Aquatic sports tend to be categorized as unique in both their training methods and physiological demands on the athlete. Swimming, for example, places athletes in a buoyant environment that greatly affects their body awareness. To be sure, coordination in the water and coordination on land are incredibly different skills that require different training methods to develop. How, then, can swimming training benefit the football, baseball, or soccer player? What is it about swimming that may reap greater training rewards for the land athlete, thereby supplementing his or her existing training program? Let’s discuss four key reasons why swimming can benefit land-based athletes.
1. Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation
First off, the goal of swim training for land-based athletes is not to excel in the pool, but rather to find some aspect of aquatic exercise that supplements the athlete’s existing training. A primary driver for aquatic training has to do with the benefit of low-impact exercise. With added buoyancy in the water, athletes are much more protected from joint and muscle injury than on land. As such, athletes battling chronic injuries on land may find respite from that pain in the water, and be able to bring greater intensity to their exercise. Swimming helps not only injured athletes, but also healthy athletes looking to prevent injury during the course of a long season. Alternating pool workouts with regular training on the field can improve the athlete’s range of motion, work different muscle groups, and contribute to greater overall fitness.
2. Establishing a Cardiovascular Baseline
In the preseason phase of most sports, there is a large emphasis on establishing a strong cardiovascular baseline using generalized fitness training. This is a great time to incorporate swimming workouts into a land athlete’s training, when sport-specific exercise is less of a priority than getting back into great shape. Swimming demands incredible cardiovascular endurance. Other cardio-based sports, like running and cycling, either create joint stress from high-impact movements or focus more on the lower body. Because non-swimmers are unaccustomed to cardio training in the pool, the new stimulus to the cardiovascular system will challenge the body in a different way.
3. Lung Capacity
Increasing lung capacity is one measure of cardiovascular fitness. Sure, swim training will help you learn to hold your breath longer, but the key here is breath control. If you can perform high-intensity exercise with limited air (such as in swimming), your lung capacity will increase and your performance on land, with relatively limitless oxygen, will benefit from it. You can measure your progress by paying attention to your heart rate. The best athletes can spike their heart rate and then quickly lower it. After each swim set, take your pulse and see how quickly you can get your heart rate back to baseline. Swimming exposes this particular trait very well.
4. Generalized Strength and Full Body Movements
Land-based athletes may consider swimming a purely cardio-based sport, but it places a high value on full body strength. Each stroke leads to greater range of motion around the shoulder joint and through the torso and hips, which is particular helpful for sports that demand rotational motion like baseball, golf, or even the throwing motion in football. Swimming demands core stability to be maximally efficient from fingertips to toes. Non-swimmers may find it hard at first to maintain a good bodyline in the buoyant environment, but it ultimately will improve core strength and help you transfer force efficiently from upper to lower body, and vice versa. Swimming incorporates your whole body for everything you do in the water. You will end up working muscles you didn’t know existed, in movement patterns that are unfamiliar but challenging. Because you must effectively pull yourself through the water, you will quickly notice how good your strength to bodyweight ratio is. This is important for all athletes, but those who play sports emphasizing lean muscle mass such as soccer, gymnastics, or running also need a high strength to bodyweight ratio.
Consider swimming the next time you cross train. It’s gentle on your joints and tough on your cardiovascular system. It works your entire body. It exposes your strength to bodyweight ratio and increases your range of motion. The sport of swimming isn’t for everyone, but a little swim training can help all athletes.
If you enjoyed reading up on how swimming helps athletes in other sports, be sure to check out how Pull Ups can Improve your Strength to Weight Ratio.