Sep 8, 2017
Strokes of Genius
Gregg Parini

Competitive swimming is a power sport. And power in swimming is about more than just strength–it’s about the ability to produce forward propulsion through the water by applying that strength efficiently. Our athletes today use a combination of dry-land and pool training to optimize their swimming performance.

Here at Denison University, we follow a systematic approach that builds strength while also focusing on balance, core stabilization, and coordination between muscle groups. And our competition results give us confidence this approach is working: Denison swimmers are consistently among the fastest in NCAA Division III.

A core belief of our training program is that to swim faster, athletes must build systemic strength and power in five parts of the body:

• Hands

• Elbows

• Shoulders

• Hips

• Feet

Developing coordinated strength and power between these parts allows athletes to apply maximum leverage in the water while maintaining proper body position and coordination throughout the swimming motion. Optimal body position and coordination are rooted in superior core strength and balance, and enhanced with muscular strength in each of those body areas.

The coordinated, powerful movements we seek are analogous to those a gymnast makes when powering through a routine on the rings, bars, or floor. The skills a gymnast uses to move his or her body through space with coordinated power are the same ones that swimmers use to move through the water with maximum speed and coordination. In this way, swimming is nothing more than gymnastics in an aquatic environment–balance and power determine the quality of performance.

Our training approach takes this philosophy into account, particularly during dry-land training. In the pool, our athletes improve the efficiency of their stroking technique, develop timing, and focus on countless other details that help separate the elite from the rest. But during dry-land work, they use a gymnast’s emphasis on total-body coordination, functional strength, stabilization, and precision of movement.

Here is a a typical dry-land training workout for the swimmers at Denison University:

15 minutes: Dynamic warmup

Activities include:


Arm swings

Side steps


Trunk rotations

30 minutes: Ring training

Activities include:


Trunk rotations


Body rows

Hand stands

30 minutes: Weightroom work

Activities include:

Bench presses

Power cleans

Overhead presses

Lat pulls

Leg adduction

Cable cross punches and pulls

20 minutes: Plyometrics and abdominals

Activities include:

Vertimax exercises

Step training

10 minutes: Static stretching and cooldown

Activities include:

Easy walking with arm swings

Shoulder stretches

Abdominal/lower back stretches

Triceps stretches

Hamstring/groin stretches

Forearm/wrist stretches

Gregg Parini has been the Head Men's and Women's Swimming Coach and an Associate Professor at Denison University since 1987. His teams have won four NCAA Division III titles.

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