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Strength Training For Swimmers

Strength Training For Swimmers Beth Shaw I Heart Finish Lines Run Tri Bike Contributor

Since we’ve all been beaten over the head with the importance of strength training for runners and triathletes it’s time to add to that the importance of strength training for swimmers. I mean you never see fish lifting weights, but they also don’t try to set new PR’s at swim meets or sprint tris. Ugh, dad joke. Sorry, where were we?

Back to strength training for swimmers. Swimming, like running, is a lot of repetitive movements put together. And after time those repetitive movements can cause wear and tear on the body. Shoulders, neck, and knees are susceptible to injury from swimming. While proper technique can help with that, strength training only adds another layer of insurance against injury. While unlike running, swimming isn’t load bearing, so injuries are not quite as frequent but they can happen all the same.

In addition to injury prevention, strength can add power to your strokes, starts, and turns. If strength training works for Katie Ledecky, it can certainly work for everyone else!

As with other sports, adding in any strength training will help. However, there are some specific exercises that lend themselves well to swimming.


A Few Basic Bodyweight Exercises:

  • Squats – Every time you push off the wall you are doing a squat. Squats also build strength for kicking and starts. You can add any weights you like to squats once you have a foundation built with body weight. You can also add a jump and work on power. These jump squats will help with that explosive power off the blocks. 
  • Push-Ups – Everyone’s favorite exercise, right? Push-ups work shoulders, chest, and core. Strong shoulders, chest, and core will make your strokes stronger. Push-ups should be done with correct form. Here is a video that can help you develop proper form. Don’t be afraid to start on an incline, then move to your knees, and then on to the real deal. Progressions are great for getting the correct form. And don’t forget to keep your head neutral and not pull with your neck!
  • Flutter Kicks – You probably already know what this is. Simply lie on your back and lift your legs up with your core and flutter kick away. If you need to support your lower back by putting your hands under your bottom then feel free to do so. Flutter kicks help your core and it’s a natural movement for most swimmers. 
  • Hollow Body Hold – This mimics that streamline position while also working your core. To do this, just lie on your back and in a streamline position lift your arms and legs slightly off the ground. Start with a 20 seconds hold and then relax for 20 seconds and repeat. If this hurts your neck, you can place your hands behind your head but try to focus on using your core. Again, a strong core is crucial for fast swimming. 
  • Superman – While Superman wasn’t really a swimmer, he did have great back muscles. You might even say they were super back muscles. Oof, sorry again. The Superman exercise begins by lying on your stomach face down with your legs straight and arms extended in front of you. Without looking up, lift your arms and legs until you feel your back muscles fully engaged. Fire your glutes and shoulders, and hold for 2 to 3 seconds. Repeat for two to four sets of 12 to 15 reps. Be mindful to listen to your body and only lift as far as it allows. Again, keep your head neutral.

If you have dumbbells or access to a gym with cables you can add in several more exercises that are great for swimming. Be sure to start with lighter weights until you’re able to progress to heavier ones. Lateral raises and front raises are excellent for shoulders. Chest presses on a bench or floor with the dumbbells, and chest fly with cables are another two beneficial dryland exercises. Don’t leave out your triceps either! The overhead tricep extension is easy to execute and you only need one dumbbell.

With strength training, if you are brand new to it, it’s crucial to ensure you are doing the moves correctly so that you don’t hurt yourself. If you can’t workout with a trainer, watch YouTube videos or workout with a friend who has experience. Swimmers aren’t known for their love of dryland workouts but hey, if it’s endorsed by Michael Phelps, it’s gotta be good, right?


Beth Shaw iheartfinish lines coach triathlete runner run tri bike magazine

Beth Shaw is a triathlon and swim coach who has completed numerous marathons, triathlons, and everything in between. Beth has been coaching since 2015 and has been a contributing writer to and Women's Running. You can follow her on Instagram at @iheartfinishlines