Strength Exercises for Swimmers

Some of our favorite ways to get stronger in the swim can be found here!
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Strength Exercises for Swimmers

Lat Pulldowns

Here’s a video of amazing lat pulldowns! These are our number one favorite movement (besides tubing – see below) for swimming strengthening! Both engage the core muscles that we use in our rotation, and builds our lats and rhomboids for better and stronger freestyle. We should use control and not momentum as the driver in these movements. At first, we want a light to moderate weight and high reps as we build strength. Don’t go crazy with a 110 pound lat pulldown and 15 wide pullups on Day 1!

Seated cable row

Here’s a video of this movement, which strengthens the trapezius muscles (top of neck to shoulder) and rhomboids (muscles near shoulder blade), pulling our shoulders back from all of that forward posture that we subject ourselves to (cycling, driving, flying a desk). Pull primarily back and slightly downward, keeping a relatively stable posture, and again using control over momentum and not over-reaching forward. Imagine pinching a pencil lengthwise between your shoulder blades.


Pushups (standard, wide, military)

Here’s a video of these in action! And first, let’s get one thing straight: there is no such thing as a girl pushup. It is called MODIFYING. We modify by balancing on our knees so that we can get more repetitions. In all pushups, we work the pecs (pectoralis, or chest). In standard pushups, hands should be level with shoulders and slightly wider. In wide pushups, hands should be just slightly wider than shoulders. In military pushups, we are targeting the triceps, so we place our hands at chest level and keep our elbows tucked in.

Streamline lunges

Here’s a great video of this movement, whose purpose is to tighten the core and work on balance while strengthening the quadriceps (thighs) for kicking. Keep the back straight and tall and hold the strongest streamline possible throughout the move.

Inchworm Exercise

See this video of this little, but powerful move, which lengthens the hamstrings and challenges the lower core (abs, hip flexors) as the feet move up to meet the hands and hands move to meet the feet, and so on. It’s ok to bend the knees to match the flexibility you have, and listen to your lower back and be gentle with it.


Tubing (also known as stretchcords) has been called a “secret weapon” by 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, and Triathlon World Champion Sheila Taormina, so we’ll let her speak for herself! (video). You can buy your own set of swim-specific tubing from our friends at

Flutter Kick

Flutter kick on back Still the good ol’ flutter kick from 5th grade soccer practice – only this time, you are actually going to use those muscles exactly as you use them in the exercise. Watch the guy in this video keep the lower back stable and not arch too much – head can be up or down on the floor. Small movements is the goal here – if you go big, keep control and don’t use momentum or you may risk stressing your lower back muscles. I like to do these with pointed toes because it feels more similar to the motion in the water – although we don’t specifically hold our toes pointed while swimming, they end up in a toes-back position because we are pressing on the water in the kick.

Triangle and reverse triangle

Challenging the balance is the goal in this movement, which is really more of a hold than a movement. (Tony Horton of P90X fame says that yoga is really about holding really uncomfortable positions for long periods of time). Accordingly, borrowing from yoga, we reach down to place hand next to opposite foot, bending the legs as needed, and using side support such as yoga blocks or books as needed.
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