Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise out there. But what if we told you that you can get faster in the water by doing something other than swimming?
That’s right, we’re talking about cross-training. If you’re not familiar with the term, cross-training involves several different types of exercise, and the intention is typically to use those different training modalities to improve in your main sport.
Why Should Swimmers Cross-Train?
Cross-training works your muscles in ways swimming doesn’t, which helps build strength. Mixing up your workouts also breaks your body out of swimming’s repetitive movement patterns, which can help reduce your chances of getting injured. That’s why you see so many elite swimmers hitting the gym!
Cross-training can also keep you motivated and excited about your next workout. No swimming burnout here!
How Often Should Swimmers Cross-Train?
It’s important to find the cross-training schedule that works for you. Some swimmers like to alternate swim workouts with cross-training workouts by day. Others stick to 1-3 cross-training sessions per week. To see noticeable improvements, we recommend trying to fit at least two cross-training sessions into your schedule each week.
5 Ways to Cross-Train for Swimming
1. Strength Training
Strength training — often called dryland training — is one of the most popular ways to cross-train for swimming. Dryland will help you prevent injury and build core strength, overall body strength and power.
Your dryland routine can include weight lifting or bodyweight exercises, and can be done at home or in a gym.
If you need guidance to get started with strength training, check out the workouts in the MySwimPro app! With workouts for all skill levels, MySwimPro’s Dryland Training Plans can be done entirely at home, with minimal equipment. Sign up for MySwimPro Coach to test out our Workouts yourself!
2. Cardio Workouts
Continue building your aerobic base with cardio workouts outside of the pool!
High-Intensity Interval Training
HIIT workouts can be done with or without weights, and involve short intervals of all-out work, followed by a long rest period. A short HIIT workout will kick your butt, but is a great way to build cardio!
Get out and explore your surroundings on a bike, and build some strength for the pool at the same time! Cycling is a great, low-impact cross-training option.
Running, Walking or Hiking/Stairs
Strengthen your lungs (and your legs) with a run, walk or a hike! Incorporate stair runs or walks if that floats your boat, too.
Spend a couple minutes on a rowing machine (or in a boat!) and you’ll understand why rowing made this list! Rowing will strengthen your legs, core and upper body all while challenging your cardiovascular system big time. Mix up short rowing intervals, or try for a continuous, long-distance row.
Dancing is a workout that doesn’t feel like a workout! You’ll become more aware of your posture, and will strengthen your legs and core, too.
Soccer, basketball and tennis, along with other sports, can be great ways to mix up your training and challenge your cardio. When you play these sports, your body moves in completely different ways than it would in the water — you’re jumping, spinning, lunging and a whole lot more. These movements will strengthen your muscles and help keep you injury-free. They’re also a great way to make new friends!
3. Water Sports
Want to cross-train, but can’t fathom leaving the pool? Try out other water sports!
Water Resistance Training
If you need a low-impact cross-training option, Hydrorevolution’s drag resistance equipment is a great choice! It is specially designed to help you build strength in the water, and you control the level of resistance based on how hard you pull, or how quickly you move.
Combine the Aqualogix Hybrid Fins, the Aqualogix Bells and the Aquastrength Barbell for a challenging, full-body workout. Use code MYSWIMPRO for 20% off! >
Grab a few friends and head to the pool for a game of water polo! You’re constantly treading water or swimming from one side to the other, which helps boost your cardiovascular fitness. Treading water engages nearly every muscle in your leg and hip.
You’ll also get a nice core workout, and will work on your explosive power when you throw the ball!
Surfing is an incredible workout. You’re building strength in your back and shoulders as you paddle, and you’ll challenge your legs and core as you ride each wave. Your coordination and balance will probably improve, too. Similar to water polo, surfing is also great cardiovascular exercise!
Dance to your favorite tunes with an artistic swimming workout! You’ll improve your flexibility and endurance, and will strengthen your entire body. Artistic swimming also helps improve your posture and breath control.
If you’re new to artistic swimming, check out your local pool for lessons, or join a local team.
4. Mobility Training
Mobility training helps you loosen tight muscles and correct imbalances that could cause injury. It can be helpful to incorporate 1-2 dedicated stretching sessions per week, focusing on the shoulders, chest, hips and low back — plus any other areas that are feeling tight in your body.
Before your workouts, incorporate dynamic stretching to activate your muscles and get your heart rate up. Learn more about dynamic stretching here >
We recommend spending a few minutes stretching after each workout, too. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and focus on breathing deeply. This can help boost your recovery and reduce muscle soreness later on!
If you want to up the intensity of your mobility work, try yoga or Pilates! These classes incorporate stretching with low-impact movements to strengthen your body (especially your core) in different ways.
5. Mental Training
Physical training is a huge part of swimming success, but your mental state also plays an important role in your performance in the water. A strong mindset starts with SMART goals! SMART goals are:
- Time Bound
Learn more about setting SMART goals here >
Once you’ve set your goals, try incorporating meditation into your routine (maybe during those stretching sessions!).
During meditation, you focus on your breath, calm your mind and strive to be in the present moment. It takes practice, but even a few minutes of meditation can help reduce stress and keep you focused on your goals.
As an athlete, you may also benefit from meditation practices that involve visualization. Visualizing every moment of an important race can help you achieve that personal best time!
How do you cross-train? Share your favorite cross training workouts in the comments!
I love practicing yoga as a part of my swimming. I also think (though I haven’t done it yet) that rock climbing either out in the open or in the gym, is a great compliment to swimming.
I have a set schedule for cross training, and I make it a priority to stick with it. M-W-F are my swim days, T-Th are my weight/strength training (T=upper body and core and Th=lower body and core), Saturday is set for mobility, and Sunday is my rest and recoup day. I also have a schedule for eating in specific carb to protein ratio, depending on if I am swimming or weight lifting that day, and I take time to meditate when I wake up each morning and before I go to bed at night. I know most people wouldn’t want to go to this extreme, but it works for me. And I can tell my body loves it, too!
That sounds like a great training schedule, Janita! Keep up the good work!