Tanaka, H., Costill, D. L., Thomas, R., Fink, W. J., & Widrick, J. J. (1993). Dry-land resistance training for competitive swimming. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 25, 952-959.

A collegiate men's swimming team was divided into two groups: one group performed swimming training alone, while the other performed the same training plus resistance training. The resistance training simulated the muscle and swimming actions of the crawlstroke using resistance machines and free weights. It was intended to improve upper body strength.

A 14 week swimming program was performed with resistance training being conducted from weeks 3-10. Both groups tapered in weeks 12 and 13. The resistance work was supervised by a strength training coach.

Both groups demonstrated similar power gains on swim bench and tethered swimming tests. There were no changes in distance per stroke, or performance over 100 or 400 yards. Dry-land resistance training did not improve swimming performance despite the fact that improvements of 25-35% were recorded on the resistance training exercises.

Strength activity improvements that were carefully measured were not transferred into the swimming strokes of these mature athletes. This lack of positive transfer can be adequately explained by the specificity of training principle.

Implications. The findings of this study are in agreement with other well-controlled investigations involving other sports. With mature athletes, land-based weight training does not produce any performance benefit over that which can be achieved through swimming alone.

Resistance training does produce changes in strength exercise performance and in the physiology of the muscles. However, its effects are specific to the training exercises and do not transfer positively to the sport for which they are "intended."

Some of the reasons for failure of land-based training are:

  1. the resistance activities do not mimic the movement path or action speed of swimming;
  2. muscular actions in the exercises are in coordinated patterns that have no commonality with crawlstroke swimming; and
  3. the distributions of forces in land-training exercises are different to those of swimming.

The authors warned that land-based resistance training exercises may alter stroke mechanics.

It should be remembered that this study used mature athletes. Had the athletes been markedly "weak", as is often the case with young swimmers who engage in a dominantly sedentary lifestyle, then some strength gains may have been beneficial. However, the study is in concert with modern training theory that:

Return to Table of Contents for Training for Swimming.