The sport of swimming has several aspects which make it unique from most other sports.
The body positioning, combination of upper and lower limbs for movement, and of course, the fluctuating nature of water differentiate swimming as a sport that utilizes the muscles and energy systems of the body in unique ways.
While the aerobic energy, muscular endurance and technique elements of a swimmer’s training are more than adequately covered by the rigors of high-volume in-water training (it is typical for a swimmer to spend up to 90 minutes in the pool, six days a week), dry-land workouts for swimmers must be utilized for athletes to increase their strength and power - and importantly, to remain pain and injury-free.
Many studies have investigated the best exercises for swimmers, and while swimmer dry-land workouts have been associated with an increased sprint performance in competitive swimmers, others have found that if the exercises are not highly specific to swimming, then increases in strength may not necessarily improve your times in the pool.
This article will address what we think are several important aspects of a dry-land training program for swimmers, whether you are a competitive 50-meter freestyle sprinter, a 400-meter medley all-rounder, or are just looking to improve your swim leg in a triathlon event.
Exercises For More Power In the Pool
Research has shown that a dry-land strength training regimen of three sets of six repetitions for the relevant muscle groups has the largest effect size on swimming performance. Following this protocol, here are a couple of suggestions for highly specific strength exercises to improve your stroke.
1. Cable Straight-Arm Pulldown
This exercise will strengthen the powerful Latissimus Dorsi muscles of the back which help extend your arms down as you propel through the water in a freestyle or butterfly stroke.
To perform this exercise, attach a straight bar or rope handle to a high pulley cable. Face the handles with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Tip forward at the hips while keeping the back straight, engage the lats, and pull the handle down to your hips while keeping the elbows straight. Finally, return to the starting position in a controlled manner.
2. Leg Extension
This open kinetic chain leg exercise targets your Quadriceps, the primary extensors of the knee, and the most powerful muscles for kicking during your swimming stroke.
To perform the leg extension, set up the machine so your knees are bent 90 degrees over the edge of the seat, and the pads are set up over the front of your shins at the crease of the ankle. Holding the handles and sitting up with good posture, activate your quads and bring your knees into full extension. Lower to the starting position with control.
3. Jump Squat
For pool swimmers, leg power is second only to technique in terms of turning ability. An improvement in squat jump power significantly improves the velocity of your turns in the pool.
To perform a squat jump, cross your arms over your chest and stand straight with your feet shoulder-width. Keeping your chest up, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Explosively jump, pushing through the balls of the feet. Land softly and repeat.
Core Workouts for Swimmers
The core muscles stabilize the trunk and generate rotational power between the hips and the shoulders, and efficient transfer of power which is critical in several swimming strokes. Core training for swimmers, performed three days a week, has been shown to have a large beneficial effect on swim time, particularly over shorter sprint distances.
Here are a couple of great core exercises that will be useful additions to your swimming training.
4. Swiss Ball Log Rolls
This exercise is great because it puts you in a horizontal position and similarly rotates your trunk to when you are actually in the pool. To perform this move, roll out on the ball to the thighs (or the shins for more challenge). Plant your hands firmly, maintain a neutral spine, and rotate the trunk from side to side in a controlled manner.
5. Diagonal Wood Chops
Diagonal chops are another effective way to develop that rotational power through your core, with the added benefit of using your arms as stabilizing muscles. To perform chops, stand side on to a single-handle cable. Grip with both hands and while keeping your elbows straight, ‘chop’ the cable down and across your body to the opposite side. Slowly return your hands to the starting position.
Exercises For Improved Posture and Decreased Injury Risk For Swimmers
The repetition of training undertaken by serious swimmers can lead to muscle imbalances, particularly in the rotator cuff of the shoulder joint. This postural imbalance and high volume of training can cause inflammation, tenderness, and worse pathologies to the shoulder.
Thankfully, exercise intervention is successful in decreasing the common rounded shoulder postures in swimmers, with the added benefit of decreasing injury risk and improving swimming times with the increase in balanced shoulder strength.
6. Theraband External Rotations
One of the best exercises to open the shoulders back up is external rotations, particularly with a resistance band. To perform these, stand tall with good posture, elbows by your sides, elbows bent 90 degrees and palms facing up. Pull your hands apart, rotating the arms outwards while keeping the elbows in contact with your ribs. Slowly return to that starting position.
7. Breathing Training For Swimming Performance
While well-trained swimmers exhibit larger inspiratory capacities than runners, research has revealed that swimmers training in a range of distances could benefit from specific interventions designed to enhance ventilatory muscle function and reduce inspiratory muscle fatigue. Swimming at 90-95% of race pace is sufficient to induce inspiratory muscle fatigue in less than 2.7 minutes.
Utilizing an effective respiratory muscle training tool such as the Airofit may be a valuable addition to your swim training regime.
We hope we have inspired you to include some dry-land training into your swimming routine with the advice and exercises provided. To ensure you receive the right exercise interventions for your stroke specialty (freestyle, backstroke, etc.), your event distance, and the muscular qualities you are aiming to improve, don’t forget to consult with a qualified exercise specialist or athletic coach.
Let us know which dry-land exercises have helped your swimming performance below!