Band training can keep your muscles in shape when you can't get to the pool

Band training keeps your swim muscles in shape  Credit: Mike Hewitt/Allsport
Getting to a pool is not always easy, and during the holidays it can be close to impossible to make such a time commitment.

There is, however, a dry-land method of training that swimmers have relied on in the past to keep their swimming muscles in shape. It?s called "band training," and utilizes common surgical tubing found by the mile in hospitals, hardware stores, and even sport-retail outlets everywhere.

Essentially a giant rubber band, surgical tubing is a hollow ?straw? made of rubber with varying degrees of thickness. The idea behind band training is to pull on the band as you would pull through the water in your strokes, with the resistance providing a workout that closely simulates the resistance you feel in the water.

To start, you want to find yourself a piece of surgical tubing that is about 8 to 10 feet long. You may want to start with a thickness of only 1/24 or 1/16 of an inch, and work your way up to 1/8. At each end, make handle grips by tying the tubing into a knot with enough of a gap, or circle, to fit your wrist through (about 3 inches across). Tape the knot tightly with athletic tape to prevent it from untying during exercise.

Next, find a stable base to loop your tubing around, about 4 feet off the ground. In a pinch, a doorknob will do, but it is preferable to find a tree or a fencepost and adjust the height of the tubing to 4 feet.

Loop it around the base once at the midway point, so you have about 4 feet of tubing trailing from your base to each handle. Grab the tubing by the handles and bend over at the waist.

Begin your tubing drill by standing away from your base with your arms extended in front of you so that the tubing you are holding is taut but not tense. Start pulling the tubing simultaneously back past your hips, as if you are doing an underwater butterfly pull. When your arms are extended behind you (the ?end? of your stroke) bring them back in front of you in a controlled, but fast, motion (backtrack your hands under your body the way they came).

Simply keep repeating this motion for several minutes. Here is a set you can try if you are just starting out.

  • 5 minutes warm-up pulling
    (step back a step)
  • 2 minutes harder and faster pulling
    (step forward)
  • 1 minute recovery, easy slower pulling
    (step back)
  • 2 minutes harder and faster pulling
    (step forward)
  • 5 minutes recovery

    If you have never done band training before, you may find your lower back will ache from the strain of bending over at the waist for 15 minutes at first. Your shoulders should also feel sore, more so than after a swim workout. This is to be expected; you are breaking down muscle tissue with intense training (which is a good thing!).

    A not-so-good thing is if your inner shoulder (rotator cuff area) begins to ache. This is an indicator that you are straining your shoulders too much and/or not doing the drill correctly. If you are jerking the tubing back and allowing the tension of the band to pull your arms back above your head rather than bringing your arms around in a controlled motion, you are doing more harm than good.

    Other things to watch out for are tubing that can snap, or break. Because bands are rubber, make sure your base is not abrasive (such as a rough tree or a fencepost with a sharp surface). Always check your tubing at the midway and base point for cracks and rips that could result in a snapped fragment.

    When you tie it around your base, you may want to loop it around at the halfway point double, and bring the ends through the loop in the middle (this will prevent additional chafing).

    Hand blisters are another side effect of band training. Run-of-the-mill cycling or weight training gloves are ideal to prevent blistering, but best of all are swimming paddles attached to the band handle grips; this not only prevents chafing but allows for a more accurate simulation of underwater recovery.

    Tubing does not have to be limited to the butterfly/freestyle underwater motion either. You can attempt the same drill with a breaststroke pull, or you can lie down on your back with your head pointing toward your tubing base and pull your arms down to work on your backstroke pull. You can even affix the tubing to your feet and practice breaststroke kicking.

    The convenience of band training makes it hard to resist (there?s a pun in there somewhere). You can set it up almost anywhere, and condition swimming muscles without getting wet. During the busy holidays and travel season, what more could you ask for?

    Make your own bands, or buy Stretch Cordz at the Active Sports Mecca

    Shop for other swim gear at the Active Sports Mecca Swim Store

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