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Dry-land devotees: Swim team puts in work out of water

Personal trainer Lea Ann Overton performs stomach crunches while working with a group of Team Phoenix swimmers at Signal Knob Recreation Center in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Jeff Nations

Kasey Johnson hasn't logged a competitive lap for Sherando High School's swim team since last winter, but that doesn't mean she's been idle by the poolside for months.

Johnson competes year-around for Strasburg-based Valley Swim Team Phoenix, which practices at Signal Knob Recreation Center's indoor pool for its USA Swimming schedule.

It's not all endless laps for Johnson and her teammates, though -- swim training consists of three distinct components. Beside the standard water training where team members work in the pool to perfect the various strokes and cut time in events, advanced swimmers (ages 14 and up) put in regular time with weight training to build muscle mass for the grueling season.

The third component -- dry-land training -- seems a misnomer for swimming, but is a popular and long-standing part of preparation and maintenance throughout the year.

"Dry land is focusing on specific muscle groups," said Johnson, who swims the 100-yard butterfly and 200 individual medley for Sherando. "While swimming gives you a whole body workout, dry land helps you focus on specific muscle groups like your legs, your core and your arms to help you build muscle, which helps you overall in swimming."

So what is it, exactly? That depends upon the coach, but for Team Phoenix dry-land training consists of a regimen including yoga, Pilates, high-intensity Tabata workouts and exercises like push-ups and sit-ups designed to strengthen a swimmer's core, cardiovascular system and overall flexibility. There are no weights involved, although resistance bands are sometimes utilized in training.

"Flexibility is key," Team Phoenix head coach Trey Shafer said. "It is still about adding some strength. Dry-land training really concentrates a lot on trying to add strength to our core, so you will get a lot of Pilates moves and stuff like that to strengthen that center. The strength training is more traditional, where we are working our triceps, our biceps, our legs, and also a little bit of our core as well."

Physical trainer Lea Ann Overton heads both the dry-land and strength training for Team Phoenix, with an eye toward both developing strength and maintaining that flexibility always at risk in a repetitive sport like swimming.

"These guys are constantly working their muscles in one direction," Shafer said. "If you see the swimmers around, they all look like Igor -- they're all hunched forward because their muscles in the front are just pulling everything forward.

"We've had a preventative program that really came from over years of study and physical therapists getting involved in the sport that is now trying to work the opposite muscles to get our shoulders back, to even things out and add that flexibility."

That's Overton's goal, both to prevent that hunched-shoulder syndrome as well as prevent injuries commonly associated with swimming. Torn rotator cuffs is a common injury in the sport, but Shafer said Team Phoenix hasn't had any issues since putting more focus on the preventative aspects of dry-land training.

"My goal is strengthen the whole area and not focus on any one item," Overton said. "We want to develop their strength, we want to develop their cardiovascular, we want to have speed and agility, and we also want to have flexibility and mobility, not have a decreased range of motion.

"... In dry land it's our way of coming outside the water and focusing on those areas and meeting those needs."

The variety of the training is also sometimes welcome for members of the team.

"Swimmers are very intense athletes," said Anne Katherine Burns, a sophomore who also swims for Wakefield Country Day School. "In the pool, sometimes it can be a little boring and sometimes [dry land] is a relief because our sets are really hard. This can also be hard, but it's hard in a different way.

"In dry land, we're usually working one muscle at a time unless we're doing cardio or long-distance running. So that's different, because in the pool you're usually using all your muscles at the same time."

Sherando junior Kelsey Dingman believes the dry-land training serves as a perfect starting point for practice.

"I think when we do dry land first, it makes practice a little bit easier because it warms us up," Dingman said.

Dry-land training, like the other aspects of competitive swimming, is still evolving. Shafer expects to see a spike in interest for cross training, popularized by U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Ryan Lochte in his build-up for the 2012 London Summer Games.

"I think after this Olympics you're going to see a lot more cross-training implemented by clubs, really because of Ryan Lochte -- I'm sure everybody has seen the big tire that he flips and stuff like that. In a few years down the road, we might see if that's actually a benefit. It really helped him. Will it help everybody? I don't know."

Shafer believes in the benefits dry-land training provides his swimmers, and he'll get no disagreement from Burns.

"I wouldn't like being in the pool for the entire practice every day," Burns said.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>

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