We hate to break it to you, but if you want to swim fast, you have to do more than just swim! The best swimmers in the world do strength training in the gym, often called dryland training, to build strength and power and prevent injuries.
Read on for our tips to structure your own dryland training, plus a 30-minute full-body dryland workout to try!
Which Strength Exercises Are Best for Swimmers?
When it comes to building full-body strength for swimming, we recommend focusing on compound movements. These types of exercises work multiple muscle groups at once, rather than isolating an individual muscle. When you focus on compound movements, you’ll get a more efficient, well-rounded workout.
Squats, deadlifts, push-ups, lunges, rows, dips and shoulder presses are all great compound movements that will recruit a variety of muscles in one go. This is just the tip of the iceberg…there are tons of great compound movements out there!
Isolation exercises like bicep curls aren’t bad, but they shouldn’t be the main focus of your strength programming if swimming performance is your goal.
How to Structure a Dryland Workout
A good dryland workout is made up of three things:
- Dynamic Warmup: Get the blood flowing, stretch it out and prepare the body for movement.
- Main Set: This is your focus for the workout. Your main set could involve weighted exercises or bodyweight movement! Remember: Prioritize compound movements!
- Cool Down: After your workout, slow it down and do a few static stretches to soothe sore muscles and boost recovery.
How Often Should Swimmers Do Dryland Training?
To experience maximum strength gains, you need to train more than once per week. Think about it: You wouldn’t expect to swim faster if you only swam once per week!
We recommend adding strength training to your routine 2-3 times per week. Some people enjoy doing full-body workouts each time they hit the gym, while others might alternate pushing exercises one day with pulling exercises on the other day. It’s up to you!
If you’re new to dryland training, start with just 15-20 minutes each session. As you get stronger, you can increase your volume and intensity.
Full-Body Strength Workout for Swimmers
Give this 30-minute workout a shot to build full-body strength and increase your power in the pool. This workout consists of six exercises, with various options to choose from based on your fitness level and equipment access. Watch the video above for a full breakdown of this workout and form cues for each exercise.
To increase the intensity of this workout, choose a more advanced variation of each exercise, or add more reps, rounds or weight. To decrease the intensity, modify exercises as needed, decrease weight, or reduce rounds and reps. Whatever option you choose, you’ll get a great workout!
Warmup (20 reps of each exercise):
- Jump Rope (or find another way to elevate your heart rate, such as jogging in place)
- Cross-Body Jacks
- Arm Swings
- Arm Circles
- Walkout (add a push-up for an extra challenge)
- Spider Mountain Climber
- Cat Cow Tilts
- Lying Lateral Twists
- Hip Bridges
Aim to complete four sets of 10 reps for each exercise, resting 30-60 seconds between each set. If possible, try to increase the intensity or weight from one round to the next, finishing at your best effort on the fourth set!
1. Burpees (4×10)
- Step Out, Step In: To start, try this variation. Start standing, then place your hands on the ground. Step one foot back, and then the other (you’ll end up in a plank position). Reverse the movement by stepping your feet back in and standing up. Then repeat!
- Step Out, Step In + Push-up + Jump: To take this to the next level, add a push-up (on or off the knees) after you step your feet out, then do a powerful streamline jump when you return to standing!
- Jump Out, Jump In + Push-up + Jump: To level up further, jump your feet out to plank, do a push-up, jump your feet back in, and finish with a streamline jump.
- Bonus: Add a Box Jump: For a more advanced variation, swap your streamline jump with a box jump at the end of each rep.
2. Flutter Kick Plank (4×10 each leg)
- Controlled Flutter Kick (No Equipment): Start in a plank position. Lift one leg, point the toes, and hold for 2-5 seconds. Place the foot back on the ground and repeat with the other leg. Focus on slow, controlled movement and try to maintain proper plank alignment: Shoulders over wrists, and a straight line from the top of your head to your feet.
- Controlled Flutter Kick on Swiss Ball: Challenge your core stability by placing your feet on a Swiss Ball! Maintain the same solid alignment, and focus on slowly lifting each leg. This should be tough!
- Ballistic Flutter Kick on Swiss Ball: Next, it’s time to turn up the intensity! For this variation, maintain your plank positioning but increase the speed of your legs. Avoid bouncing on the ball too much – keep the kicks small and narrow, like you would in freestyle!
- Ballistic Flutter Kick with Resistance Band: If you want even more challenge, try adding a mini band around your feet. As you kick, you’ll push against extra resistance from the band!
3. Pull-ups (4×10)
- Assisted Pull-ups: If you aren’t able to do a pull-up yet, try looping your knees through a large resistance band attached to the pull-up bar for some assistance. Or, use an assisted pull-up machine if you have access to one. The lat pulldown machine is also a great substitution here.
- Bodyweight Pull-ups: The next level is a classic pull-up. Keep your core engaged and try to maintain control throughout the movement. We recommend using an overhand grip to maximize lat engagement.
- Weighted Pull-ups: If you’ve mastered regular pull-ups, try adding weight! Most gyms have a weight belt that you can attach plates or kettlebells to for an extra challenge. Or, if you have one, put on a weight vest!
- Bonus: Clapping Pull-ups: This one is for experts only! Focus on explosiveness as you pull your body toward the bar.
4. Box Jumps (4×10)
- Box Jump: To do a proper box jump, stand facing your box, about 18 inches away. Bend your knees and jump up, landing lightly with bent knees to absorb the impact of the landing. Adjust the height of your box as needed. It’s ok to start with a very short box at first! If you aren’t ready to jump, try doing box step-ups instead.
- Box Jump with Weight: To level up your box jumps, try adding a weight vest if you have one, or hold onto a medicine ball. We recommend stepping down off the box between reps to reduce impact on the body.
- Split Leg Jump: This variation is great for improving your starts! Begin in a lunge position, with the top of your back foot resting on the box. Lunge down and explode up, powering through your front leg. Do 10 reps on each side.
- Depth Drop to Box Jump: This one’s for the pros! Grab a second box and set it up about 1.5 meters from the first box. Start standing on one box. Step off, and when your feet hit the ground, do an explosive jump onto the second box. The goal is to minimize the amount of time your feet are on the ground.
5. Bench Press or Push-ups (4×10)
- Modified Push-ups: If a full-on bench press isn’t your cup of tea, try starting with push-ups on your knees, or with your hands on an elevated surface. As you get stronger, you can work toward standard push-ups. Focus on keeping your body aligned, from hips to the top of your head.
- Push-ups: Focus on keeping your body in an aligned plank position throughout the movement. Don’t forget to breathe!
- Bench Press: The classic bench press uses a barbell (with or without additional weight plates added), but dumbbells work just fine too. Focus on slow, controlled reps with a full range of motion. Control your breathing!
- Bonus: Add Chains/Extra Resistance: To add a more advanced challenge to your bench press, try adding chains, ropes or resistance bands to the outside of the barbell. This makes the descent of the movement easier, as the ground absorbs the extra resistance. But that means you’ll be working really hard on the ascent!
- Bodyweight Squat: Start off with a bodyweight squat! Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and hinge your hips back like you’re going to sit in a chair. Keep your core engaged and power through your heels to engage your glutes as you come back up.
- Medicine Ball/Dumbbell Squats: If bodyweight squats feel easy, try adding some weight! Grab a medicine ball or dumbbell and hold it at your chest.
- Back Squats: If you have access to a barbell and a squat rack, try back squats. Place the barbell on your shoulders and grip the bar with both hands. Sit your hips back into a squat, maintaining a strong core to keep your chest up.
- Bonus Squat Variations: If you want more, try a front squat. This variation challenges your stability a bit more. For a more advanced variation, try an overhead squat (pros only!).
Injury Prevention: External Rotations (3×10 each side)
Many swimmers struggle with shoulder issues, so we’ll finish this workout with some rotator cuff work! The goal here is to keep your elbow tucked in tight to your side to make sure your rotator cuff is doing all the work. Think slow and controlled!
Cool Down: Static Stretches
After the hard work is done, it’s time to cool down! Hold each of these stretches for 30-60 seconds each to help your muscles recover. Don’t forget to breathe!
- Wide-Leg Forward Fold
- Wide-Leg Forward Fold With Twist
- Lateral Lunge Hold
- Knee Hugs
- Pigeon Stretch
- Shoulder Stretch
- Tricep Stretch
Want more workouts like this one? Try our 25-minute medicine ball workout.
If you want to achieve optimal results in the pool or in the gym, don’t neglect your nutrition! Refuel your body with enough protein, carbs, fats and water to give it the nutrients it needs to repair your muscles and replenish your body’s energy stores. Check out our interview with a registered dietitian for tips to fuel your body appropriately.
In addition to a healthy diet, taking a supplement like Nella probiotics can help support your gut health and give you the edge you need to perform your best.
Nella is made from a patented lactobacillus probiotic strain isolated from the world’s fittest and healthiest people. It supports your body’s current needs, whether you struggle with digestive issues or not!
Nella has been found to improve sleep and nutrient absorption, boost energy and support the immune system, all of which are important for good swimming performance! When your gut is healthy, you’ll feel better both physically and mentally. Use code MYSWIMPRO25 for 25% off your Nella order through December 31, 2023.
Ready to start your fitness journey? Download the MySwimPro app and get a complete, personalized Training Plan that includes both swim workouts and dryland sessions.