Elite Swimmer Training

Alright, I am currently working with an elite level swimmer (strength and conditioning) , she is top 10 in the nation and is only 17. She has only lifted in 8th grade and nothing else really since. She’s stong as a bull though. I am trying to prepare her for Nationals in March, which isn’t much time. Granted she doesn’t really need much work. Because of her age and her experience level, how would you guys train her, as a youth still; baseline general prep/foundational, or elite; specific to her sport?
I am just interested in what you guys think or would do in this situation?

There are elite swim coaches on this forum who will help you but personally I would start with work that is general and teach her good technique (olympic lifts?) so that in 6 months she can use any training programme you like and do the exercises flawlessly.

Don’[t be in too much hurry to be specific because as you already said she is already strong and already good at swimming. You don’t want to kill her off with something she isn’t ready for…


I am not saying the opposite, but by that time she might still be 10th missing a final, which might be fine for me, but not for her! After that perhaps you won’t have much time to try other things on her… One of those questions, you see…
BTW, same here, no idea of swimming!!

If we talk about “dry-land training”, opinions are very not-homogenic! Somoeone is proponent of isokinetics swimming, and somemone is proponent of free-weight (http://www.elitefts.com/documents/power_pools.htm)

What is the distance she swims? Stroke?
I would use 10-12 exercises for the whole body, plus large emphasis on core work and shoulder flexibility. Load should not be less than 8RM (for now), but I would start with 15RM!
Acltualy, this friday, the guest proffesor at our faculy is Andrey Vorontzov, actually talking about youth training and talent identification! If you want, I could put some summary here?

Which Nation are you from Kacz?
There are a number of issues to consider when preparing a strength and conditioning program for swimming,and -to tell the truth- I have seen and tried myself a lot of different approaches being equally successful and unsuccessful,depending mainly on the athletes’ very individual characteristics and programs ,on the integration of work in the gym and in the pool,and the general control and management of the athletes’ preparedness.
A few points I consistently found correlate with improved performances in the water when optimized:

  • general strength levels
  • core strength
  • muscle tone and density
  • rate of force development
  • power to bodyweight ratio

I also find that significative improvents in the weight room take time to show to their fullest in the water (allow for peak performance), while generally having a strong immediate impact on the swimmers’ daily readiness to train in the pool,with important implications when choosing a planning strategy.


I see this on the track too. This is why it is really important to periodise your strength work into your track session (take account of what you are doing in the gym when setting pool sessions). Get it wrong (as I have done several times - though i am learning! :stuck_out_tongue: ) and your athlete will be sub par in the pool and sub par in the gym.

As far as I can tell all strength qualities you are trying to achieve int he gym to help your sport should be perfected (peaked?) in the gym BEFORE you want to utilise them in the pool. So for a sprinter you want explosive med ball accelerations to be of a high quality before you move to block work so the transfer between the skills leads from one to the next.

Based on this you want to know what she is doing in training over the next couple of months so you can prepare her as best you can for what is to come in the pool and at the same time work on technique. It may well be that she is already moving into pre competition training (leading up to the final taper before a big meet) so in this case you are limited in what you can do intensity wise anyway so this is a good reason to work on technique. On the other hand if she is still in GPP then perhaps you can work her hard on the exercises she has good technique with…

Thinking about it my first aim would be talk to her pool coach and make sure you are both on the same page with regards to what you are going to do over the next few months.

Hope this helps


Thanks for many of your replies. I am from the United States. She swims (or can swim everything). She is a genetic freak in that respect. I will post her freestyle times, but her other strokes are almost as impressive.

50 fr - 23. 6
100fr - 50.2
200fr - 1:47.25
500fr - 4:45.45

50fr - 26.6
100fr- 56.67
200fr- 2:01.19
400fr- 4:15.67

Some of these times are outdated I believe and we her PR’s when she was 16! She is now 17.

With little to no real strength training in her past, she has a very good chance at making it to the Olympics without ever really needing to do strength training.
On the other side of the coin, that also leaves a lot of potential for her to improve.

I do have access to seeing her coach on a daily bases. He is very good from what I hear. They are very, very involved in planning out every aspect of her training, down to the T, months in advance.

Recently I took her through a series of tests I put together for all of my athletes and she dominated them better than almost anyone, including people who workout. Here is my tests:


Deep Overhead Squat
Hurdle Step
In-Line Lunge
Active Straight Leg Raise
Seated Rotation

Core Levels:

TVA Leg Lowering
Iso Push-up Hold
1-Leg Squat
Chair Core Time Test
Back Extension Timed
Inverted Row Iso Timed


Vertical Jump
Reacive Vertical Jump
10-20-30 or 40 yd Dash
Reactive Backboard Touches
1-Leg Reactive hops over elevated Rope


Hexagon Test
120-yd dash
300-yd shuttle


Body Fat %
Fat Free Mass

Of course I didn’t use all of these tests on her, but the applicable ones, she crushed.

She has never squated before, so yesterday I wanted to kind of find a baseline of where she might be at. She could EASILY squat 100 + for high reps. He form was very good and it looked light to her. She was actually talking while she was doing it.
Like I said earlier, the sky is the limit with her.

Fast times indeed for a 17yr. old. Just because this elite youngster can, does not mean she should. I would be very careful not to mess with her changing body comp. at this age. Watch out for hypertrophy, building leg mass or any mass, limiting joint mobility, etc. Power with med balls, that’s great for sprints and starts. But her 500 time is her best, based on last years NCAA D I, pre-meet rankings, she would have been 18th. The NCAA record is 4:34 Janet Evans, in 1990 an awesome swim. However, her sprint, the 50 would not have placed her in the top 110, the cut was 21.6.
Talking to the coach is the best advice with only 3 mo. till taper. Mental preparation for a H.S senior could easily fill time spent squating or pressing a bar. What about working with a sports nutritionist, massage therapy after workouts. All areas that sometimes get overlooked. We jump right into weights. When maybe we could jump back into the pool for a recovery swim and then watch some video and find a way to be more efficient in the water.,


Thanks, she’s actually only a junior! She takes her training very seriously. I have her get a massage by a top notch guy every two weeks during intense training and my girlfriend is a R.D.

She is a stud in the 200 and 500, but she’s not ready to give up the dream of being a sprinter. Nor should she, considering that we haven’t ever gone through a power training phase with weights.

Because she is only a junior (and can already go anywhere in the country she wants for college) I think that I’ll semi-prep her weight training for March Nationals, but more so lay the foundation for the years to come. She easily has two, maybe three shots to try to make the Olympics, so no real hurry over the next four months.

Could not agree more… we always think training first,when most probably we would often be much better off thinking recovery first,managing the athlete’s overall well being and building any further step on how he/she is truly adapting to the program in its complex interplay with the athlete’s life (coach,team mates and staff,family and personal relationships,food,school,logistics,schedules).
Especially when you are already working with a talented athlete,and young too!

Right on, right on!!!

This should be on an FAQ to coaching.


She is a stud in the 200 and 500, but she’s not ready to give up the dream of being a sprinter. Nor should she, considering that we haven’t ever gone through a power training phase with weights.

I always wonder if the coach ever hears what the athlete is really saying. Or does the young athlete just go along with the program. A 500 and a 50m, are completely different races and require different engery systems. 500 maybe 20% PH. + lactate, 40% lac. + oxygen, 40% oxy. Now the 50m is almost 100% Phosphate + lactate. If your swimmer is a better 500 swimmer now at 17, is it to late to get world class speed, to compete with someone who is already there. I would believe most sprint swimmer are born with that natural speed.
Similarly, would a very good 400m runner in H.S. train for the Olympic 100m?
Is it not easier to take a sprinter and get them to compete in the next distance, rather than drop down in distance? Of course I’m not saying one can not get faster or improve sprinting abilities, it just this situation that I 'm wondering about. I mean are we being realistic regarding Olympic tatent in the 50.

Thanks everyone, but I’d like to get back to my original topic of how to train an elite level athlete who is still you (i.e. general, specific, both). I am not her swim coach, nor do I want to be, I’m only concerned with what I can do to make her better at what she does.

I have started her on a quick (2-3 weeks) general prep phase. I would like it to be longer, but she does adapt very well, so if I guess I can move on to the next phase faster, that’s a good thing, huh.

You say that she’s strong. How strong really? Is she already as strong as an Olympic finalist? Having not lifted since 8th grade, probably not. There’s room for improvement right there.

I’d say that training more as a youth is more appropriate, since she isn’t at the top levels of the sport yet, and is still growing – her body will likely change between now and 2008, so why not add as much strength as you can between now and then? She’s going to have to get stronger, so why not start now? There may or may not be enough time before March to make a big improvement S&C-wise, but an appraisal of weaknesses may show areas that could be shored up in that time.

I’m curious about your statement that she doesn’t need much work. Why do you think so? I doubt she’s as thoroughly developed as a 20 yr. old Olympian, which is what you want her to be in 2 1/2 years, right? IMO, your stance of laying the foundation is correct.

I believe that I did say I was going to work on her strength levels (to improve them). Regardless, the first time she came in the weight room she could Rep (5) 150lbs on Squats very good form. That’s without ever trying it. I will (and plan to) work on her strength levels until they are where I want them, but once we are there, the majority of our training will rotate back and forth between strength and power (what ever is most needed) with occational bouts of anatomical adaptation.
What do you consider strong for Olympic swimmers in the Squat, Dead, Bench and variations of O-Lifts?
I have first hand seen an entire girls D-1 program lift on a daily basis, and I would bet money that none of these girls could have even squatted correctly, much less with 135lbs, yet they had a good swim team.
Also I knew an Olympic swim sprinter (not from america) who couldn’t move 135lbs to save his life, yet he still went out in 19.35 in the 50.
So do you consider most college swimmer and Olympic swimmers strong, and if so, by what definitions?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Work Capacity/Endurance
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Find the weak link. Bring it up.

Agreed, Siff has a cool visual to this idea, where he has a web of where you should be and where you are. It’s on pg. 424, 6th Edition.

Okay, you kind of got me, but still I think my point is valid. Here goes.

I don’t know the gym lifts of top swimmers. But it seems obvious to me that strength is needed for swimming, and that it is a highly developable commodity. The apparent fact that there are some weak-ass swimmers with results doesn’t change my view that the highest level swimmers (Olympic medalists) A) Probably aren’t that weak, and B) If they are, something’s wrong with their training. Am I saying that the world’s top swim coaches have it wrong? Possibly. Who am I to say? No one, except that let’s just look at the demands of the sport and see if their training develops those qualities optimally. I’m not saying a swimmer needs to bench 2xBW, but I am saying
A) If a swimmer isn’t pretty strong, they’re not as fast as they could be and B) Qualities on that end are easier to develop. “Extra” strength may in fact help a swimmer reach a new level.

I’ll try this again tomorrow after I sleep better --not making sense right now.