Mike's Top 10 Physical Training Tips

In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo.  Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.

It would be safe to assume that in this day and age all high level athletes perform some form of strength training in their program.  Just look at any professional team and you will see that they have strength & conditioning (S & C) coaches as part of their staff while Collegiate level sport in the USA also will routinely have a team of S & C coaches.

Athletes used to be able to succeed at a very high level just based on their talent.  This is no longer the case as athletes are getting bigger, stronger, faster and more powerful every year.  Look at any sport and you will see the evolution that has occurred.  For example, Tennis is now dominated by big powerful servers as opposed to the serve and volley players of the past; ice hockey was once dominated by the likes of Gretzky but now the super stars of today are much bigger and stronger and this translates into a much more physical game; even Water Polo is changing.

Fig 1

Do you need to do more then just training in the pool?

The key plays in a Water Polo match are all about speed, strength and power.  Just think for a moment about the strength and power required to drive, catch and shoot the ball or the wrestling match that goes on at the centre forward position.  The ability to win in these situations has very little to do with how fast you can swim 400m or how many 100m you can swim on a 1:20 but on your strength and power.  Getting stronger will absolutely help you win more of these battles.

Fig 2The occurrence of injuries, particularly over use type injuries that usually occur to the shoulder and elbow of Water Polo players could greatly be reduced with a program designed to work on movements and muscles that are underused during regular training.  But for your on-land training to make a difference you have to be doing the right exercises with the correct loading and volume.

I get lots of questions from athletes regarding what to do in the gym.  I just had an athlete the other day at the pool ask me what he should do with a universal gym he just got for his home.  I gave him some suggestions but I really should of said get rid of it.  After reading my “Top 10 Physical Training Tips” you hopefully will begin to understand why.


Top 10 Physical Training Tips for Water Polo:

1. Always do more pulling exercises than pushing. Try a 2:1 to even a 3:1 ratio.

Pulling Exercises

Pushing Exercises

  • Pull Ups

  • Chin Ups

  • Seated Rows

  • Dead Lifts

  • Bench Press

  • Shoulder Press

  • Push Ups

  • Pec Deck

2. Be very careful with to much Barbell Bench Pressing; in my opinion, Bench Pressing with dumbbells is much safer for the shoulders.

Fig 3

Is this a good exercise for Water Polo players?

3. Push Ups are a great pushing movement for keeping your shoulders healthy. There are lots of interesting and challenging variations.  Push Ups are classified as a closed chain exercise where Bench Press is an open chain exercise.  Closed chain exercises have been shown to activate more of the stabilizing musculature of the shoulder joint (i.e. rotator cuff muscles).  Push Ups allow more natural movement of the whole shoulder complex when compared to Bench Pressing.

Video link to Push Ups:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8QZwgpBzOs

4. Be very careful with doing to much stretching to the front of your shoulders.  Most Water Polo players will be too flexible in the shoulders.

Instead focus on the mobility of your thoracic spine.  Stiffness in your thoracic spine, which is your mid-back area, puts the athlete at much greater risk of shoulder impingement injuries.  This is pain in the shoulder when the arm is overhead, just like when you throw a ball.

Video of Thoracic Spine Mobilization: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqpbVDBAnVk


If you have any of the following you should definitely not stretch but instead see a sports doctor or physiotherapist for further evaluation:

(Shoulder Injuries: Prevention & Treatment. © Peak Performance Publishing 2004  ISBN: 1-905096-00-3)

If you don't have any of the above issues, there is one shoulder stretch all throwing athletes should be doing; the sleeper stretch.

Fig 4

Sleeper stretch

5. Train your legs, good Water Polo players have strong legs, great players have crazy strong legs. Regardless of position, leg strength is a huge factor in your ability to perform in the water.

"Everything in the game is about the legs."

Terry Schroeder, head coach USA Men's Water Polo team

You got to have good legs to succeed, it is something I wish I did more work on as a youth player.  Replace some of those endless miles of swimming with some serious leg work which will not only make you a better player but take some of the stress off of your shoulders.  Did you know that the game is almost evenly split between vertical (think passing, shooting, blocking) and horizontal (swimming) positions.

6. Having strong legs is not enough if you do not have the required flexibility.  To have a good egg beater kick and all the other associated kicking movements you must have good flexibility in your lower body, particularly the hips (Alexander M & Taylor C.  The Technique of the Eggbeater Kick.  web-based publication, www.coachesinfo.com 2008).

The lower body is certainly one area where regular flexibility training can have a very positive impact.

Video link to flexibility drills for lower body:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRjhDuak8Uw

7. Use Free weights and stay away from machines. No exercise machine will ever be made that will out perform what can be accomplished with free weights (paraphrased from Mike Boyle, www.strengthcoach.com).

Fig 5 Fig 6


Wasting Your Time!

8. Water Polo athletes do not get the loading on their body the same way as athletes doing land based sports.  Since you spend most of your life on land and not in the water I think it is very important to think of strength training as a tool to become healthy in and out of the pool.

Kavouras et al. (2006) found that "Water polo is associated with an apparent redistribution of bone mass and density from the lower to the upper limbs".

This is where I think some running as well as weight lifting exercises like Dead Lifts and Squats can be very good for Water Polo athletes.

Fig 7

Deadlifts are GOOD!

9. Do not worry about being “sport specific” in the weight room.  Get strong using free weights and do your sport specific training in the water.

10. Technique is always the first thing you need to learn in the weight room, so get a qualified coach.

Strength training is a very powerful tool and when done right it can have a very positive impact on your sport performance.

However, done wrong, it can destroy your athletic career in one session.

All athletes new to strength training should first start with body weight strength training programs.  Only after becoming competent with your body weight should you then consider the use of additional external load. 

With these 10 tips in mind take a look at your training program and evaluate what you are doing. 

Next month I will apply these tips to a sample training program.

Do you have any questions?  You can contact me at www.waterpolotraining.net

[Click Mike Reid's name at top of page to learn more about his
strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]