Increase your swimming speed and decrease your injury rate with regular strength training sessions.

Unlike many other sports, propulsion in swimming mainly comes from the upper body, while the lower body’s primary function is to maintain balance and proper streamline, it barely contributes to velocity generation.

The reliance on the upper body for propulsion generated by repetitive overhead arm motions is thought to be the foundation of shoulder injuries in swimmers. This repetitiveness creates muscle imbalances, which can later develop into injuries as you increase training load.

When we look at the research studies on competitive swimmers, it is found that shoulder pain affects between 40% and 87% of swimmers.

To prevent injury from happening, you need to include strategically chosen resistance exercises into your weekly routine. Therefore, most of the dry land exercises outlined in this article will focus on strengthening those key upper body muscle groups which will translate to faster swim times and lower injury rates.

1. Overhead Dumbbell Push Press

All four swimming strokes consist of an underwater pull phase and an above water recovery phase. Since only the pull phase requires you to work against the water, the muscles responsible for pulling will be much more developed than your push muscles. The overhead shoulder press works on strengthening those underdeveloped muscles and creates a more balanced upper body.

Ideally, you want to perform this exercise with dumbbells so that both shoulders have to work equally hard. Make sure to do the push press variant of the shoulder press, not the strict variant. The push variant utilizes the legs to initiate the press, which takes away some of the strain on your rotator cuff muscles. Plus, by performing the exercise standing on your feet, your scapula can rotate freely throughout the movement.

2. Ab Wheel Rollouts

This exercise should be a part of any swimmer’s strength routine, because the ab wheel will not only build stronger abdominal muscles, it will also help build the deltoid muscle of your shoulder. This muscle is crucial in the freestyle stroke as it helps keep your elbow high right before the pulling phase begins.

To do this exercise correctly, and not put too much strain on your lower back, make sure to roll out only as far as you can handle. Keep your back straight with your head down and your core tight at all times. You must never allow your abs to give out and lower back to cave in.

Finally, try to keep your elbows higher than your wrists as you extend forward to mimic the high elbow entry of the freestyle stroke. A good place to start is to do 3 rounds of 1-minute rollouts with 30 seconds rest in between. If you can reach 20 full extensions in a minute you are doing well!

3. Goblet Squat

Squats are amazing for building lower body strength and they are frequently prescribed by strength and swim coaches. This popular compound movement triggers all large muscle groups in your legs as well as your glutes and core muscles. Strengthening these muscles will enable you to maintain balanced and have a better streamline in the water.

The goblet squat is a lesser-known variant that involves holding the weight tightly in front of your chest with your hand cupped like a goblet. To get the full benefit from this effective muscle-building exercise and avoid injury, you need to watch for these common mistakes:

  • Do not let your knees cave in towards each other
  • Press up from your heels and avoid leaning onto your toes
  • Maintain a neutral spine
  • Utilize the full range of motion – “Ass to the grass”
  • Avoid your knees from going too far over your toes

4. Prone or Inclined I-Y-T Exercise

This exercise activates the posterior muscle chain by strengthening your upper back muscles, especially the scapular, rhomboidal, and trapezius muscles. This is a great exercise to counteract the overdeveloped anterior chain – mainly consisting of the chest and anterior deltoid muscles. Over time, this exercise improves posture by strengthening the muscles responsible for pulling back slouched rounded shoulders.

You can do this exercise prone – laying flat on your belly – or inclined on a bench or exercise ball. You want to use a very lightweight for this (no more than 5 pounds). The exercise is performed by moving your straight arms up and down in each position of I, Y, and T. One common mistake people make is facing their thumbs the wrong way, correct is: down for the I, up for the Y and T.

Read: Full Upper Body Workout Plan

5. Single-arm Dumbbell Row

Like the I-Y-T exercise, the single-arm dumbbell row also targets the weaker posterior chain, but this time you are targeting the lower-mid back muscles. If done right, the single-arm dumbbell row strengthens your latissimus dorsi, which is responsible for drawing the upper arm downward and backward and rotating it inward when swimming.

When performing this movement, you must keep your back straight and keep your head slightly higher than your hips so that there is room to pull your elbow to a level behind your torso. Additionally, you need to pull back with your elbow, not your bicep, by keeping your forearm perpendicular to the ground.

6. Push-up

You can never go wrong with a well-executed push-up in your strength workout routine. The push-up can help you strengthen your chest while engaging the core, which will help you maintain proper form when you get tired.

When doing a push-up, most people try to execute the movement as quickly as possible. However, to get the most benefit from a push-up, you should slow down the eccentric phase (aka lowering your chest to the floor) and be explosive on the concentric phase (aka pressing back up to a high plank).

Read: 6 Best Static Exercises to Strengthen Your Muscles

7. Boxing Windmill

The boxing windmill exercise is a full range of motion exercise that helps build all of the muscles supporting the shoulder joint. This exercise is the closest you can get to mimicking the freestyle arm movement out of the water, and is therefore an excellent exercise to further strengthen your stroke.

For this one, you will need a partner to hold the boxing mitts in front of you. With your head down, swing the arms straight around in a near-vertical circular path, tapping the mitt with the edge of your gloves. Just like the ab wheel rollout, start by doing 3 rounds of 1 minute each with 30 seconds rest in between.

Don't let your muscles give out!

Muscle fatigue can limit how well your body performs. When your muscles become tired the metaboreflex kicks in. Your body will naturally restrict the blood flow to the muscles in your arms, legs and other limbs to ensure that the oxygen flow is stabilized to the vital parts of your body.

Training your respiratory system can make your breathing muscles more efficient, and thereby delay the metaboreflex. Learn more about the benefits of breathing training, visit