How does the sequence of exercises in a workout impact muscle activation for swimmers?

April 16, 2024

When you are training for a swimming competition, whether you are part of a club or a scholar pursuing a career in sports, the way you sequence your exercises could be a game-changer. Muscle activation is a key factor in enhancing swimming performance. Knowing when and how to stimulate specific muscle groups can provide you with a competitive edge. This article will delve into how the order of exercises in your training can influence muscle activation, drawing insights from various studies.

The Impact of Exercise Sequencing on Muscle Activation

First, let’s examine the concept of exercise sequencing. Each workout you perform in the gym or in the water can activate different muscles in your body. However, the order of these exercises can significantly influence the intensity and effectiveness of muscle activation.

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Recent studies reviewed on PubMed show that performing compound exercises (those involving multiple muscle groups and joints) before isolation exercises (targeting a single muscle group or joint) leads to greater muscle activation. This is due to a phenomena known as pre-activation, where the compound exercise prepares the muscles for the upcoming isolation exercise.

For swimmers, this could mean performing compound exercises such as squats or deadlifts before moving on to isolation exercises like hamstring curls or calf raises. This approach to sequencing exercises enhances the overall strength capacity and optimizes the training session.

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Age Considerations in Exercise Sequencing

When it comes to exercise sequencing and muscle activation, age is an important factor to consider. As swimmers age, their muscle mass declines, affecting their overall strength and performance. However, appropriate exercise sequencing can help combat this age-related decline.

Studies cited in CrossRef show that older adults who perform resistance training followed by endurance training experience greater muscle activation than those who reverse the sequence. This means that for older swimmers, starting with strength-based exercises like weight lifting and then moving on to endurance exercises, such as long-distance swimming, can lead to improved performances in the water.

Group Training and Exercise Sequencing

The dynamics of group training can heavily influence the sequence of exercises. In a group setting, especially in a swimming club, the schedule is often set to accommodate the majority. However, this doesn’t mean the sequence of exercises should be compromised.

Research studies suggest that when training in a group, it’s vital to ensure each swimmer gets to perform compound exercises before moving to isolation exercises, regardless of the group’s overall schedule. If you coordinate the training program within a group setup, ensure you send out an email detailing the appropriate sequence of exercises for maximum muscle activation.

The Role of Rest Time in Exercise Sequencing

Rest time is a crucial component in exercise sequencing and muscle activation, more so for swimmers. The muscles need time to recover and prepare for the next set of exercises.

In one study available on PubMed, rest time between sets was found to contribute to muscle activation. Short rest periods (less than one minute) led to reduced muscle activation, while longer rest periods (more than three minutes) improved the same.

For swimmers, who rely heavily on muscle strength and endurance, ensuring adequate rest time between sets, irrespective of the sequence, is crucial. This practice allows your muscles to recover and maintain optimum performance throughout the training session.

The Influence of Water on Exercise Sequencing

Lastly, let’s consider the unique role of water in exercise sequencing for swimmers. The water environment presents a different challenge for muscle activation compared to land-based workouts.

Studies indicate that swimmers who perform land-based strength exercises before water-based ones experience greater muscle activation. The resistance offered by water enhances the activation and strength of the muscles already stimulated by land-based exercises.

Moreover, performing intense swimming drills at the end of a workout session can also boost endurance and overall swimming performance. A good swim workout should ideally end with high-intensity drills in the water to fully activate and exhaust the muscles.

In the end, remember that each swimmer is unique. Your body, age, strength, and the environment you train in all influence how your muscles respond to exercise sequencing. It’s essential to keep experimenting and adjust your workout sequence to find what works best for you.

The Influence of Individual Swimming Strokes on Exercise Sequencing

It’s essential also to take into account the specific swimming stroke when determining the sequence of exercises. Each stroke, whether the front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, or butterfly, targets different muscle groups.

According to research available on Google Scholar, each swimming stroke activates different muscle groups. For instance, the front crawl primarily engages the shoulders, back, and core while the butterfly stroke heavily relies on the pectoral and abdominal muscles. Therefore, the sequence of exercises in your training should ideally align with the predominant muscles used in your preferred stroke.

A swimmer specializing in the front crawl, for example, might benefit more from starting with compound exercises like push-ups or pull-ups, which target the upper body, before proceeding to isolation exercises such as lateral raises or tricep extensions. This strength training strategy, backed by evidence from recent studies, ensures maximum activation of the relevant muscle groups and thus, improved swimming performance.

However, remember that dry land strength training should complement, not replace, swim training. Combining both ensures that you develop not just muscle strength, but also the endurance necessary for long-term success in swimming.

The Role of Nutrient Timing in Exercise Sequencing

Another factor to consider in exercise sequencing and muscle activation is nutrient timing. Consuming the right nutrients at the right time can significantly enhance muscle activation and recovery.

A study found on CrossRef PubMed suggests that consuming protein before and after resistance training can promote muscle protein synthesis, thus aiding muscle activation and recovery. For swimmers, this means that your diet can help optimize the benefits of your workout sequence.

Before a workout, consume a balanced meal rich in carbohydrates and protein. This will provide the energy necessary for the rigorous training session ahead. Post-workout, focus on replenishing your body with high-quality protein to aid muscle recovery and growth.

Remember, every individual is different. What works for one swimmer might not work for another. Therefore, it’s vital to experiment and find the best meal timing and composition that works for you, preferably under the guidance of a sports nutritionist.


Exercise sequencing is a critical aspect of training that can significantly affect muscle activation and ultimately, swimming performance. The order in which exercises are performed can dictate the intensity and effectiveness of muscle activation. Additionally, other factors like age, group training dynamics, rest times, the water environment, swimming strokes, and nutrient timing play significant roles in optimizing training.

While research from sources like Google Scholar, CrossRef PubMed, and Physiol Google provides some valuable insights, it’s essential to remember that individual response to exercise sequencing can vary. Therefore, continuous experimentation and adjustment of the workout sequence, in consultation with coaches and trainers, are necessary to achieve maximum strength and endurance, and ultimately improve swimming performance.

In conclusion, whether you’re a competitive swimmer or a casual one, understanding the impact of exercise sequencing on muscle activation can give you a significant edge in the pool. By implementing these insights into your training routine, you can enhance your muscle activation, boost your performance, and achieve your swimming goals.