Tag Archives: Conditioning

Conquering Conditioning – How to Use the Pool to Improve Your Training

Too hot to run sprints…get in the pool!

Last week’s Straight to the Bar twitterchat on conditioning, sparked a great conversation.  Rob DeCillis of Combat Trainer hosted and the ideas and information were flowing.

Photo by: jurvetson

The conversation got me thinking…with the importance of breath control and conditioning for MMA and boxing, why don’t we hear more about fighters using the pool as part of their training.

I tossed a few ideas out and there was definitely interest in the topic.  So, as promised, I’m following up with some more ideas about conquering conditioning in the pool.

Swimming alone will do wonders for your breathing and cardiovascular conditioning.  But, if you get bored easily and find following a black line tedious, then here are 7 ideas that will hold your interest, challenge your cardiovascular conditioning, and teach you to better control your breathing.

Swimming Underwater

Nothing teaches you to measure your breathing and stay focused like swimming underwater (watch how relaxed Kevin Busscher is in the video).  Swimming under water, teaches you to take deeper fuller breaths, to measure your exhalation, and to become familiar with functioning without panicking in the absence of oxygen.

It’s also very easy to measure improvement.  Keep in mind, you have to be ever more careful as you improve.  With greater time and distance underwater, you will want to have a spotter and/or let the lifeguard know what you are up to.

Safety fact: underwater swimmer’s can drop into unconsciousness, but appear to continue swimming, as their arms and legs continue to rhythmically pull and kick.

Sprints With Bodyweight Exercises

Pick your swim distance (25 yards or 50 meters).  Pick a stroke.  Pick a body weight exercise and number of repetitions.  Sprint to the end of the pool (or to the end of the pool and back).  Quickly and carefully get out of the pool and up on the deck.  Complete your body weight exercises.  Get back into the pool, sprint, repeat.  Remember, pool decks are slippery.  You want to pick bodyweight exercises that are stable.  This is not the time for burpees, handstand push-ups, or pistols.

Let’s run through a few examples:

(25 yard freestyle sprint / 25 push-ups) x 4 = 1 set

(25 yard freestyle sprint / 25 push-ups / 25 yard freestyle sprint / 50 flutter kicks) x 2 = 1 set

(25 yard butterfly sprint / 25 push-ups / 25 yard backstroke sprint / 25 body weight squats / 25 yard breaststroke sprint /50 flutter kicks / 25 yard freestyle sprint / chair dips) = 1 set

You get the idea…lots of possible combinations.

Add Some Resistance

Put on a sweat shirt, get in the pool, now swim.  Not easy.  Once you get good at swimming with the sweat shirt, add sweat pants.  Need some more resistance, put on your favorite pair of Chuckie T’s and do it all over again.  The sneakers add weight and decrease the efficiency of your kicking.  This is an old school workout that never goes out of style.

Fun With Dive Bricks

A standard dive brick weighs 10 pounds.  The easiest way to work with one is to swim across the pool while holding the brick with both hands.  At first, you will need to keep the brick close to your body.  Eventually you will be able to hold it out in front, while you kick across the pool.  Doing this works your core and taxes your cardiovascular system.

Individual Relays

For these relays, rather than switching swimmers, switch to a different piece of gear with each sprint.  I like to use a kick board, a pull buoy, and hand paddles.  Get in the pool.  Leave your hand paddles behind.  Use the kick board to carry the pull buoy to the other end of the pool.  Once you get there, put the kick board on the deck, grab the pull buoy and sprint back.  When you touch the wall, swap the pull buoy for the hand paddles.  Drop off the hand paddles and freestyle sprint back…grab the pull buoy…keep cycling through.

Drown Proofing

This is an exercise made famous by the US Navy SEALs.  It’s very easy to explain.  Head to the deep end of the pool.   Keep your hands behind your back.  Exhale and drop to the bottom.  Kick off the bottom of the pool.  As you break through the water’s surface, take a full deep breath.  Sink back to the bottom, by controlling your exhalation.  Kick off the bottom.  Repeat.  If you get a good rhythm going, you can do this exercise for extended periods of time, longer than you can tread water…hence the name.

The Dreaded Water Bottle

Last, but not least, the dreaded water bottle.  Take an empty 5 gallon water bottle to the deep end of the pool.  Sink it.  Swim down to the bottle, lift it above your head, kick off the bottom of the pool, then hold the bottle above your head and in the air until all of the the water in the bottle drains out.

If you are like me, that is to say, without a massive upper body or particularly strong legs, then technique is your friend.  I follow a three step approach for solving this puzzle.  In the early stage, while the bottle is mostly full, kick to the top, hold the bottle above the surface, drain some water, then use the weight of the bottle, to drive you back to the bottom.  Rebound off the bottom of the pool, surface, and let some more water out.

The middle stage is the toughest.  The bottle is 1/3 to 1/2 empty.  It is no longer negatively buoyant.  So, you have to tread water with the bottle above your head, but the weight from the bottle, keeps your face beneath the surface.  Remain calm, as you kick furiously and your lungs burn, water will slowly drain from the bottle and you will start to rise.

If you don’t lose your focus, you can initiate the third phase by rotating the bottle.  As you rotate the bottle, the water will start to circulate.  The swirling action increases the rate that water drains from the bottle (or, maybe it just gives you something other than your lungs to focus on).  As the water drains and the bottle lightens, you can switch it to one hand, relax a little bit and enjoy the oxygen you are now able to pull into your lungs.  This is a great exercise at the end of a workout, as it is both a mental and physical challenge.

Time to Hit the Local Pool

There you have it, seven fun ways to work on your tan and your conditioning at the same time.



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