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Michael Phelps’ Secret Weapon?

If you want to be a better swimmer, you might want to lace up some boxing gloves.

If you want to be a better swimmer, you might want to lace up some boxing gloves.

In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, our team (The Race Club in Islamorada, Fla.) decided to hire strength specialist Andy Deichert to help U.S. sprinters gain speed and power. We knew of Andy’s great reputation as a strength coach, and we were curious to see what kind of program he would create.

Everlast was one of our sponsors at the time because my son Gary Jr. had become known for his shadow boxing before races. Since Everlast provided us with some great boxing equipment, Andy decided to put it to good use. He included four boxing exercises into our swimming strength training. Our athletes immediately loved them, and our swimmers continue to use them today. In fact, other great swimmers, including Michael Phelps, have adopted boxing exercises into their strength program. Andy’s exercises aren’t meant to enhance boxing skills—strictly swimming technique and strength. To do the following exercises, you’ll need a pair of boxing gloves and a partner with boxing mitts.

Roundhouse

The roundhouse is a great way to improve rotational skills, high elbow positioning, speed and power for the arm pull and body rotation.

Try it: Bend your elbows to about 90 degrees and maintain the elbow bend in a nearly locked position, with arms held at shoulder height. With the knees bent slightly, rotate your entire body back to one side, then strike the (shoulder-height) mitt of a partner and continue on through the mitt to the other side of the rotation. For one minute, pound the mitts from side to side holding the elbows high and rotating as far back as possible.

Uppercut

Although it’s designed more to strengthen the legs, it promotes arm strength as well.

Try it: Have your partner hold the mitts facing downward above shoulder level in front of you. Turn the boxing gloves so the inside faces toward you, bend the knees and deliver an uppercut blow first to one mitt, then to the other, on opposite sides. The focus here is bending the knees enough to be able to drive the blow upward with the legs.

Roundhouse/uppercut combo

When done with intensity, this combo move is exhausting.

Try it: This combines the first two exercises, whereby you deliver two roundhouse blows to the mitts, followed by two uppercuts. Do each boxing exercise for one minute followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat as many times as you can.

Windmill

The windmill helps with full shoulder rotation and strengthening the important muscles around the shoulder joint. If you are more interested in gaining aerobic fitness than power, repeat this one minute of windmills as often as you’d like with 30 seconds’ rest. Some of our distance swimmers will do 1,000 reps in one session.

Try it: Bend at the waist with your head down—as it should be while swimming—and create a full-circle rotation of the shoulder, tapping the (shoulder-height) mitts of your partner as the gloves go through. The arms can recover either straight or with a bent elbow, as long as they come over the top—do not swing them from the side. The faster the swing of the arms, the better the exercise.

Since we have developed these exercises at The Race Club, boxing has become a popular and successful way to cross- and strength-train for swimming races. We do them routinely in our swim camps to improve strength and technique. You can see each of these boxing exercises demonstrated online here.

Gary Hall Sr. is a three-time Olympian who now directs The Race Club (Theraceclub.net) in Islamorada, Fla.

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