Swimming: 5 Strength Training Exercises To Get Faster

Swimming was the bane of my existence when I entered the world of triathlon.  I can recall my first 'training' days where I would go to the gym, jump in the pool and swim a few laps with lots of water swallowed and exhaustion setting in after 25 yards.  Swimming was what I had to do to complete a triathlon but I had really wished it was just bike, run and left the swimming for somebody else.  Over the past three years I have made a weakness into what can conceivably be a strength for me. I have been swimming 4 times per week since I started with Maria and John and when we entered build phase and the number of swims would decrease I can say that I was a little upset.  I have been enjoying my time swimming and seeing the improvements that I have been making.  Of course getting in the water as often as possible has been a huge help to my form and ability to swim faster but so are the functional strength exercises that Maria has been putting into Training Peaks. I decided that I wanted to provide you with my 5 favorite strength workouts that have an impact on my swimming ability and hopefully they will help you out as well.

Strength Exercises That Benefit Your Swimming Ability

  1. [caption id="attachment_7773" align="alignright" width="209"]swimming - triathlon - strength training - dumbbell kickback - muscles Dumbbell Kickback

    Dumbbell Kickback

    • How:
      • Lean on a weight bench with a dumbbell in the opposite arm from the leg on the bench.
      • Keep back straight and head in a neutral position.
      • From here raise the dumbbell back toward your feet until straight and then return to a 90* angle to your body.
    • Tips:
      • Focusing on good form is important because you can try to use a weight where you are just throwing it back and not using the triceps to generate the force to move the weight.
      • Use a weight that will allow you to take a 2 or 3 count to kickback and a 2 or 3 count to return.
    • Why:
      • This is a simple exercise that works your triceps which is important on the final phase of your stroke.
  2. Upright Row
    • How:
      • Stand with feet shoulder width apart and holding a barbell in front of you.
      • Pull weight up toward your chin and focus on keeping your elbows high and feeling the weight in your shoulders.
      • Lower weight back down and repeat.
    • Tips:
      • Use a weight that you can handle multiple reps on until the end of a 12 rep set.
      • Weights do not need to be heavy and just provide enough resistance to know that you are working.
    • Why:
      • Strong shoulders mean strong pull.
      • Strong shoulders mean less fatigue during recovery phase of the stroke.
  3. Push Up
    • How:
      • Do I need to explain how to do a push up?
      • Get on floor and PUSH YOUR BODY UP then lower and repeat.
    • Tip:
      • You can make the exercise different by moving hands closer together or further apart.
      • You can work the chest in a different manner by using a medicine ball under one hand and then switch.
    • Why:
      • The push up strengthens both the chest and the triceps which are key muscle groups to creating greater endurance and power.
  4. [caption id="attachment_7772" align="alignright" width="280"]swimming - triathlon - strength training - flutter kick - muscles Flutter Kick
    Source: Worlds Fittest[/caption] Flutter Kick
    • How:
      • Lay on your back with toes pointed and arms down by your sides.
      • Lift your shoulders and hands slight off the ground so that you can feel your core working.
      • Raise feet up about 1 foot and then kick as if you were swimming
    • Why:
      • Help improve ankle flexibility which is needed with all the run training triathletes do.
      • Helps muscle memory for foot position which will aid the kicking during the freestyle stroke.
  5. Standing Straight Arm Pull Down
    • How:
      • With a straight back facing a pulley machine grab the bar.
      • Lower the bar in an arching motion with elbows flexed a bit until palms reach upper thighs.
      • Return bar to top of machine, slowly.
    • Why:
      • The starting of this exercise mimics the initial pull phase of a freestyle stroke.
      • Mimics the swim stroke to the point that all muscles used in freestyle are used.
I have advocated strength training for triathletes since I started in the sport and my belief that is an aid has not diminished.  As we get older we need to strengthen our tendons to avoid injury and allow us to keep participating in the sport we love.  Should you always strength train?  No, there are times when it is more important than others.  When you are in your build phase or in your off-season then strength training is imperative.  When you are in your build phase then strength training plays a less important role as you are going to be swimming, biking and running longer and harder. Please also keep in mind that when you are strength training that you are not looking to become the winner of the next body building championship.  You are working on muscles that will help you in your swimming, biking and running which are your main focus.  You will also be doing all three sports which are going to help develop the muscles so the resistance training does not need to be done with heavy weights. Swimming is a sport that most triathletes are not happy about seeing on their training plan.  With these strength exercises your form and ability to swim will improve and make swimming a favorite among the three sports.

What Strength Training Exercises Do You Do?

Does Your Strength Training Focus On Swimming, Biking Or Running?

Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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