If the thought of hitting the pool during a well-deserved break makes you cringe, you're not alone. Although common sense tells us the only way to swim faster is by training in the water, science tells another story.
Swimmers can use dryland exercises as a way to improve conditioning and stroke efficiency, while remaining injury-free during the offseason. Stretch cords are a great way to simulate swimming motions without ever getting in the water.
What Are Stretch Cords?
Stretch cords are long bands of hollow surgical tubing, approximately eight to 10 feet long. They are tied at the ends with either round handles, plastic handles or paddles.
You can purchase pre-made stretch cord systems, or you can make your own by purchasing surgical tubing in 50- or 100-foot rolls from a surgical supply or physical therapy store. Then cut your own strips and tie the ends into seven- to eight-inch loops for your hands.
Will Stretch Cords Make Me Faster?
In swimming, speed depends on stroke rate, which is the number of strokes per minute, and distance per stroke, which is the distance the body travels per stroke.
Stretch cords are a great way to strengthen many of the tiny connector muscles, ligaments and tendons that can become overused or overlooked while training in the pool. An increase in strength leads to increased swimming speed.
6 Exercises That Make a Difference
For each exercise, put the cords around something sturdy, like the ladder of a pool or a heavy table leg. Make sure the object is strong and will not move or fall on you.
Butterfly (double-arm pull-back): Holding the cords in front of you, stand far enough away to create some tension in them. Bend over at the waist and lower your head. With arms straight and outstretched in front of you, pull your arms down to your sides as if doing an actual butterfly stroke. Remember to start the pull phase with your palms and forearms. Make sure to keep your elbows pointed out and at your shoulder line. Finish with your hands past your hips.
Single arm (freestyle pull-back): Same as the butterfly, but alternate one arm at a time.
Tricep pull-back: Use the same starting position as the butterfly but keep your elbows tucked into your sides and press your arms behind you. Make sure to squeeze the muscles at the back of your arms at the end of each stroke.
Breaststroke pull: Use the same bent-over starting position as above. Make breaststroke motions with your arms. Maintain a high elbow position and execute the motion with your palms and forearms. Be careful not to let your elbows drop below a line parallel to your shoulders.
Chest fly: Stand upright holding the cords in front of you with a little bit of tension. Start with arms outstretched in front of you. While keeping arms at chest height, pull each arm to the side and back until your hands are in line with your shoulders.
Reverse fly: Standing upright and facing away from the cords, position your hands next to your shoulders and your elbows at shoulder level. Keeping your arms parallel to your shoulders, push out until you can press your hands together in front of your chest.
How to Get the Most From Stretch Cord Training
The easiest and most effective way to perform these exercises is with intervals. Start with three sets of 10 repetitions and increase to three sets of 30 to 45 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds to one minute in between each set.
Use stretch cords consistently and stick with a similar routine two to three days a week to receive the greatest benefit from these exercises. Every few weeks, attempt to increase the number of strokes by one or two per interval.
In addition to offseason training, you can also use stretch cords as part of your warm-up for a swim race or triathlon. They're lightweight and take up very little space in your bag (I like to bring my cords with me when I travel, in case I can't get to a pool right away.)
The first time you perform these exercises you might be a bit sore. Stick with the exercises and the next time you're in the pool, you'll notice the results.
Ruthy Vesler is a five-time NCAA Swimming All-American and a professional triathlete. Ms. Vesler has two top-10 Ironman finishes and completed the 2006 season ranked eighth in the world on the ITU long distance list. She is a USAT certified coach, ACE certified personal trainer and a coach with the Escondido (Calif.) Swim Club.