the little doggies walk a thousand miles from Laredo to the abbatoir in Kansas City. Pigs, on the other hand, really are the other white meat: they can sprint around the barnyard for a while, but then get too tuckered out for further marching. Hence, no pig drives; they, like sprinters, just can't go that far.
    • One final point: Tanaka's study talks about "traditional" resistance training not helping swim performance. Maybe Dara's nontraditional resistance training is better suited to enhancing speed. If this is the case, wouldn't you want researchers to try to figure out what works best and why?
  5. Jazz Hands's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    Jazz, you mentioned storing fuel as muscle as opposed to fat. I think you meant in muscle, right? Basically, in simplistic overview, we have dark meat and white meat. The dark meat, like in a goose, is fueled by fat and allows great endurance. The white meat, on the other hand, is fueled by glycogen and allows sprinting. Cattle have plenty of dark meat, hence it's possible to have cattle drives whereby the little doggies walk a thousand miles from Laredo to the abbatoir in Kansas City. Pigs, on the other hand, really are the other white meat: they can sprint around the barnyard for a while, but then get too tuckered out for further marching. Hence, no pig drives; they, like sprinters, just can't go that far.
    This is not what I'm talking about at all. I'm talking about body composition, and you appear to be talking about substrate utilization?
  6. jim thornton's Avatar
    You are correct. I mistook what you said. Cremepuff, on the discussion forum thread about blogging, made the point too that she has cut her body fat percentage from 19 to 15 percent since she has started weight lifting.

    On the other hand, because of the buoyancy issue, I am wondering if body fat percentage is as big a deal in swimming as it is in weight-bearing sports. Obviously, you could not do well in marathons or Alps climbing on a bike with a BMI of 26. But this was the average BMI reported for swimmers in one of Stager's studies of those who swam at Nationals and voiunteered for his research.

    We all know surprisingly fast swimmers with a range of body types--from skinny and stringy, to bulked out and mesomorphic, to borderline fat. Richard Quick used to do public weigh ins at swimming practice with his girls' team (Lady Longhorns), a practice that got him into all kinds of hot water vis a vis eating disorders in female college athletes. Tiffany Cohen, if I recall, had a body fat percentage of 19 percent, unacceptably high from the coach's point of view, but evidently not so high that it prevented her from making the Olympics and doing quite well.

    All I am asking for is scientific evidence here. Again, if the studies haven't been done, that doesn't mean the phenomenon in question doesn't apply, only that it hasn't been studied.

    But if your claim that a high lean muscle mass, low fat mass that comes from resistance training eventually leads to faster swimming times, and there is no study to back this up, I would argue there should be studies to look at this question.
  7. qbrain's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    Maybe Dara's nontraditional resistance training is better suited to enhancing speed. If this is the case, wouldn't you want researchers to try to figure out what works best and why?
    No, because experimentation will give me the answer faster, and more accurately.

    Either lifting will positively contribute to your swimming this season, or it won't. At the end of the season, you will know the answer.

    What really matters more than p < .05, is that it works for you. If it works for most people, but is a detriment to you, are you going to stick with it, because a study said weight lifting is statistically significant to swimming performance improvements?

    Think about how hard it is to isolate weight lifting as the causation for increased swimming performance, and you will see why it is not a well published topic in peer reviewed journals. No one cares about the growth properties of a frog leg using electro stimulation for development, but you can find a article written about it, because it is easy to study, and the study provides nice cut results to analyze.

    As for Costill, Maglischo cites one of his papers as supporting the case for weight training aiding swimmers. http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/66/1/465

    Now my background does not allow me to even understand that abstract. So I trust that whatever Vmax increase during the 10 day intense training period was something beneficial to swimming or Maglischo wouldn't have bothered citing it.

    But again, look at how low level those tests are, and think about what you are asking from a peer reviewed journal article.
  8. jim thornton's Avatar
    I agree that this study is almost impossible to fathom from the convoluted language in the abstract. In fact, this excerpt: "This study examined the effect of a typical collegiate swim-training program and an intensified 10-day training period" makes me wonder if the study used weight training at all. I could find no reference to it. I think they only looked at intensifying the actual swimming itself over a 10-day period. Thus it doesn't seem to bear, one way or the other, on strength training and swim performance.

    You are also correct in suggesting that this is very low level, at least in the sense that it's looking at changes on the cellular level.

    Despite this, there is a lot of research other there that does unambiguously back strength training's benefits for sports like running, and does so on both the low and global levels. Why this has failed to translate to swimming is very intriguing to me.

    Your suggested point that anecdotal proof is, in fact, proof for the subject of the anecdote is a good one. But still I don't see why swimming and wt lifting should be an area that is off limits to scientific study, or if not off limits exactly, relegated to a realm that is too complex for science to understand, thus it is up to each individual to figure out for himself or herself if it helps them or not, and what specific aspects help the most (bench presses better than squats, but not for breast stroke, etc.) This Olympic Committee spends a fortune on things like the ICAR flume in Colorado Springs, all to help our country's athletes train optimally for world competition.

    I just find it so odd that this would be one area that doesn't get decent attention--other than the fact that negative or neutral effects are less likely to attract interest than demonstrably positive ones.

    Mr. Q: you are a CMU grad, right? Surely you believe in the scientific method, don't you?
  9. qbrain's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    I just find it so odd that this would be one area that doesn't get decent attention--other than the fact that negative or neutral effects are less likely to attract interest than demonstrably positive ones.
    There is very little experimentation in the swimming community when taken as a whole. Once something seems to work, it really catches on, but a rebel starts the trend more often then a coach performing a well planned experiment. You would think Bowman has the perfect test subjects to experiment with varying training techniques. Eighteen Vanderkay's all under one coach, WASTED.

    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    Mr. Q: you are a CMU grad, right? Surely you believe in the scientific method, don't you?
    Does weight training help Jim Thorton swim faster?

    There is much circumstantial evidence, but little concrete evidence that weight training helps swimmers. Even with this draw back, the top 4 sprinters in the world are currently known to weight train.

    I theorize that Jim Thornton's swimming will benefit from weight training.

    To test this theory out, Jim will weight train during the up coming season, and report timed swimming performances that will be compared to previous seasons.

    The analysis of my theory will have to wait until the end of the season.
  10. jim thornton's Avatar
    I have begun the experimentation in ernest!

    If times improve, assuming I can swim in the same suit as before (i.e., B70 not outlawed), then:

    is it because weight lifting made me faster
    or is it because weight lifting prevented injuries that let me train more consistently
    or it is because weight lifting made me believe I was faster and this belief led to a placebo-esque self-fulfilling prophetic increase in effort during meets
    or some other effect

    also, if my times were to improve in, say, sprints but not middle distance, or in distance but not sprints, or in some stroke but not the others, can I conclude that weight lifting has helped X but not Y?

    I realize that there are all sorts of variables to rule out, and that it's extremely complicated to design experiments that yield answers that are definitive. But one advantage to having a larger group of subjects, and either doing a cross over design or comparing two matched groups where one group trains one way and the other in a different way, is you get some kind of clues that might not emerge in a "self study" of one person over two seasons.

    Then again, who knows?

    All I ultimately want to do is swim faster, so I will give the Nautilus circuitry as robust an effort as I can, 3 x a week, assuming I don't collapse!
  11. Chris Stevenson's Avatar
    Of course I agree that an evidence-based approach is the way to go. But as Jazz says, sometimes you have to let experience and educated guesses be your guide if the science isn't there yet. There are certainly dangers in that approach.

    My use of both hypoxic training and strength training fall into this category.

    I agree with Jazz that the time scale of the experiments are far too short. It is always very difficult to study long-term effects. Plus the fact that there are many different ways to train in the weight room and in the water, and that the interaction between them is undoubtedly important...well, it is no wonder that the evidence is slim.

    I do find it curious that a number of studies -- I didn't read the original articles, just your summaries -- talk about the lack of specificity in weight training. I agree that it is critical to transfer the gains made in the weight room into swimming power, and that this is not necessarily trivial. But here is a quote from one of your articles:

    "Four of the 12 swimmers were, however, unable to tolerate the heavier training demands, and were forced to swim at significantly slower (P<0.05) speeds during the training sessions."

    This mirrors my own experience: intense strength training makes it harder to swim fast. That is one reason why I stop lifting 3-4 weeks out from my target meet.

    So my question is: if weight training is so poor at targeting the muscles used in swimming, why would it affect swimming speed in training?

    My own -- admittedly crude -- estimate of the value of any cross-training to swimming is: how much would it affect me in a swim practice (especially race-pace efforts) conducted just after the cross-training exercise? If the answer is, not much, then I think the value is not very high. Conversely, if the effects are great, then I think it is worth doing.

    For myself, of all the cross-training I have done, weight training has the biggest impact on my swimming performance. In fact, sometimes I think that a big part of its value is that I have to "push through" the pain. When I was young I used to train right after weights -- butterfly sets were brutal -- but nowadays I'm too wimpy.
  12. jim thornton's Avatar
    That's an interesting take on things, Chris. I wonder, though, if it's completely logical to assume that the more activity X impacts swimming performance right after X is finished, the more X is likely to help swimming performance in the long run.

    We know, for example, that running is not particularly transferable to swimming. A person can be in superb running shape and still do very poorly in swimming. And vice versa. Agreed?

    But say someone is in good running and good swimming shape. By your example, because there is not all that much overlap/transferability of muscle specific training effects, he or she should be able to do a grueling swim practice, then move onto a running workout without being all that tired out.

    I just don't think this is true. My triathlete friends who do long runs or bike rides are generally wiped out for swim practice the next day.

    Obviously, strength training does give you a lot of benefits, and as you say, the ability to suffer and persevere may be one of these--i.e., building mental strength.

    I saw one study of cross country runners that found strength training did help their performance--the theory being that it either delayed the point at which they reached their lactate threshold by making the same speed easier; or that is somehow increased their running efficiency.

    It seems intuitive that swimming should benefit similarly, if not even more. After all, walking alone, especially up stairs, trains the legs at least a little. But most of us don't do all that much in the way of physically demanding regular chores to exercise our arms very significantly. So you would think upper body wt. training would significantly add to our muscular reserve, so to speak, and improve swimming.

    I just don't know why it is so hard to show this in trials.

    I guess it doesn't/shouldn't matter. If it helps me, great. I guess it would add a little more motivation if A) the researcher community could show a definitive boost, and B) the types of exercises most effective for freestyle middle distance were already quantified by the experts so I wouldn't have to rely on personal trial and error.
  13. Chris Stevenson's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    That's an interesting take on things, Chris. I wonder, though, if it's completely logical to assume that the more activity X impacts swimming performance right after X is finished, the more X is likely to help swimming performance in the long run.

    We know, for example, that running is not particularly transferable to swimming. A person can be in superb running shape and still do very poorly in swimming. And vice versa. Agreed?

    But say someone is in good running and good swimming shape. By your example, because there is not all that much overlap/transferability of muscle specific training effects, he or she should be able to do a grueling swim practice, then move onto a running workout without being all that tired out.

    I just don't think this is true. My triathlete friends who do long runs or bike rides are generally wiped out for swim practice the next day.
    I don't run but I do bike. I think "wiped out" is a huge stretch for me, especially for the next day. Two summers ago I did a 60 mile bike ride in the morning and then went to a swim meet that evening. I was definitely feeling the effects but the times were not terrible at all (better than they felt, actually).

    Going the other way...that same summer right after the Chris Greene Lake swim (2-mi OW race), a group of us rode from Charlottesville to Richmond by bike (about 70 mi). The heat was a factor, but after 5 miles on the rode I couldn't feel the effects of the swim at all. OW swims are not very hard on the legs.

    Not surprisingly, I tend to feel the effects of cycling on anything that makes a lot of use of legs: kick sets, backstroke sets, sprints. The effect on, say, distance freestyle sets is usually very small for me.

    Not having much personal experience in running, I can't speak to the cross-training benefit. But I would be careful about assuming there is none just because "pure runners" are often poor swimmers. Runners often have extremely inflexible ankles and are generally terrible kickers (there are exceptions of course); this is not an issue of training your muscles.

    So maybe we need to separate the effects of pre-fatiguing the muscles on swim performance, and the effects of the cross-training activity on stiffness and the like...ie, things that would probably affect swim performance but in a way that is unlikely to provide a training benefit. Besides flexibility issues, I wonder if the "pounding" that running puts on your body may have some sort of detrimental effect on swimming that is unrelated to training adaptation.

    I do know that when I bike a lot, I make an extra effort to make sure that my hamstrings and lower back stay flexible (cycling tends to stiffen these, at least for me).
  14. jim thornton's Avatar
    I do know that exercise physiologists have done so-called one-legged bicycle trials, wherein they have an athlete train only one leg on a stationary bike. They then measure his or her V02 Max, the gold standard for aerobic fitness. With the trained leg, the V02 Max is great; but with the untrained leg, the person often scores no better than any shlub you pull off the street.

    This is perhaps the best example I have seen about muscle specificity. The reasons you state (inflexibility of ankles, pounding, etc.) for distance runners often being poor swimmers may play a small role. But the major role (assuming technique is okay) is that failure to train swimming muscles per se means these muscles are not particularly good at extracting oxygen and nutrients from the blood stream, which are some of the main adaptations to exercise training.

    Again, highly specific muscle training is necessary to get these adaptations precisely where you need them. You would think that biking would transfer fairly easily to running, given the major muscles involved in both. But look at Lance's marathon performance--good, but nowhere near great, a la his Alps climbing bike magnificence.

    Anyhow, I would imagine that fatigue from cross training would have more to do with just exhausting your glycogen supply generally. Provided this remains in good levels in the swimming muscles not used in a bike ride, that might be why you can swim well after a long bike ride without apparent ill effect.

    I think the whole thing about weight training and swimming performance boils down to this business of muscle specificty--how close can the lifting come to tapping the actual muscles used in swimming, and in the precise way they are thusly used? Thus stretch cords that simulate strokes, the VASA swim bench approach, and maybe core stuff might all prove to be more useful than something like biceps work or neck exercises or wrist curls.

    On the other hand, one weight lifting guru at our Y told me that swimming muscles get all kinds of work in swim practice. The value in resistance training, in his mind, was to work the muscles that get short shrift from swimming, which will help gaurd against imbalances and prevent injuries.
  15. Chris Stevenson's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    ...
    Again, highly specific muscle training is necessary to get these adaptations precisely where you need them...

    Anyhow, I would imagine that fatigue from cross training would have more to do with just exhausting your glycogen supply generally. Provided this remains in good levels in the swimming muscles not used in a bike ride, that might be why you can swim well after a long bike ride without apparent ill effect.

    I think the whole thing about weight training and swimming performance boils down to this business of muscle specificty--how close can the lifting come to tapping the actual muscles used in swimming, and in the precise way they are thusly used? Thus stretch cords that simulate strokes, the VASA swim bench approach, and maybe core stuff might all prove to be more useful than something like biceps work or neck exercises or wrist curls.

    On the other hand, one weight lifting guru at our Y told me that swimming muscles get all kinds of work in swim practice. The value in resistance training, in his mind, was to work the muscles that get short shrift from swimming, which will help gaurd against imbalances and prevent injuries.
    I agree with much of what you say, except the part that cross-training affects swimming mostly by general glycogen depletion. Perhaps that may be true for very long efforts, but not for a 60-min bike ride or gym workout. I think it is the specific muscles getting fatigued that is the problem.

    I didn't even think about yesterday's bike ride until I tried to kick fast this morning; then my leg muscles reminded me about it pretty strongly.

    When people talk about "specific training," I feel like they think it is some mystical thing, that only swim-like motions can stress the lats, triceps, quads, etc in exactly the right way. My lats don't know the difference between a pull-down or a butterfly pull except the amount of force that must be exerted. My triceps can't tell if I'm doing tricep extensions or finishing my pull. My quads are stressed whether I'm kicking or doing leg extensions. (Of course, I do think all of those exercises reproduce in some way part of the swimming stroke.)

    What actual swimming does is train the correct muscles in the proper proportion. Unfortunately the vast majority of training is done at speeds and intensities significantly lower than race-pace. I think weight training helps to balance that to some degree, developing power, explosiveness, and "strength endurance" in a way that complements traditional swim training.
  16. jim thornton's Avatar
    I know that with the Nautilus equipment, the little computer is constantly urging me to slow down--2 seconds lift, 4 seconds to return to the starting point, for each rep.

    Power, on the other hand, is the ability to lift the weight quickly.

    When you do weight training, do you use the slow approach or the explosive approach?

    Do you think this makes a difference in swimming? For instance, you say a pull down is very similar to the end of a butterfly stroke. But the latter is executed very quickly. Do you do this with the lat machine, too?
  17. Chris Stevenson's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    I know that with the Nautilus equipment, the little computer is constantly urging me to slow down--2 seconds lift, 4 seconds to return to the starting point, for each rep.

    Power, on the other hand, is the ability to lift the weight quickly.

    When you do weight training, do you use the slow approach or the explosive approach?

    Do you think this makes a difference in swimming? For instance, you say a pull down is very similar to the end of a butterfly stroke. But the latter is executed very quickly. Do you do this with the lat machine, too?
    I use the "controlled" approach. I don't do explosive lifting but I am not as slow as the 2 sec/4 sec routine.

    I haven't really been tempted to thrown the weights around with fast motions. Partly this is fear of injury and partly it is because I want the muscles working throughout the full range of motion, not just an explosive start and "coasting" through the rest.