Caeleb Dressel, one of the most successful swimmers in US history, isn’t just a beast in the pool. The 2020 Olympic standout—he became the fifth swimmer to win five gold medals in a single Games earlier this summer in Tokyo—trains hard in the weight room to hone the explosive power he needs to be elite.
Dressel is one of the fastest men ever to hit the water, currently holding multiple world, Olympic, and American records, and his land-based training is integral to his success. This is all very carefully calibrated, specifically in regard to his training to develop power. “Everything I do in the gym translates to being a better swimmer,” Dressel says. “My lifting routine is designed to develop and maintain explosive strength off the block, so it mainly includes cleans, power cleans, jerks and snatches. I’ll usually end my power days with some box jumps and medicine ball throws to help build up my burst as well.”
The swimmer puts up more than respectable numbers for such a specialized athlete in the gym, especially at his size (6’3”, 194 pounds). He can snatch 198 pounds, just over his bodyweight. His back squat max is 385 pounds.
But while the training is specifically targeted to pay off in the pool, Dressel keeps the program’s structure loose. “I really don’t have a set schedule, which is nice,” he shares. “My coach and I mostly pick workouts we feel are right for that day, though I always make sure to get in a lot of foam rolling, shoulder prehab and core work.”
That feeling of freedom was all the more important when Dressel was faced with the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, which delayed the Olympics and forced him to shift his workouts to a makeshift garage gym space. To make the most of the time, even as it was unclear when he’d be able to compete again, Dressel was fastidious, taking notes to get better from session to session.
The workouts are more than just prep work for the pool for Dressel. He makes the gym a special space, where he can focus on himself without all of the specific pressures that come from being a high-level competitor. “Strength training is an important part of every athlete’s training program, but for me it’s become almost like a sanctuary,” he says. “Of course, it helps me develop the edge I need in a race and it’s a nice break from my work in the pool, but it’s also an opportunity to improve myself, both mentally and physically. In the gym, you get out what you put in. There’s no room for excuses, for taking shortcuts or giving half effort.”
Check out this typical training session that Dressel uses to hone power in the weight room. This is a very specific type of workout designed for a high-level, explosive athlete looking to ramp up their output, so you might not want to follow it to the letter yourself—but this gives a good look at what it takes to train to be the best.
Caeleb Dressel’s Power Building Workout
3 sets of 5 reps
5, 5, 3, 3, 3
5, 5, 3, 3, 3
5 sets of 3 reps
5 sets of 10 reps
8 rounds of 20 yards
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