Swimmers Try Land-Based Training During Lockdown and Continue as Pools Open
Most Masters swimmers prefer water training over land-based activity. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis required many swimmers to hang up their swimsuits and find new training alternatives. Research shows that land-based activities can help maintain bone density and muscle mass and that cross-training can reduce the potential for injuries. Masters swimmers Mark Frost, Tom Boyd, Andrea Woodburn, Eney Jones, Hilary Cohen, and Denise Letendre share how they stayed fit during the lockdown and why they continued some of their land-based activities once pools opened again.
Oregon Masters swimmer Mark Frost, 53, has acquired four Masters Top 10 achievements and one Masters All-American berth in a 10K open water race. He joined the Oregon Masters Swim community several years ago and began training up to six days a week at the Hood River Aquatic Center.
Mark was experiencing shoulder pain when pools in his area closed in March. “Before COVID, I was considering transitioning to three, instead of five, days in the pool, using the other two days to do dryland shoulder work.”
He started biking around a 10-mile bike loop in his neighborhood dubbed the “Hamster” loop. At first, he cycled the route on alternate days and then started doing it daily or even twice a day. He’s now done this loop 43 straight days in the afternoons—rather than the early AMs when he once swam.
During the spring, he ventured out on an open water wetsuit swim in Hood River with two other teammates in chilly 55- degree water. “Water flow is really strong this time of year.” Most of the open water swimmers wait until it slows—and the water hits at least 60, he said.
“I’m going to look for a balance coming out of this [COVID-19 crisis].” Mark plans to continue cycling after pools open “to improve my legs so I can start running again” and to “keep the weight off.” After completing an Ironman Triathlon in Cozumel in 2013, he has experienced steady weight gain.
He’ll stick with his recently established afternoon training schedule, which has enabled him to communicate with European clients early mornings when he used to swim. Biking, running and open water—rather than pool—training will make that possible. He looks ahead to winning another open water championship and one day swimming the English Channel.
64-year-old Tom Boyd—coached by John Grzeszczak—swims with the Hammerhead Aquatics Masters team in Fort Lauderdale and has acquired 67 Masters Top 10 and one All-American award. A former college swimmer, Tom joined Masters in 1984 and has been consistently swimming ever since. After being diagnosed with a heart condition ten years ago, he has directed his focus on fitness rather than competition.
Pre-COVID-19, he did chest and shoulder work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and back, biceps and legs on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Thirty-five years of coaching experience gave him the know-how to design effective strength training workouts. His goal want wasn’t to bulk up—just to get stronger—and maintain a healthy bone density, which can’t be achieved through water training. He cycled through three sets of 6, 10 or 20 reps, doing fewer reps on days higher weights were selected. Stretches were added during rest intervals. In particular, he emphasized stretches for tight hips and hamstrings. This weight routine was disrupted when his condo complex gym closed in March.
Tom’s lockdown strength workout includes pushups (3×20), burpees (2×10), tricep dips (3×20), planks (2×1:15), mountain climbers (3×20), calf raises (2×30), jumping jacks (1×40) and a two-minute wall sit. “I also do several sets of light-weight repeats of rotator cuff exercises. Because I only have five-pound weights, I also do three sets of 100 curls as fast as I can to get some lactic acid.” He also does a workout “based on a set that coach John sent out that had a set for each letter of the alphabet and you spell out your full name, including middle name, for your dry land sets. It was fun, and I stuck with it (Table 1).”
Tom typically swam as much as 4000 meters four days a week and ran on three of the off days. Now he’s running four to eight miles before sunrise when he’s less likely to encounter others.
Tom will resume his normal weight routine and continue running three days a week once the lockdown ends and he can return to the pool. “Once I can get in the water, I will do a lot of dolphin kicking on my back for my core. I will probably discontinue the drylands but will keep up with the planks. I want to do the weights to help with bone density and muscle mass.” Strength training also helps with weight control, he said. “I will always continue to do the rotator cuff exercises as I have chronic issues with my shoulders if I don’t.”
Andrea Woodburn, a recently retired family therapist, also swims for Hammerhead Aquatics in Ft. Lauderdale. She has acquired 10 Masters Top 10 achievements and has been a Masters swimmer for more than 25 years, serving in various capacities with her LMSC in more recent years.
When pools closed on March 15th, Andrea turned to yoga. She’s a 200-RYT Yoga Alliance certified instructor and enjoys a regular Ashtanga practice. She says yoga is similar to swimming in that “there’s rhythm and flow.” People who take her classes often take it for flexibility, mobility, and better emotional balance. “Who doesn’t like to feel at peace. People are really having this sense of being out of control. In Yoga, you gain insight on your own control over your own body. It’s very powerful.”
Andrea and her husband also practice tether swimming in their backyard pool, simulating 100-yard intervals by stroke count. She’s also been doing the A-Z strength and general conditioning work that teammate Tom Boyd is doing.
The dryland workouts have added a new component to her training. “Sweat, heart-rate up, high energy, listening to music, I can feel muscles tightening—it’s overall good conditioning.” For many of those reasons, she plans to continue that mode of training post-lockdown.
Andrea believes in having options available. People not open to training outside the water “have no outlet,” she said. “I think it’s important to be well-rounded.” Even if pools don’t close again due to the pandemic, a person might have to stop pool training during an ear infection or other situation. Andrea also cites bone health as one more reason to persist with some kind of land-based training.
|Table 1: A-Z or Spell Your Name Workout|
|D||40 jumping jacks|
|F||3-minute wall sit|
|H||30 calf raises|
|I||20 body squats|
|J||20 mountain climbers|
|K||15 tricep dips|
|P||25 arm circles|
|Q||15 side lunges|
|S||20 mountain climbers|
|T||20 jump squats|
|U||1-minute high knees|
|W||15 tricep dips|
|Y||3-minute wall sit|
|Z||30 calf raises|
Andrea anticipates a return to open water racing. Last year, she swam the Hellespont, a swim that crosses a channel from Europe to Asia. More than 800 swimmers competed, and Andrea won her age group. “It was a really cool race.”
Eney Jones splits her time living in Boulder and Crescent Butte, Colorado. She was an NCAA gold medalist, has 104 Masters Top ten achievements, 7 Masters All American (pool) achievements, and 3 All American open water achievements. She was also a professional triathlete for nearly a decade.
The coronavirus lockdowns scrambled all of her aquatic plans. Eney had been slated to race in USMS Spring Nationals, a meet her dad was hosting, and to attend clinics in Canada and Australia. The sudden end to those plans and her water training felt surreal. “I went from a busy schedule to nothing.”
Embarking on land-based training, she chose to move away from goal-driven training. “I am doing things because I enjoy them, not stressing or training with the ‘end’ or ‘race’ in mind, but more with the ‘right now’ in mind. I used to think that more was more. More training, more activities, more racing. But now I am doing things for less time more often.”
She often ran nine miles while training for triathlons, for example. At first, it felt like a waste for her to try three instead. She gradually let go of that belief and started regularly running short distances with a friend. “I’m making it more about fun and conversation.” Often, Eney doesn’t even wear a watch.
In addition to running, she’s mountain and road biking and doing “kitchen ballet” (a combination of dumbbell exercises, yoga, and ballet), core work (including wheels – https://swimswam.com/finding-the-calm-in-the-storm/) and yoga—outside on the deck with her husband.
Instead of getting up at 4:30 to swim like she did when pools were open, “I sleep in and I’m eating and cooking better.” Sleeping past the wee hours has its benefits. Instead of the afternoon doldrums, “I have energy to go through the day,” she said. She has enjoyed this shift of mindset and activities she’s adopted during this lockdown. “It’s made me open my mind to the fact that other things could feed my soul.”
She admits the water’s never far from her mind. Her thirst for the water drove her to dive into ice-cold creek swimming. “You get in and it’s so cold, you think I can’t do this.” Then, she said, you go numb and don’t care anymore and “afterward, you feel great.”
After lockdown ends, morning “connection” walks with her husband and road and mountain biking will all continue along with the 30-minute “kitchen ballet” routine. “Yes, I will compete but not as much. Yes, I will swim but not as much. I have found that other activities are helping me keep strong and more focused on what really matters.”
32-year-old Denise Letendre “swam collegiately at Rutgers University and then started Masters in 2012. I am a five-time individual All-American and 93-time Masters Top 10 swimmer. “Primarily an IMer in the pool,” she also regularly competes in open water competitions.
“About two weeks after pools closed, I purchased a spin bike. My bike cost about 350 dollars and was easy to assemble. I started using the Peloton app to do spin workouts. I have also incorporated strength workouts, dance cardio, stretching, and yoga into my routine. The app offers classes in all those areas. I like the variety. I particularly like the spin classes because they mimic tough pool workouts. Sprints and resistance challenges force me to push myself like I would in the pool. I find myself drawing upon the same “grit” and perseverance I use at the end of a tough swim race. Sometimes I even convert how much time we have left to a swim race. Say we have 30 more seconds at a certain challenging speed. I will tell myself that it’s the last 50 of a 400 IM and push myself like I would at the end of a race. I get the same ‘high’ at the end of a spin class that I used to get when pushing myself in the pool. I also feel like the cycling has kept my cardiovascular fitness at a good level.
“After pools reopen, I still plan to use the bike on days I don’t swim. It helps my leg strength and cardiovascular capacity. I also plan to continue strength and yoga classes. I had done yoga before quarantine, but during this time, I realized how much my body needs it. I have tight shoulders that I enjoy stretching in downward-facing dog. I also feel like my balance is improving. I usually do yoga before bed and it helps me clear my head of the busyness and anxiety of the day.”
Hilary Cohen, 57, lives in Atlanta, Georgia. After pool closures, she continued swimming in nearby lakes on weekends. That’s when “I normally do high volume swims back to back,” she said.
Despite all the turmoil, this seasoned distance open water swimmer has set her sights on competing again in Trifloyd 8, an eight-mile open water event from Clearwater to Tampa in November. The COVID-19 crisis led her to ask herself, “What can I do to train hard now that I have this limitation?”
Her basement has been converted into a gym with “every piece of equipment.” A friend who owns a Cross Fit gym gave her ideas on implementing an effective core and strengthening program –on land and in an above ground pool—to improve her swimming performance. On land, she emphasizes work for core, shoulders, and back, performing a variety of exercises including planks, landmine lunges (with barbell), standing presses, rotator cuff work, kettlebell swings, waist twists (with barbell), and ball shots. She also suspends herself from gymnastic rings for pullups and core work. “There’s a host of core exercises I’ve added.” She has a large tire in her yard for flipping. This land-based regimen isn’t something she’ll discard even after pools open. “I’ve pulled a muscle in my back. I’ve had injuries.” She believes the dryland work is protective against these problems.
She encourages people locked out of gyms who don’t have weights at home to get creative. She suggests filling PVC pipe with sand and cementing the ends, filling milk jugs with water, or heaving kitty litter bags.
Hilary has one above ground pool in place and is in the process of setting up a second. When working remotely, she takes breaks to train in water just steps away from her computer. “It’s convenient and invigorating.” Recently, she’s been doing tethered sculling, kicking, fist swimming, breaststroke, and core work, including two and three-point plans. She hopes to be able to do full freestyle in her new, deeper pool.
With water nearby and a repertoire of workouts available, “I feel like I’m better able to equip with day to day stress. I can think outside the box and think ‘what else can I use?’ It’s good to experiment.”