By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
To every swimmer, the wall is the oasis in the vast ocean of grueling training. The wall is the saving grace. It’s the no-man’s land of neutrality designed solely for swimmers to grab hold, catch their breath, and stop swimming.
But the “stoppage of swimming” isn’t the same as the “stoppage of training.”
Many coaches employ training tactics while swimmers are “resting” at the wall. Kicking, push-ups, breathing exercises, streamline jumps… The wall is no longer a safe zone for swimmers. The wall is utilized in more creative ways than can be documented here, and it is used to maximize every second of precious practice time. After all, when the race-of-a-lifetime comes down to .01, you don’t want to regret spending all those cumulative hours and days at the wall doing nothing.
Here are just a few exercises coaches employ during “wall training”, as well as some swimmers from around the country chiming in about their own wall training tactics. (IMPORTANT: Never try to do any these exercises without the supervision of a USA Swimming registered swim coach.)
Just because you’re at the wall doesn’t mean you have to be hanging onto the wall. Many coaches utilize streamline jumps between sets. Here’s what one swimmer had to say about streamline jumps while at the wall:
“For the streamline jumps, do them in water that is chest deep. You get into a streamline position and go into a deep squat. Your head should be submerged but your hands and part of your arms will be above the waterline. Jump up in a streamline as HIGH as you possibly can while focusing on a TIGHT core. The trick is to remain tight enough to land with your feet planted in the same place they were at when you jumped. If you wiggle, find yourself curving/leaning to one side, or land in a different place you have some work to do. Try to do 10-15 of them in a row without stopping.” —Maria Reeves, former NCAA swimmer, author of the book, Triathletes Swim First.
Vertical kicking may be the bane of every swimmer’s existence, but it also works your legs like nothing else. That’s because there’s no wall to briefly interrupt the kicking motion. It’s non-stop muscle work, which is why coaches love it. Here’s an example of a set that utilizes both vertical kicking and horizontal kicking at the wall, sent from @Kiss_My_Splash:
“We do 100s with vertical & horizontal wall kicking (~20 min workout). Swim easy 25,
assume vertical posture, freestyle kick in place 24 kicks or eight rotations. Swim second easy 25, submerge w/ hands underwater on wall, kick hard as possible horizontally 24 kicks. Swim third easy 25, repeat vertical kicking. Finish easy 25, rest 30 to 60 seconds between each 100.”
There are other ways to incorporate vertical kicking at the wall between sets. Some swimmers even hold on to weights or bricks while kicking:
@SwimmersLifeSW says: “We vertical kick with a 10 pound diving block.”
Then others just continue to kick while at the wall, so as not only to build leg strength, but also focus on correct technique:
@thebottombish says: “My coach has me do breaststroke kick while resting on the wall so my kick doesn't go out as far forward.”
Poolside Push-ups/Sit-ups/Pull-ups Between Sets.
Some coaches ask their swimmers literally get out of the water and do dryland between swim sets. Poolside push-ups, sit ups, or simply getting out of the pool is a mini-dryland circuit in itself. Here’s what some swimmers do:
@Kristensmom13 says: “Stop at each wall to do wall push-ups or triceps push-up, or water sit-ups. Each lap they swim they will subtract one push-up or sit-up.”
Few exercises are as deceivingly hard as “underwater bobs.” Bobbing underwater, while it sounds fun, is actually a lung-buster exercise when done between sets. It’s similar to the streamline jumps except that you can do these in deeper water.
@AbbySwims says: “Bobs are holding your breath, sinking to the bottom & pushing off of the deep end of the pool. Then come up & repeat.”
The Anti-Warm Down.
Finally, one swim coach I knew did this: He made his swimmers do a test set, usually something like 6x100’s on the 8:00 aiming for as close to race times as possible. Then they had to rest at the wall between sets. They couldn’t warm down. The idea was to train swimmers to deal with meet situations where warm-down pools weren’t available between races (esp. during high school season where pools were 6-lanes only) and train your body to cope with lactic acid between races. I’m not advocating it, since injuries could occur this way, so be careful if you do this.
As you can see, there are plenty of things you can do while “resting” at the wall. If you have an outside-the-box training technique your team utilizes, I’d love to hear ‘em. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or let me know on Twitter @Mikelgustafson.