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Tom Shields' Three Favorite Strength Exercises

Posted by Nick Folker on Aug 23, 2014 6:00:00 AM

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Today we will feature Tom Shields. Tom is currently one of the best butterfliers in the world.  Tom had a breakout meet this summer at US Nationals, beating a stacked field to win both the 100m and 200m butterfly events.  His main strengths are his underwaters and his improved endurance. The three featured Bridge exercises are the Band Barbell Front Squat, the Dowel  Thoracic Mobility, and the Komodo Dragon Walk.

Tom Shield's US Nationals Champion in 100 Fly


Band Barbell Front Squats

Equipment: For this exercise you will need a weight rack equipped with a barbell, and two resistance bands that are attached to the weight rack or to the ground.

Starting Position: Standing upright with your feet at shoulder width, rest the bar on your shoulders. Extend your elbows forward and place your fingertips under the bar.


  • To begin, bend at the hip and knee, allowing your body to squat down. Control your descent until your thighs are parallel to the ground.

  • At the bottom push upward, keeping your center of gravity over your feet to avoid falling forward, until your return to the start position. Pause at the top of the movement to avoid bouncing.

  • Repeat this movement until you have achieved your desired number of reps.

  • As you become more comfortable with the movement, increase difficulty by either giving the bands an extra wrap around the bar or by adding weight to the bar.


Note: This is a higher-level exercise. Be sure to work through your squat progression to master the front and back squat before adding resistance bands. The squat is a motion that we use to build lower body and core strength. The front squat is particularly good for swimmers because it emphasizes the quads, which help drive the kick and underwater work. The band is a great addition to the front squat for swimmers, because it emphasizes hip drive throughout the movement. Tom is one of the best underwater swimmers in the world, and we use the band front squat to continually improve this strength of his.



Front Squat - Band + Barbell from BridgeAthletic on Vimeo.


Towel Thoracic Mobility

Equipment: You will need one long dowel. Make sure the dowel is light and can be easily gripped.

Starting Position: Begin lying flat on your stomach with your neck relaxed, your forehead resting against the ground and your arms extended forward. Rest your hands on the dowel.


  • Keeping your chest against the ground, lift the dowel off the ground. Keep going until your level of flexibility restricts you.

  • Pause. Return to your starting position allowing your hands to touch the ground before repeating.

Shoulder flexibility is imperative for all swimmers, and butterfliers in particular.  Tom has been working hard on improving his thoracic mobility for the last five years and it is really paying off.  The Dowel Thoracic mobility exercise is something that you can do at home with a simple broomstick.  It works on both range of motion and flexibility.  The more mobile your thoracic spine is, the better your catch will be and the more water you can hold.  If your thoracic spine is locked up your catch will not be as efficient, especially at the end of a race.  This was evident at the end of both the 100m and 200m fly races a couple weeks ago at Nationals when Tom was able to push through for strong finishes in both.

Dowel Lying Thoracic Mobility from BridgeAthletic on Vimeo.

Komodo Dragon Walks

Equipment: You will not need any equipment for this exercise.

Starting PositionStart in push up position with your arms in full extension, and a slight bend in your elbows.


  • Simultaneously lift your back left foot and right arm. Move your left leg forward, placing your foot roughly halfway between your right foot and your arms, while simultaneously moving your right arm forward at a comfortable distance.

  • As you plant your foot and hand, perform a pushup.

  • You will repeat this movement causing you to move forward each time you bring your foot and hand forward.

One of the keys in athletic motion is the transfer of energy from your core to your extremities.  The Dragon Walks are really good for what we call ‘finger tips to toes’ connection as the exercise forces coordination between the lats, obliques, hip flexor and legs. This is one of our more advanced body weight exercises at BridgeAthletic. All of the athletes in our system start with mastering kneeling and regular pushups, then spider man pushups, finally progressing to the Komodo Dragon Walk. 


Komodo Dragon Walks from BridgeAthletic on Vimeo.

 Click below to learn about how Nick and the Bridge team builds programs for each one of our athletes.

Swimming Strength and Conditioning - BridgeAthletic


Topics: Performance Trends