Strength and Tapering

By Jon Shastid

Since the 2004 Short Course Nationals are being held in Indianapolis in April 2004, either you or a member of your team is probably looking forward to competing there. And you are probably thinking about how to train to get your best performance. Well, don't start a month or two ahead. Start two to three months before and then taper off two to three weeks before the big meet. Here are some thoughts on how to make that personal best performance.


The correlation between swimming speed and land/water strength is very, very high. The shorter the distance, the more important strength is.

The use of different training techniques and different apparatus (dry land and in water) is synergistic. Be aware of the lag time between the start of training and the effect on swimming—this needs to be considered, in both the time to start and when the optimal impact is desired (e.g., Nationals). The training you do now will start being effective in four to six weeks.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
General strength training X X X X X X Continue
Specific land training X X X X X X X
Apparatus water training X X X X


As a rule of thumb, general dry-land strength training should start the season, followed by dryland training specific to the stroke or technique, followed by in-water specific training (e.g., pulling, fins, drills, etc.). This does not mean that general swim conditioning and workouts should be sacrificed ... this strength training would be incremental.

For most swimmers the general strength training recommended would be something on the order of weight or machines for four to eight weeks, the same for dryland specific, and so also the in-water. When the desired number of weeks is determined, perhaps by backtracking from the focal point (e.g., Nationals), each of these sessions should overlap the next by roughly two weeks. Thus, if six weeks for each is desired, the total time for this training regimen would be fourteen weeks. Add to this whatever tapering time is needed. Note: starting training four to six weeks before the effect is desired will NOT work ... the body takes this four- to six-week period to make the adjustments and start the strength improvement.

As a result of this, strength training will continue to build (a lag effect) for approximately two to four weeks after the training is stopped. Thus, stopping the training regiment three to four weeks before the peak point and working on in-water resistance (e.g., short sprints, turns, breath enhancement, etc.) should optimize performance.


Getting the most out of your training, particularly for a big meet such as Nationals, requires more than just training. When the body trains it both grows stronger and more fatigued. Tapering is the method to reduce the fatigue aspect while enhancing the training portion of working out. Here are some tips:

• Two to four weeks prior to your big meet, start reducing the duration of workouts. Keep the number of workouts the same, but cut back on the yardage. That is, same intensity, but less of it.

• If you are doing weight training, think of ceasing it at this two- to four-week mark, as the benefits will continue after you stop.

• Look at spending pool time on starts, turns, and speed work (even if you swim distance events, the speed work will pay off in the last part of your race).

• Don't forget the mental aspect: imagine yourself doing well.