May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, February 1999

Because everyone can stand to go ballistic

And While
You're At It ...
  • Try a pair of the new ergonomic hand paddles. The extra resistance helps develop upper-body strength and their shape helps you self-correct your stroke.
  • Swim in a drag suit or its low-tech alternative, a T-shirt. When you take it off you'll feel like you're flying.
  • Count the number of strokes it takes for you to swim one length and try to reduce that number by taking longer, more efficient strokes.
  • Use goggles with silicone gaskets. They hug your face better than the rubber variety, last longer, and won't irritate the skin around your eyes, thus allowing you to train longer.

When you stretch to start your stroke, your arm is doing the reaching but the power's coming from the rotation of your body, in much the same way that a baseball slugger's torque comes from snapping his hips around before the bat. The difference, of course, is that you're suspended in water, which has a density that requires an extra measure of finesse. You're dependent not only on how much power you can generate from the core muscles, but also on how artfully you can apply that power. "Swimming is like running on ice," explains Jonty Skinner, national swim team coach at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. "It's easy to overpower it if you focus only on strength."

Consequently, Skinner has his athletes following a relatively new type of workout called ballistic training, in which you pair a weight lift with a plyometric drill that targets the same muscles. The weights fatigue the muscles, leaving the motor units and neurons more receptive to the plyometric chaser, which forces the muscles to fire with precision. "These exercises bridge the gap between dryland training and your motion in the pool," says Skinner.

They also take a serious toll on your body, just like Huffins's athleticism workout. Because this routine is so intense, you can't do it for months on end as you can with the other maintenance programs in these pages. In fact, you should only take it on for up to six weeks at a time, after which you can fall back on the general maintenance plan for a two-week break.

In the Gym

The routine works like this: In addition to doing crunches and back extensions, you'll do one set of six to eight repetitions for each of three weight lifts from Harvey Newton's menu, and then rest 90 seconds (stretching the muscles you've just taxed). Next, follow up with three sets of two repetitions of a plyometric drill. Rest for one minute between the latter exercises.

As for the pairings, follow your chosen leg exercise with jumping knee tucks (see "From Spud to Stud," Bodywork, January), the upper-body pull with a move called the medicine ball hike (pictured below), and the upper-body push with the medicine ball slam, in which you clutch a six- to 12-pound orb a few inches in front of your chest and throw it to the ground at your feet.

In the Pool

You can perform the aerobic maintenance plan in the lap lane, but according to Skinner, you might want to modify it. "A little speed work should be done every day, no matter what phase of aerobic training you're in," he says. After warming up, dedicate five minutes to bursts where you explode off the wall, sprint maybe 15 meters, and then settle into your normal pace until you reach the other end. "People neglect this part of swimming the most," says Skinner. "They get so engrossed in their endurance training that they end up losing speed."

T H E   C R U X   M O V E

Medicine Ball Hike
Holding a six- to 12-pound medicine ball with outstretched arms, position yourself in a wide stance with a wall five feet behind you. Lean forward at the waist, keeping your back straight and your knees slightly bent. Now hurl the ball at the wall like a center hiking a football. Keep your arms straight to focus the effort on your torso. Do three sets of two repetitions.

Photograph by Doug Merriam

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