Strength and endurance are both necessary for water polo.
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Water polo, like many other sports, requires power and functional strength in both the lower and upper body. In addition to strength, water polo players need a high level of cardio vascular fitness to endure the near-constant motion demanded for both games and practice. Training for water polo, whether competitive or recreational, should focus on developing functional strength, muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Your training schedule will vary depending on where you are in the sport's seasonal cycle.
Water Polo Skills
Water polo requires the ability to tread water continuously while maneuvering laterally around the pool, passing, shooting or blocking. To keep your head above the water line, you need a strong, powerful lower body. To quickly move about the pool along a lateral plane, you need functional strength in your back and chest, while arm strength helps you put pop into your shots and passes. Aside from strength, you need a moderate level of flexibility and dexterity to perform several disparate physical activities simultaneously.
The schedule for your water polo workouts will depend on whether you're in the middle of the season or in the off-season. In-season workouts should focus on pool time to practice skills and drills. They should emphasize endurance training and cardiovascular fitness, with limited development of new functional strength. In addition to practice time several times a week, light strength training and cardio workouts should be scheduled at least twice a week. Avoid scheduling too many supplementary workouts during the season to avoid the performance-inhibiting effects of overtraining. Off-season workouts should replace team practices with increased gym time to develop strength. Devote one to two session a week for pool time where you work on water treading, free swimming and light drills.
Take a full-body approach to strength training for water polo. You don't want to build mass necessarily; functional strength is the ability to generate power through fluid, natural motions that directly apply to the sport being played. Hit the gym three days a week and work both the upper and lower body each time. For the lower body, exercises that develop strength by using your legs to push off the ground or other resistance are effective for water polo. These include squats, leg presses, deadlifts and lunges. For the upper body, the ability to generate both lateral and over-the-top motion with the arms is crucial. Exercises that facilitate this are chest flyes, shoulder presses, pullups, pushups, lat pulldowns and lying triceps extensions. Do four to five sets of four upper and four lower-body exercises. Each set should be between 15 and 20 reps. Separate each gym day with a rest day, where you perform endurance work or participate in team practice.
Endurance training for water polo should focus on distance training in the pool. Swim sets performed in an interval fashion help develop the anaerobic fitness necessary to compete. Rather than just swimming laps in the pool, a swim set has players swimming at top speed for a short distance using a free-style stroke, then swimming for another short distance at a slower pace, then another small distance at top speed again. Continue in the pattern for a specific distance, such as 25 meters, to complete one cycle. Your swim set should include between 10 and 20 cycles, depending on the distance.