Dry-Land Activation: A Missing Performance Link – Johnny FulleR, Manager, Paramedical Services, Swimming Canada
At all levels of the swimming pyramid, activation activity is generally not performed effectively. More than anything, activation programs lack structure and consistency.
There is good news though. Quality activation practice doesn’t have to be complex, can have huge benefits to swimmers and is reasonably simple to introduce once you look beyond the perceived barriers. All that is required is a little open mindedness, combined with a willingness to adapt.
What frustrates you most?
Having to take time out of the water? Being seemingly inhibited by some physical dysfunction? Being unable to cope with increased intensity & volume through a cycle? Being unable to make in water changes in respect to technique? Being becoming overcome with nerves and anxiety pre-race?
As a paramedical provider, one of the most frustrating things we have to contend with is the same athletes presenting with exactly the same (preventable) issues over and over again.
The answer to all these frustrations?
Whilst I accept it’s not the only solution, a quality/structured/consistent activation program – dovetailing seamlessly with the pool and gym training – is certainly a major player in positively affecting all of these scenarios.
So how does it do this?
Activation practice is about preparing the body’s systems for optimum task completion, by stimulating and initiating key physical responses in the body. Good activation practice will also often have the huge added value of promoting mental readiness & mental focus.
From a physiological stand point, a good activation set will increase core & muscle temperature, accelerate blood flow, enhance contractility/excitability/extensibility/relaxation response of muscle tissue, elevate oxygen baseline consumption and enable correct kinetic chain sequencing. From a psychological perspective, a clear and consistent approach to activation – practiced throughout the training year – will ensure reproducible patterns of behavior around competition… something we know will contribute significantly to decreasing arousal and the negative performance effects associated with stress and anxiety.
Activation practice plays an integral role in ensuring the body is fully prepared for training – enabling the athlete to be more resilient & robust, free from injury, able to cope with the demands of training, and (as all systems are effectively ‘switched on’) able to respond to more effectively to technique cueing from
We have three main phases – RAISE & MOBILIZE, ACTIVATE and PRIME. Within the ACTIVATE phase, we have three main areas which independently address the essential key components required within swimming – shoulder stability (incorporating push-pull integrity), trunk alignment & control and lower body muscle engagement (particularly backline muscle tissue).
Timing wise, for a general program, about a 1/5th of the total time should be taken up with the RAISE & MOBILIZE and PRIME phases of this model. About 3/5th of the total time should be dedicated to ACTIVATE… and, again in a general program, equal segments of this allotted to shoulder, core and lower body respectively. So, a 30minute program would be 6 minutes RAISE & MOBILIZE, 18 minutes ACTIVATE (6 minutes each for shoulders, core and lower body) and 6 minutes PRIME.
Typically, a 25-30minute program ensure an ideal allocation of exercises. However, if more or less time is available then the same timing ratios should be applied. Similarly, there is definite scope to alter ratios (particularly within the ACTIVATE stage) if greater individualization is required – for instance, if an athlete demonstrates particular stroke deficiencies as a result of compensatory muscle action/imbalances, if they exhibit weakness through particular areas of the body, if they are consistently reporting tightness in certain muscle groups or if they have some additional rehabilitation needs.
There are any number of exercises that could slot into each section meaning there is plenty of scope for progression, change of emphasis and variety. As such, the model is relevant for athletes of all ages and levels. The key is to always ensure structure, consistency and high quality technique execution – typically using low reps & controlled movement – in a relaxed, focused and professional environment.
Below is a YouTube video of Mack Darragh (Rio 2016 Olympian & Canadian 200m Butterfly Record Holder) performing a 30minute pre-pool activation. In the video Mack works through a number of exercises (listed at the bottom of this article), in line with the new activation model structure.