Swim Magazine

How can dryland training improve your swimming technique and ability?

Swim magazine speaks to New York swimming coach Dan Daly about his unorthodox methods – he likes to get his clients out of the pool and drill them with techniques on dry land, alongside strength and conditioning work in the gym. What advantages can dryland training bring to your swimming and your mental wellbeing? Let’s find out…

WORDS: Patrick McLennan

What inspired Dan Daly’s approach to swim coaching?

It’s an approach that started when his father built a weight room in their garage when Dan was in grade eight (age 13) and trying to build muscle to play American football. It’s something that marked him apart when he became an All-American swimmer at college, then followed him into his personal training and coaching career.

‘I still think swim coaches don’t understand strength training. There is this bias in the endurance world that it’s going to make you sore and bulky, that it’s going to inhibit your performance,’ he says over Zoom from his home in New York. ‘But I think there is a growing body of people who are embracing it, who realise it’s really important for muscular balance and injury prevention and, ultimately, performance.’

But the ‘biggest opportunity’ to find improvement in a swimmer, whether it is a set-in-their-ways 40-year-old or Adam Peaty, is still technique, he says.

‘Human beings are just so inefficient in the water in terms of their shape and moving their limbs, which creates drag and works against you,’ he explains. ‘It’s incredibly inefficient. You know, 90% of your effort, even at the highest level, is just being wasted – only 10% cent is propulsion. So, I focus on technique first and foremost.’

How can dryland training help you assess your swimming weaknesses?

Dan’s work on technique begins with a land-based assessment to see if a swimmer’s body has the ‘prerequisite hardware’ to do what they want to do and he addresses that with dryland technique and functional drills and, later, when the time is right, some drills in the water.

‘A swim coach who is not taking them out of water and observing them on dry land may not understand why they can’t do it in the water,’ he says. ‘All along it may be an anatomical restriction which we can work out on land. Maybe we don’t need to give any drills in the water. Take them out of the chaotic environment in the water, isolate the situation and put them back in the water, and ideally they’ll be in a better position.’

Dan’s fascination with biomechanics and anatomy informs his coaching – he studies how a swimmer’s joints are moving. ‘You might observe someone crossing the line in their freestyle stroke and you can give them a drill, but if they don’t have the range of motion to get into that position on land, then they’re not going to be able to do it in the water,’ he says.

According to Dan, swimmers need more ankle, hip and shoulder mobility than the average person does. Most adults are in ‘some kind of deficit’ with mobility, so he focuses on improving that with his clients. An example is the benefit of extra ankle mobility.

‘First, from a streamlining and drag standpoint and second, getting more propulsion out of your kick,’ he says.

‘A lot of people aren’t as strong as they could be, so we focus on the big lifts, pushing and pulling, squatting and dead lifting… My videos might look really strength-specific or swim-specific, but I’m just helping people connect the dots between how squats may help you kick better or how pull-ups may help you pull better.’

How can dryland workouts help with your mental health?

‘Burn out and mental health issues are a recurring theme with the best swimmers,’ says Dan, which highlights another benefit of dryland training. It’s social activity and a ‘reprieve’ from the ‘sensory deprivation’ of swimming up and down a pool.

‘It’s social, your face is above the water, you can listen to music, it’s something different from a mental standpoint and then, physically, it offsets some of the physical stresses we see in the water. You’re training different types of fibre, [using] different energy systems in a way, so there’s a lot of balance to it. It can be a nice shift.’