What is the best type of strength training for swimmers?

Before answering this question, I would like to explain the difference between open and closed kinetic training.

The benefits of open and closed kinetic training regarding the shoulder complex are important to understand when developing a strength program because they will allow one to decide the program's focus: correcting specific imbalances versus increasing global strength and stability. For instance, open kinetic chain (OKC) exercises stimulate muscles in isolation, and closed kinetic chain (CKC) exercises stimulate muscles by co-activating surrounding muscle groups. OKC does not have a fixed distal segment, enabling free movement that is not fixed to an object (Prokopy et al., 2008). Muscle activation is also customarily proximal to the distal segment, and the distal part is usually the hands or feet. An example of an OKC is standing cable rows. CKC has a fixed distal segment when met with resistance (Prokopy et al., 2008). An example of a CKC is floor push-ups. In CKC exercises, the extremity muscle activation is sequential from distal to proximal.

For swimmers, dryland strength training will be composed of open and closed kinetic chain exercises. Upper extremity OKC exercises allow a swimmer to strengthen underworked muscles aiding in injury prevention. A great example in swimmers is strengthening the weak external rotators (ER) because the internal rotators (IR) become overdeveloped from the repetitive front crawl technique. The OKC exercises are also beneficial for strengthening the scapular muscles and correcting imbalances. In contrast, the CKC exercises target both agonist and antagonist muscle groups and greater joint stability, significantly increasing strength around the shoulder complex, which reduces the risk of injury during CKC exercises (Moradi Shahpar et al., 2019). 

Shahpar et al. (2019) studied the response of an eight-week open and closed dryland training program on muscle torque of the internal and external shoulder rotators in swimmers. Participants in the study were forty-five healthy male swimmers between the ages of 18-25. The swimmers were divided into the OKC group, the CKC group, and a control group. Except for the control group, each performed its prescribed exercises three times a week for eight weeks. Pre and post-measurements of peak torque of the internal and external shoulder rotators were completed using the isokinetic HUMAC NORM machine at various speeds of 60, 120, and 180 degrees. The study's results demonstrated improvements in both internal and external shoulder rotator torque. However, there was a substantial difference between open and closed kinetic training, with open kinetic training showing more significant improvements in enhancing internal and external shoulder torque. 

Both forms of training have a purpose in injury prevention, rehabilitation, and strength programs. The focus of dryland programs should include anterior and posterior muscle balancing, muscle endurance, strength building, improvement of joint stability, and neuromuscular control, which is addressed when including both OKC and CKC exercises (Moradi Shahpar et al., 2019). If the individual only did OKC exercises, they would lose out on the benefits of CKC, which increase proprioception, joint stability, and overall strength gains of surrounding muscles (Moradi Shahpar et al., 2019). 

Closed kinetic chain push-up and open kinetic chain ER

Examples of a closed kinetic chain push-up plus exercise and an open kinetic chain shoulder external rotation exercise with a theraband. Images are from Medbridge.

Article by Denise Fisher


Moradi Shahpar, F., Rahnama, N., & Salehi, S. (2019). The effect of 8 weeks of open and closed kinetic chain strength training on the torque of the external and internal shoulder rotator muscles in elite swimmers. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 10(2). https://doi.org/10.5812/asjsm.82158

Prokopy, M. P., Ingersoll, C. D., Nordenschild, E., Katch, F. I., Gaesser, G. A., & Weltman, A. (2008). Closed-kinetic chain upper-body training improves the throwing performance of NCAA division I softball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(6), 1790–1798. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e318185f637

Food protein

Considerations for Increasing Muscle Mass with Nutritional Supplementation


Increasing Muscle Mass

My first suggestion for an athlete would be to focus on their diet and make quality choices. I would encourage the athlete to establish an ideal and reasonable nutrition plan that provides adequate caloric intake and appropriate food consumption with timing (See Figure 2) to support their needs and improve their performance, strength, and power, which most likely will require assistance from a sports dietician. Andersen et al. (2005) research showed positive results in muscle hypertrophy of type I and II muscle fibers when young, physically active adult males consumed two servings of 25 grams of protein immediately before and after resistance training for 14 weeks at three times a week. Andersen et al. (2005) suggest that the mechanism for the increase in muscle hypertrophy is due to a positive protein balance, which means the rate of protein synthesis was more significant than protein breakdown.  

Morton et al. (2017) conducted a systematic review of the effect on skeletal muscle from different levels of protein intake, which indicated that an increase in the ingestion of protein at 0.5 and 3.5 g/kg/day was associated with increased muscle mass and this was shown to occur with and without weight training. Research has also established that adding protein with a higher amount of the amino acid leucine could help provide a more remarkable environment for muscle protein synthesis (Smith-Ryan & Jose, 2013).  Foods high in leucine are chicken breast, lean beef, and greek yogurt (Jeukendrup & Gleeson, 2019). So, with that said, it is safe to say that food should always come first before considering supplements.   However, other influences must be considered, such as age, genetics, lifestyle characteristics (sleep and stress management), and current and past training history. All these components and one's daily nutrition will play a role in their success and ability to attain performance goals.

Supplement Regimen

 I frequently get questions about multivitamins, "Mega" multivitamins, Creatine, and Whey protein supplements, so here is what I know:

First, "mega" multivitamin supplements do not help increase muscle mass, strength, and power. Taking a "mega" multivitamin/mineral supplement may also fall into the category of unsafe supplementation and is not needed when an individual is consuming a well-round whole foods diet with ideal amounts of macro and micronutrients. The added expense of buying a "mega" multivitamin could go towards purchasing high-quality foods; however, there are times when recommended dietary allowance (RDA) multivitamin may have a purpose that is important for specific stages in life or those that struggle with nutritional challenges (Garthe & Maughan, 2018). For instance, vegans or athletes with a particular medical condition may require medical guidance on multivitamins (Garthe & Maughan, 2018). One may also want to consume an RDA multivitamin as an insurance policy to benefit their overall health if they lack adequate intake for the day.  

Figure 1 below illustrates how athletes should manage their nutritional development through the years.  

Whey Protein

Whey protein would be a good supplement for athletes, pending they are getting most of their calories and protein from quality food sources. However, supplementing with whey protein may be helpful when it is hard to ingest the required amount of protein through food alone or simply for convenience.  Smith-Ryan & Jose (2013) reported that consuming 20-30 grams of whey protein from isolates or hydrolysates before, during, and after exercise has effectively increased anabolic activation.  For instance, an athlete may consider consuming 20-25 grams of protein (food sources or whey) with each meal, which may include co-ingesting a small amount of protein with carbohydrates during exercise, followed by a post-exercise feeding of 20-25 grams and possibly another protein feeding before bed to maintain a positive protein balance for muscle protein synthesis (van Loon, 2013).  


Creatine (Cr) would be a relatively safe supplement for athletes. As stated by Smith-Ryan & Jose (2013), all humans are consumers of Cr, which supplies high-intensity, short-duration exercise, i.e., sprinting, so it is a supplement that would be appropriate for many forms of exercise. Cr can be found in foods such as beef, pork, and fish or through a powder supplement that is mixed into a liquid, and either form is highly bioavailable (Smith-Ryan & Jose, 2013).   

The benefits of Cr are its effectiveness in improving lean body mass, strength, and high-intensity exercise (Kerksick et al., 2018). Additionally, and somewhat theoretically, Cr supplementation helps to increase its storage in the skeletal muscle (the primary area of storage for creatine in the body) to fuel anaerobic power activities, thus improving the efficiency of the phosphocreatine energy system (Smith-Ryan & Jose, 2013).  Nevertheless, severe adverse effects of Cr are absent in clinical trial studies on Cr, which is a tremendous outcome for a supplement that may enhance performance and lean body mass (Smith-Ryan & Jose, 2013).  

A con of Cr is that some individuals are poor or non-responders, which is influenced by the person's genotype (Smith-Ryan & Jose, 2013). Another point to consider is the quality of the product and additional components that make the Cr product less pure.  

A practical application to adding Cr monohydrate salt to an athlete's regimen would be to consider starting at 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight daily post resistance training to improve strength and lean body mass (Smith-Ryan & Jose, 2013). Rawson (2018) indicated two Cr supplementation strategies: short-term ingestion at 20 grams daily for five days or 3-5 grams daily for four weeks to achieve maximal muscle creatine levels. Continuous intake of Cr at a low dose can safely be accomplished at 3-5 grams per day or through dietary sources, which yields about 0.7 grams of creatine per six ounces of meat (Rawson, 2018). Additionally, athletes may consider consuming a post-workout meal or supplement that contains a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and Cr supplement, which has been shown in research to promote greater hypertrophy results than just proteins and carbohydrates alone (Smith-Ryan & Jose, 2013).    

Guidance on Ergogenic Aids

The marketing of supplements does a great job highlighting products and making them look too good to be accurate and allowing the illusion that they may demonstrate erogenic benefits; however, I would encourage all athletes not to fall for the marketing scheme because safety, quality, validity, and effectiveness matter (See Figure 3). Additionally, products may not be approved by governing bodies, and taking a product with hidden additives may place the athlete at risk of falling into a category of doping or illegal substance use. I recommend that every athlete works with a sports dietician familiar with high school and collegiate protocols on supplementation usage.   

Figure 1

Stages in the athletic, educational, and nutrition development of the young athlete


Note.  The image was derived from Garthe & Maughan (2018).

Article by Denise Fisher


Andersen, L. L., Tufekovic, G., Zebis, M. K., Crameri, R. M., Verlaan, G., Kjær, M., Suetta, C., Magnusson, P., & Aagaard, P. (2005). The effect of resistance training combined with timed ingestion of protein on muscle fiber size and muscle strength. Metabolism, 54(2), 151–156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2004.07.012

Burke, L., Deakin, V., & Minehan, M. (2021). Clinical sports nutrition (6th ed.). McGraw Hill Education Australia.

Burke, L. M. (2017). Practical issues in evidence-based use of performance supplements: Supplement interactions, repeated use and individual responses. Sports Medicine, 47(S1), 79–100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0687-1

Garthe, I., & Maughan, R. J. (2018). Athletes and supplements: Prevalence and perspectives. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28(2), 126–138. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429

Heffernan, S., Horner, K., De Vito, G., & Conway, G. (2019). The role of mineral and trace element supplementation in exercise and athletic performance: A systematic review. Nutrients, 11(3), 696. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11030696

Jeukendrup, A., & Gleeson, M. (2019). Sport nutrition (3rd ed.). Human Kinetics.

Kerksick, C. M., Wilborn, C. D., Roberts, M. D., Smith-Ryan, A., Kleiner, S. M., Jäger, R., Collins, R., Cooke, M., Davis, J. N., Galvan, E., Greenwood, M., Lowery, L. M., Wildman, R., Antonio, J., & Kreider, R. B. (2018). Issn exercise & sports nutrition review update: Research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y

Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. T., McKellar, S. R., Schoenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., Aragon, A. A., Devries, M. C., Banfield, L., Krieger, J. W., & Phillips, S. M. (2017). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(6), 376–384. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608

Rawson, E. S. (2018). The safety and efficacy of creatine monohydrate supplementation: What we have learned from the past 25 years of research. Sports Science Exchange, 31(185), 1–6.

Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Jose, A. (2013). Sports nutrition and performance enhancing supplements. Linus Learning.

van Loon, L. J. (2013). Protein ingestion prior to sleep: Potential for optimizing post-exercise recovery. Sports Science Exchange, 26(117), 1–5.

Viribay, A., Burgos, J., Fernández-Landa, J., Seco-Calvo, J., & Mielgo-Ayuso, J. (2020). Effects of arginine supplementation on athletic performance based on energy metabolism: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients, 12(5), 1300. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12051300

Figure 2: Periodization and Timing of Macronutrients


Figure 3: Dietary Supplements

Food infographic

Food inforgraphic

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Chocolate milk

Chocolate Milk Recommendations for Athletes

Most studies I have read refer to low-fat chocolate milk (CHOC), as a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates and protein (Loureiro et al., 2020). Commercial recovery beverages have almost the same ratio of carbohydrates and proteins and similar amounts of electrolytes, which is another reason why CHOC is favorable to many athletes and highly recommended by experts (Loureiro et al., 2020; Saunders, 2011).  

 CHOC consumption is promoted for endurance athletes because it helps to replenish glycogen (fuel for energy) stores in the muscle and liver quickly, and the protein in CHOC helps with muscle protein synthesis (rebuilding) (Loureiro et al., 2020). However, after long endurance training, CHOC must be consumed with additional carbohydrates to meet the need for maximal muscle glycogen replenishment (Loureiro et al., 2020). According to Smith-Ryan & Jose (2013), the timing of CHOC consumption should be directly after a workout, which has been shown to provide more remarkable training adaptation through its short-term effectiveness in replenishing glycogen stores and resynthesizing protein, which is agreed by Loureiro et al. (2020) and Saunders (2011), who encourages CHOC to be ingested within 30 minutes of finishing a workout. Spaccarotella & Andzel (2011) suggested drinking low-fat CHOC directly after exercise and during the recovery period every hour.  

There needs to be more documentation discussing CHOC as the recovery drink for strength training and power athletes. However, Born et al. (2019) examined the importance of carbohydrate plus protein ingestion during and after a resistance workout, which was proved by the enhanced anabolic response of muscle mass gain and strength when athletes consumed CHOC versus a carbohydrate drink (Born et al., 2019). Smith-Ryan & Jose ( 2013) indicated that strategically consuming CHOC in the timeframe surrounding (before and after) resistance exercise will increase muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and active anabolic pathways after the resistance training.  

The research findings are compelling, and using CHOC before and after resistance, strength, or power training is an excellent option for athletes. Even more appealing is that it is readily available, inexpensive, and safe. I recommend CHOC to most athletes, pending their tolerance to dairy products. 

Article by Denise Fisher

Born, K. A., Dooley, E. E., Cheshire, P., McGill, L. E., Cosgrove, J. M., Ivy, J. L., & Bartholomew, J. B. (2019). Chocolate milk versus carbohydrate supplements in adolescent athletes: A field based study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-019-0272-0

Loureiro, L. R., de Melo Teixeira, R., Pereira, I. S., Reis, C. G., & da Costa, T. M. (2020). Effect of milk on muscle glycogen recovery and exercise performance: A systematic review. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 43(4), 43–52. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000595

Pritchett, K., Bishop, P., Pritchett, R., Green, M., & Katica, C. (2009). Acute effects of chocolate milk and a commercial recovery beverage on postexercise recovery indices and endurance cycling performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 34(6), 1017–1022. https://doi.org/10.1139/h09-104

Saunders, M. J. (2011). Carbohydrate-protein intake and recovery from endurance exercise: Is chocolate milk the answer? American College of Sports Medicine, 10(4).

Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Jose, A. (2013). Sports nutrition and performance enhancing supplements. Linus Learning.

Spaccarotella, K. J., & Andzel, W. D. (2011). The effects of low fat chocolate milk on postexercise recovery in collegiate athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(12), 3456–3460. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3182163071