Top 3 Olympic Lifts for Swimming

By: Kai Miller

Strength training for swimming is a familiar concept for a lot of pool rats, but swimming-related strength workouts usually take the form of dry land bodyweight exercises, core, or upper-body lifts. Swimming, however, is a full-body sport. All four of the major events require significant range of motion. Short-distance swimmers require the explosiveness of a sprint runner or NFL running back, while long-distance swimmers need the mental toughness and all-around power of a wrestler. Olympic weightlifting is a rock-solid swimmer’s secret weapon. Here are our top 3 Olympic weightlifting movements for swimming:

Muscle Snatch

Meets and races can be won off the blocks and off the wall. Olympic weightlifting movements like muscle snatches -- and the two clean variations below -- can shave one or two seconds from a swimmer’s time without changing anything in the pool. The long finish of a muscle snatch forces the swimmer to develop force over an extended period of time while simultaneously coordinating their hamstrings, quads, and trunk.

To perform the muscle snatch, start in the same position as a standard snatch: head neutral, butt angled slightly below the head, flat back, active lats, and loose arms. As you execute the lift, chest stays forward and the upper body performs the second pull. Traps engage and shrug, and hips do not make contact with the bar. Shoulders finish the lift, extending the bar overhead with a tall finish, and heels ground only after the bar is overhead.

Clean/Pause in the Hole

Water slows down movement, which can make the coordination and energy use of Olympic weightlifting for swimming a challenge. This movement teaches a swimmer how to accelerate quickly out of the squat position, which is the same position used off the wall, and improves overall coordination while also improving the swimmers’ strength in the trunk, leading to greater kicking force. Most importantly, the gains from this weightlifting movement can be felt in the pool! This is a huge benefit for swimmers, who know their times and stroke counts by heart.

While performing a standard clean, remain in the catch position -- the “hole” -- for 1-2 seconds with an active, upright trunk. When coming up out of the hole, do not bounce. This strict weightlifting position mimics the strength necessary in the pool.

No Feet Power Cleans

While swimmers have to strengthen their mental capability by nature -- lap after lap staring at the bottom of the pool takes some brain training. The no-feet power clean flips the switch and forces the swimmer to engage with technique in real-time, a practice in mindfulness that can translate into the pool. With added benefits of force application and absorption that lead a swimmer to feel strong and explosive, this is a movement that sends the swimmer’s confidence through the roof.

Executed similar to a standard clean, no-feet power cleans start with a clean grip and feet in front squat position. Lats are squeezed and active to keep the bar tight as it comes off the floor. Arms stay long as the bar passes the knees and contact is made on the hip. Elbows wrap quickly, feet remain in place with heels grounded, and the lift is completed with a tight gut in the catch.

Bonus: SLEEP

All high-performing athletes require sufficient sleep. Most high-performing athletes don’t get sufficient sleep. In swimming, there is a direct, measured link between sleep and performance. The Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory studied the sleeping habits of Stanford swimmers -- you know, the #3 D1 swim team in the country -- against their performance. When the swimmers increased their sleep to 10 hours/night for six weeks, the swimmers showed massive gains:

0.15 second average drop off the blocks

0.51 second average drop in a 15 meter sprint

0.10 second average drop in turns

Now multiply those improvements with enhanced strength through Olympic weightlifting and you’ve got a swimmer ready to burn up the lanes.

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