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When should my son/daughter start weight training, both resistance/bodyweight training, and lifting weights? Should boys start at a different time than girls? How often should a highschool swimmer lift weights?--Terrance W. Houston, Tx
Response from Kyle H.,
Swim coach, Former college swimmer---
Do you have to lift weights to be a great swimmer? Answer: No (see video of current 200bk WR holder Ryosuke Irie (JAP),). Can lifting weights help you become a great swimmer? Answer: Absolutely (see picture of previous 100 freestyler WR holder Alain Bernard (FRA)). The overall answer to the question: it depends. I would say the primary variable would be the events of the swimmer. Obviously, a distance swimmer does not need the same kind or amount of weight training as a sprinter. Different stroke specialists also require different types and amounts of weights.
I personally do not believe that lifting weights before high school is necessary, nor is it wise. I would suggest waiting to lift weights until after high school. My logic behind this is to allow the body to develop fully before trying to drastically change the muscle program. Before (I would say as early as 12-14) and during high school, I suggest all body weight training. I have grown up calling this exercise "dry-lands", though this is a foreign term to some, as I have discovered. Dry-land training involves various activities such as running, jumping, body weight squats/lunges, pushups, abdominal exercises, plyometrics, various uses of medicine balls, jumping rope, and other such out of the pool training. This form of "weight training", if you want to call it that, is a great way to build muscle without adding undue stress on a growing body. By waiting until after the body is close to finishing, and until the stroke technique is more fully developed as well, the body will be able to handle the weights better. Lifting weights is a huge adjustment for the body to make, and if a swimmer is dealing with their body developing, trying to fix their stroke drastically, AND starting to lift weights, the body is going to be extremely overwhelmed.
I do not think it matters significantly as to when boys should start lifting versus when girls should start lifting. The difference will not come with the age started, but with the type and amount of weights lifted. Boys/men will lift much more than girls/women, and will use a different spectrum of weights and exercises in the weight room. Men are typically capable of lifting much heavier weights than women, and should train as such. I am not completely familiar with the exact weight training regimen of female swimmers, but I do know that it is much more limited and very different than that of males, although some weight lifting exercises overlap. This is because males and females have different body compositions.
Lifting weight 3 times per week at about an hour per session is normal for a collegiate swimmer. Male sprinters will usually lift 4 times per week, depending on the part of the season and phase of training they are in, whereas distance swimmers may only lift 2 times per week. The justification is that the sprinter will benefit more from the added strength gained from the extra weight workout, than they will from the extra hour of training in the water. Distance swimmers on the other hand, require a much higher level of aerobic base to be successful in their longer events, so dropping the weight workout and getting in another 3000 yards in the pool is much more advantageous for them. Sprinters will also focus more on explosive and speed oriented weight training exercises than will the distance or upper middle distance swimmers.