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Dry Land Training: Developing Athletes In the Water

Written By: Bernardine Dickman


Today, our youth spend much more time on sedentary activities than in the past. Due to the computer, phone, tablet and video game crazes, our youth are much less athletic than the generation before. Often today’s youth choose to meet online instead of outside, on the playground or at the ball field. Pickup games and just being outside running around are not nearly as common as they once were. Youth today tend to specialize in one to two sports rather than being all around athletic. This makes what we do outside of the pool with our swimmers more important than ever. Developing athleticism in our swimmers needs to be at the forefront of our minds as coaches. We want to develop athletes that swim, not just swimmers.


When designing quad, season, monthly and weekly plans, implementing a dry land program that is also precise, purposeful and complements what is being accomplished in the pool is essential. Dry land sessions should include a dynamic warm up, some specific stretches and flexibility exercises, functional and stability exercises, specific weight training, power and plyometric exercises that are all age and body appropriate. The dry land program for an age group team should be progressive and proper dry land practice habits should be developed from the youngest swimmers throughout all age groups in the program. Proper technique should be the focus for all exercises preformed in and out of the pool. The primary purpose of the dry land program should be to help improve athlete self-confidence, enhance athletic performance and injury prevention. Coaches will need to be knowledgeable on exercises and technique and should not incorporate programming they are unfamiliar with. There are many resources, programs, seminars and trainings for coaches to become more familiar with dry land readily available. These can be in person or online and should be required for any coach running a dry land practice. These practices should be well planned and written out just like in the water practices should be. All coaches on staff should be on the same page regarding proper technique for all exercises and the team’s dry land progression.


For a dry land program to be most effective, it is recommended that it be its own practice. Having a dry land training session immediately after a pool practice, swimmers are already at muscle fatigue and correct form for exercises can be compromised. This leads to improper technique, poor performance and higher rates of injury. Having a dry land session immediately before a pool session, swimmers are at muscle fatigue and correct technique in the water can be compromised with the same result of poor technique, poor performance and higher injury rates. Coaches should incorporate team building and leadership development as part of their dry land programming. With swimmers out of the pool and having more direct contact, dry land practices offer great opportunities for team building activities and teachable moments. In all age groups, dry land activities can often be game, and team focused, while learning different dry land exercises and routines. Hard work can and should be fun.



When developing your team practice schedules keep in mind that much can be accomplished in a dry land practice and creative scheduling may be necessary. One program that we studied ran their Senior group dry land sessions as their morning workouts two days a week(T/TH) and one afternoon a week(F). The same group was in the water four evenings (M-TH), and two mornings (F/Sat.) What the coaching staff discovered over the course of a SCY season was, through a purposeful plan for all practices, swimmers had fewer incidents of joint pain and injury (especially shoulder over use soreness), were more flexible, and had a vast improvement on the groups explosive power. All of which translated to a positive impact on starts and turns as well as power and speed in the water. The overall result of a purposeful dry land training program for the team was faster, more athletic and confident swimmers with a strong sense of being a team. They also so saw group attendance go up and swimmers experiencing training fatigue and burnout go down.


Dry land programming will work well when planned and purposeful. Dry land programs that are an afterthought of and not part of the plan tend to be ineffective. Coaches, swimmers and parents will need to buy in. Dry land training sessions should be required like all pool practices. It should not be optional. Swimmers need to train consistently to get the most out of the program. They need to arrive prepared both mentally and physically and with proper equipment and attire. Just like they would for the pool. Swimmers need to be held accountable for these practices, not just attendance but attitude, behavior and effort as well. There is a mental toughness that will need to be developed. Swimmers need to understand that these practices will be different but can be just as rewarding as what happens in the pool. Training hard in and out of the pool is tough but, in the end, it is the path that will help swimmers reach their goals in and out of the pool. It will help ensure we as coaches develop athletes that are great swimmers, and in turn develop athleticism in our youth where it has been lacking.


A Native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Bernardine (Bernie) is a graduate of Xavier University where she earned a degree in Elementary Education and was captain of the women’s swim team, earning Swimmer of the Year three consecutive seasons and Scholastic All American Honors. Bernie began her coaching career in 1985 as head coach of Madeira Swim and Tennis Club in Cincinnati, where she coached the team to two PPSL Silver Division Rec League titles. In 1991 Bernie joined the coaching staff of the CAC Seahawks, a USA club team. Bernie worked with the leadership of CAC to grow the age group program. During her tenure with CAC, the team saw its first Junior National qualifiers. In 1993 the Dickman family relocated to Indiana where Bernie went on to be the founder and head coach of the SIYMCA/Batesville Stingrays. In addition to setting up the team, parent advisory committee, coaching staff and securing funding, Bernie coached the Stingrays to 4 consecutive undefeated SEISA Conference seasons and titles. The team also produced several IHSAA state finalists, USA JO Age group qualifiers and Champions, YMCA National qualifiers, and a Junior National qualifier under her leadership. Bernie became Head Age Group Coach for the Countryside YMCA Torpedoes in Lebanon, Ohio in 2005 and over the course of her career with the Torpedoes she coached many first-time YMCA National Qualifiers, OSHAA state qualifiers, including several OSHAA state champions, and her groups won age group high point at the SWOYSL AA Championships from 2009-2015. In 2014 Bernie served as part of the Long Course YMCA National Championship team coaching staff. In 2016 Bernie joined the coaching staff at Coffman Family YMCA as the Head Age Group Coach. At the SWOYSL championships her groups posted over 90% on best times, and had 4 new Great Lakes Zone qualifiers. She also had the pleasure of working with the team’s head coach in the coaching of the team’s Olympic Time Trial qualifier. In September of 2016 Bernie moved to the New England to become the Association Director of Competitive Swimming and Head Coach for the SSYMCA Strypers. The team saw growth and the regrowth of its National Team and numbers of swimmers attending YMCA and USA National meets. AS well as NES champions and a National YMCA record holder. Bernie was selected to be part of the 2016 American Swim Coach Association’s (ASCA) Fellows class. She, along with 4 other coaches from different programs and backgrounds and was tasked with the project of looking at “The American Swim Team” and doing a SWOT analysis of the health of competitive swimming in America. Throughout her coaching career she has been an active member of the high school, LCS’s and YMCA leagues that the teams she has worked with participate in. This included being a Safe Sport Commissioner for the Dayton Region of the OHIO LSC, SEISA League president, YMCA league representative and an active delegate of the Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and New England LSC’s. She was elected to NES LSC BOD as the Age Group Chair, after serving on the Safe Sport and Leadership board committees. Bernie has also been involved in USA Zone camps, several USA, YMCA and LSC leadership camps as participant, leader and speaker. Bernie is a certified by YMCA, USA, NISCA and has been certified OHSAA, IHSAA, MHSAA, and CHSAA Swimming. She is ASCA Level 4 certified. She is a fitness trainer, with specialties in personal training, strength and conditioning, and sports nutrition. Personally, she has been married to her husband Mark for 32 years and they have five wonderful sons and an ever-growing family which now includes 3 awesome daughters in laws and one fantastic granddaughter. Outside the pool, Bernie loves power lifting, gardening and camping. Currently she and Mark reside in Colorado.


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