A Cheat Sheet for Creating the Perfect Swimming Workout and Routine

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Weight Training for Swimmers- a Comprehensive 7 Step Guide

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Do you want to incorporate weight lifting into your training routine to become a better, faster, and more athletic swimmer? 

To that, I say– bravo! 

However, I recognize that you might feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. (It is a big topic, after all!) 

Don’t worry! In this article, I’ll cover everything you want to know. Ranging from the benefits of weight training for swimmers, training periodization, weight lifting exercises, how to create your own weight training program, common questions, and much more! 

So whether you are a competitive, open-water, recreational, or masters swimmer looking to up your game, you can think of this article as your one-stop-shop for everything you need to know regarding weight lifting for swimmers. 

weight training for swimmers

Is Weight Lifting Good for Swimmers?

Weight training is a great cross-training method to improve your swimming times and performance. Lifting weights will allow you to strengthen large and important muscle groups, increase your explosive power, improve muscular endurance, and reduce your risk of injuries, all working in unison to help you swim faster. 

There is a lot of evidence and research in favor of weight lifting for enhanced swimming performance. (We’ll look at some of the scientific literature later). 

Advances in swim training methods, nutrition, recovery strategies, and the implementation of weight training in modern swimmers’ schedules are why new world records are being broken every year.

If that isn’t enough, it might comfort you to know that almost every elite swimmer in the modern age of competitive swimming is in the weight room at least 2 to 3 times a week minimum.

Take Adam Peaty, for example. He is, without a doubt, the best breaststroke swimmer the sport of swimming has ever seen. Peaty blasted his way to victory in the 100m breaststroke at the Rio Olympics and has been dominating both the 50m and 100m breaststroke events since. And setting new world records along the way.

Adam trains hard in the pool and also in the weight room. He is a great example of a swimmer who effectively uses weight lifting to increase strength, power, and endurance, allowing for faster swimming performances.

Pro tip: Both sprint and distance swimmers can benefit from lifting weights. Weight lifting increases type IIa muscle fibers, which not only enhance power output but also muscular endurance. 

The Benefits of Weight Training for Swimmers: a Scientific Overview

Now that we’ve established weight lifting is beneficial for swimmers let’s take a more in-depth look at some of these benefits. 

Quick Summary:

  • Weight training reduces the risk of injury by strengthening muscles and improving endurance.
  • It enhances overall strength, both in terms of muscle size and neurological adaptations.
  • Weight training increases explosive power, benefiting starts, turns, and underwater movements in swimming.
  • It improves endurance by increasing muscle fiber types and enhancing muscle economy and threshold.
  • Weight training is excellent for strengthening the core muscles crucial for swimming technique and body stability.
  • It adds variety to training routines, providing a break from swimming while still reaping its benefits.

Weight Training Helps to Reduce Your Risk of Injury

To some, it might sound contradictory, but weight lifting can actually help you to decrease your chances of getting injured when training– whether in the pool or gym. 

When you lift weights, you increase the structural strength of your muscles, allowing your body to endure more resistance and higher training capacities. This is great for preventing injuries since stronger muscles are less prone to injury. 

Weight training can also be used to correct muscle imbalances, such as swimmers’ posture, inherently caused by swimming, which can put swimmers at a much greater risk of injury if not corrected. 

Furthermore, resistance training has been shown to trigger osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) to create new bone, resulting in stronger bones. This further reduces an athlete’s risk of injury. 

Weight training, if handled responsibly, is also safe and won’t cause injuries. Responsible lifting involves learning the proper exercise technique, warming up properly, and never lifting more weight than your body can handle. (We will talk about this again later).

Weight Training Improves Your Overall Strength

It’s well established that weightlifting is one of the best ways to build strength. 

It might surprise you that this strength isn’t only derived from stronger or bigger muscles (which indeed play a role) but is also very much related to neurological adaptations.  

A study published in the Journal of Medical Science in Sports and Exercise notes that strength training creates changes in the nervous system, related to better activation and coordination of prime movers and relevant muscles, producing greater net force.

In layman’s terms: you’ve become stronger. 

Weight training can also increase the structural strength of your muscles by creating micro-tears in the muscle fiber (which is why you sometimes feel sore after a workout). 

Once the tissue recovers, your muscles become a little stronger, and your body is better equipped to handle the same resistance again.

A structured weight training program is essential for effectively developing a strength base. This is important because strength is the prerequisite for other aspects of your physical performance, such as explosive power and muscular endurance, helping you swim faster and achieve new best times.

Not even to mention the confidence swimmers gain from knowing their bodies are strong and capable. 

Weight Training Increases Your Explosive Power in the Pool

Once you have established a good foundation of strength, your weight training can be further adjusted to develop explosive power and increase your rate of force development. 

rate of force development in trained athletes

There are many good weight lifting exercises directly targeting power and force exertion; some examples include- power cleans, sled pushes, and deadlifts.

Explosive power allows you to gain a competitive advantage by having faster and more explosive startsturns, and underwaters. 

It’s also good to note that all the swimming strokes involve explosive power, whether through kicking, pulling, or a combination of the two. 

Breaststroke is a prime example. The small and fast snapback of the kick and the fast forward lunge requires a great deal of power and explosiveness to execute effectively.

On the topic of breaststroke swimmers, consider reading my article on the best tech suits for breaststroke, if you need a new suit. I also have articles for all of the other strokes. Use the search box on my website to find them. 

Weight Training Improves Your Endurance 

Similar to my point about preventing injuries, this may seem contradictory to you. Strength and endurance are on opposite sides of the spectrum, right? Sure, but things aren’t always so black and white.

meta-analysis from the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance has shown endurance athletes (swimmers included) to benefit from strength training, particularly in terms of the energy cost of locomotion, maximal power, and maximal strength.

So how does this relate to endurance?

Well, resistance training can increase the number of type IIa muscle fibers you have, allowing for more endurance. Heavy lifting has also been shown to correlate to endurance performance metrics such as time-to-exhaustion by increasing muscle economy and threshold.  

muslce fiber types

Weight Training Is Great for Increasing Your Core Strength

Practically, every compound weight lifting exercise is going to require core activation. The core muscles comprise the abdominal, pelvis, lower back, and hip muscles. 

This set of muscles is critical in swimming. They link your upper and lower body, ensuring effective transfer of force and helping you to maintain tension, which is important for a rigid bodyline (the most foundational aspect of proper swimming technique). 

When you lift weights, your core will naturally become stronger since it stabilizes your body in many movements. You can (and should) also incorporate exercises that directly strengthen your core

Weight Training Keeps Things Fresh by Adding Variety 

When doing thousands of laps up and down throughout a season, it’s only natural that swimmers can occasionally get bored and tired of being in the pool all the time. 

Enter weight lifting.

Weight training can provide a much-needed break from the endless grind of swimming laps, holding intervals, and doing standups. 

And the best part is that you don’t have to sacrifice your swimming for it either.

A well-structured weight training program for swimmers allows athletes to reap all of the benefits mentioned earlier, have some variety in their training, and still recover in time for swim practice. 

Is Weight Training Right for You and Your Swimming? A Few Important Considerations

Looking at everything we have so far, it would seem that lifting weights for swimmers is an obvious fit.

However, like most things, it isn’t that simple. In this section, I discuss a few factors to consider when deciding if weight training is right for you as a swimmer. Don’t worry, they aren’t complicated, and you will quickly figure out if weight training is best for your swimming or not.

Will You Be Able and Willing to Sustain the Training?

Before you can even think about approaching the weight room, you have to ensure it’s something you would enjoy and would be willing to spend the necessary time and effort to learn to do correctly.

In other words, you will have to learn proper lifting technique, go to the gym consistently every week, and spend a few hours setting up a lifting routine or visiting a nearby sports specialist to help you do so. 

If you aren’t willing to do this or decide you don’t enjoy lifting weights, I recommend dropping it. You’ll be wasting your time and may be putting yourself at risk of injury due to poor exercise technique or impatience. 

You can always try out alternate forms of cross training, such as bodyweight exercises, which can also be effective.

Do You Have Any Current Injuries?

Suppose you have an injury, like a shoulder injury, for example. In that case, you should focus your time and attention on making sure that the injury gets sorted out before you start lifting. 

If you don’t, it could cause serious complications, and you may even have to stop swimming for a few months.

Remember, weight training is a high-resistance training method that places much strain on muscles and connective tissues. This isn’t a bad thing (if you’re healthy), but it could aggravate an ongoing injury if you ignore the warning signs.

If you currently have an untreated injury that needs attention, I recommend visiting a sports doctor. They can then advise you on what to do next. They may also refer you to other specialists, such as a biokineticist or a physical therapist.

Does Your Schedule Allow for It?

You should ensure your weight training never affects your swimming. You have to take recovery into account here. If you can’t plan your training to ensure adequate recovery, lifting weights might not be your best option. (More about this later). 

Remember, it is meant to supplement your swimming, not replace it. So does your current life schedule with school or work allow for this?

A simple rule would be– weight training < swim practice.

You should choose swim practice over weight training 95% of the time. Therefore, it is important to plan your training schedule properly to experience the best of both worlds.

Do You Have the Necessary Physical and Biological Foundation?

“When should swimmers start lifting weights” is a common question. I’m not too fond of limiting athletes to certain activities, such as weight training, purely based on age.

There are a lot of other factors outside of age that should determine whether or not a swimmer should lift weights at a specific age. I recommend checking out my article on when swimmers should start lifting weights for a more detailed answer.

In essence, the real factors you should be considering are, developing mobility, proper movement patterns, and adequate strength through bodyweight training. Once you have this foundation, are willing, and desire to take training further, you can introduce weight training. 

This ensures you have the necessary strength and experience to excel in the weight room.

Generally, a good age for this would be around 14-15 years old for most athletes. This doesn’t mean athletes can’t start younger (or older). The important thing is that they meet the criteria set out earlier. It also doesn’t mean athletes shouldn’t engage in any cross training at all until they reach this age. 

They should be engaging in other forms of cross training, such as bodyweight and resistance band training, before then. 

Keep in mind, for younger athletes, it’s also imperative that they have fun. You don’t want to put a very young athlete into an extremely structured and regimented training plan too soon. Try to forget about the idea of getting ahead and focus on the fundamentals first.

7 Easy Steps to Create Your Swimming Weight Training Program

In the following section, I will take you through a step-by-step mini guide on creating your weight training program suited to your swimming needs. 

Understand the Goals of Weight Training for Swimmers

Before doing anything, it’s important to ensure you understand the goal of weight training for swimmers.

It’s also important to recognize that it might differ depending on where you are in the season.

The main goal of weight training for swimming is to build strength. This will allow you to then focus on improving other qualities, such as power and endurance later. But generally, the more strength you have, the better you can develop power and endurance. 

Additionally, it’s important to take mobility into account. This could mean including functional exercises and stretches as part of your training program.

Adding muscle mass could also be a goal, but you should approach it strategically.

Generally, this type of training will result in more fatigue that could detract from your swim training. You also don’t want to become too bulky (although it’s unlikely– building muscle is a hard and long, tedious process!) 

To determine if you need to build muscle, I’d recommend visiting a dietitian. They can then do body measurements to determine if more muscle mass could give you an athletic advantage. They’ll also help optimize your nutrition for training and recovery. 

body composition analysis

If you’d like to learn how to optimize your nutrition for your swimming and weight training goals, I recommend reading my article on how to create a meal plan for swimmers

Deciding on the Duration of Your Swimming Weight Training Program: Training Cycles and Phases

Now that you understand what you should be trying to achieve with your weight training, we can dive into the nitty-gritty of creating your swimming weight training program. 

The first step involves planning your training cycles and phases.

Generally, in strength and conditioning, there are 3 main training phases. Namely, micro-, meso-, and macrocycles. 

Here’s a quick overview of each:

  • Microcycles: The shortest of the 3 cycles, generally lasting about a week. This cycle focuses on individual training sessions and what you’re trying to achieve with each. 3-4 microcycles typically form a mesocycle.
  • Mesocycles: The mesocycle is often referred to as a training block and deals with the idea of a training phase where you might be trying to achieve a general specific goal, such as developing strength or power. (More on this in a bit). 
  • Macrocycles: A macrocycle is the longest cycle and involves all stages of a periodized training program. A macrocycle can refer to a swimming season or a year’s training. This cycle allows for long-term planning and gives you a broad overview of your training, allowing you to plan to be able to peak for a specific meet, even though it might be a year away. 
training cycles periodization

Regarding training phases (the mesocycles), you should be moving through various cycles in your macrocycle. The National Academy of Sports Medicine, for example, has a 3 level approach broken down into 5 phases. 

The 3 tiers involve stabilization, strength, and power. These are then broken down into 5 mesocycles of stabilization endurance, strength endurance, muscular development, maximal strength, and power. 

NASM Traniung Phases
Image Credit: NASM

To put this into practice, start by planning your macrocycle. You can do this by noting down your specific training goals in the pool throughout the year and all your swim meets. 

Next, break it into various mesocycles, each targeting a specific training phase (strength, power, endurance, for example). 

Based on this, you can plan the duration of your weight training program. It can be anywhere in the range of 8 to 16 weeks. Adjust the duration, so your training phases align with your swim training and meets. For example, doing a power phase going into a taper meet would be good. 

Choosing a duration doesn’t mean you will only be lifting for 8 weeks (or whatever duration) and then never again. It simply means dedicating yourself to a specific training program and style for that period where you are focusing on a specific training phase or phases. 

After completing a training program, you can do a deload week, where you reduce the volume of workouts and allow your body to recover from the rigorous months of training you’ve just put it through. 

During this time, assess your progress and decide what you want to do next. Do you want to take the same approach? What will your next training phases be? Do you want to make a few minor changes to how you trained? Is there an exercise you would like to replace? 

Ask yourself these types of questions and start work on creating your next program or adjusting your existing training program. 

Choosing the Right Training Split

The next step involves choosing the correct training split. Generally, full-body training with a frequency of 3 times per week is ideal for optimal improvements in strength. 

In fact, a meta-analysis of 10 studies published in the Journal of Sports Medicine found that training each muscle group 2 times per week is the minimum requirement for muscle hypertrophy and strength gain. 

A full-body training split involves (as you might guess) training all muscle groups in a single training session. The benefit to this training split is that you don’t have to lift as frequently, allowing for better recovery between workouts. 

This makes it ideal for swimmers since we must carefully balance our strength training with our in-water training. 

For weeks when you are busy, you can reduce your training frequency to 2 times per week. While this isn’t ideal, it will at least allow you to maintain the progress you’ve made in the weight room up until now. 

During the off-season or periods when you are swimming less, the training frequency can be increased to 4 times per week. In this case, it shouldn’t be 4 full body sessions, however. You can do 3 full body sessions and a 4th workout for core strength or some other specific goal you have. 

You can also do an upper/lower split where you do 2 upper body workouts and 2 lower body workouts if your goal is to build muscle since this will allow for more training volume.

That said, this split should be approached cautiously since it can affect recovery negatively and detract from your swim training. For most swimmers, I recommend sticking to a full-body split year-round. 

In practice, the different training routines would look something like this:

Full body x3

  • Monday: Full body workout
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Full body workout
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Full body workout
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Full body x4

  • Monday: Full body workout
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Full body workout
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Full body workout
  • Saturday: Core workout
  • Sunday: Rest


  • Monday: Upper body workout
  • Tuesday: Lower body workout
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Upper body workout
  • Friday: Lower body workout
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

It’s also important to note that a full body split still allows you to add muscle mass, should it be your goal.

I’ve effectively achieved this by adjusting my training to a more hypertrophic focus while optimizing my nutrition to build muscle. As a result, I gained about 3 pounds of muscle in 8 weeks– not bad. 

Choosing the Right Exercises for Your Swimming Weight Training Program

This is a vital aspect of creating your weight training program. You need to train all the major muscle groups, as well as the smaller ones, and simultaneously ensure you are correcting muscle imbalances and developing mobility. 

I recommend reading my article on dryland exercises for swimmers for a much more in-depth breakdown of exercise selection. I cover over 150 exercises you can incorporate into your weight training program. 

Generally, however, exercises should be selected from the fundamental movement categories:

Here are the movement phases and some of my favorite weight training exercises for each:

  • Pushing: Bench press/ dumbbell press, overhead press, push press, dips.
  • Pulling: Single arm dumbbell row, pull ups, cable face pulls. 
  • Squatting: Goblet squats, barbell back squats, split squats.
  • Hinging: Single-leg Romanian deadlift, hip thrust, barbell deadlift.
  • Rotation: Farmer’s carry, pallof press, ab wheel rollout. 

It’s important to remember that you don’t necessarily have to use just weight training exercises. If there is a bodyweight exercise that holds value to your swimming, be sure to include it.

Also, ensure that you include more pulling and hinging exercises than squatting and pushing exercises. This will help to even out some of the muscle balances caused by swimming. 

Structuring Your Sets, Reps, and Rest for Optimal Swimming Performance

Next, you need to decide on the sets and reps for each exercise. Go through your exercises and choose how many sets and reps you want to do for each exercise. 

Remember to note how long you have to work out; I don’t recommend weight training longer than 1 hour. This is important to remember since you’ll have to cap your sets and reps to meet that time limit. 

Pro tip: Structuring your workouts in a circuit style allows for adequate rest while optimizing the time efficiency of each workout. 

Generally, you should do 2-6 sets of roughly 6 reps for all your big power and strength exercises like bench presses, deadlifts, and back squats. The sets will vary as you adjust your training to progress, but more on this in the periodization section. 

The lower rep ranges will allow you to focus on strength development and will minimize muscle fatigue since you are primarily training within the phosphagen and glycolytic energy systems of the body. 

For smaller supplementary exercises like sit-ups, tricep pushdowns, Russian twists, etc. I recommend higher rep ranges of about 10-20 reps to ensure optimal progress and results in both the weight room and the swimming pool. These exercises also aren’t as intense, so fatigue and recovery are of lesser concern. 

While we are on the topic of fatigue, you should also ensure that you are resting enough between sets and exercises. Generally, 2-5 minutes of rest is advised for strength gain and adequate recovery. 

optimal sets, reps, and rest for strength and muscle gain

Training Periodization: Maximizing Weight Training Progress by Properly Utilizing Progressive Overloading

Periodization is one of the most important factors in creating your weightlifting program. Without it, you won’t continue to become stronger and will hit a plateau in your training. 

Periodization, also commonly referred to as progressive overloading, is defined as: “the planned manipulation of training variables in order to maximize training adaptations and to prevent the onset of overtraining syndrome.” according to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy

Super-compensation sports science concept

For the sake of simplicity, I will only be focusing on what I deem the most important variables:

  • Ranges and angles: Increasing the range of motion through which an exercise is performed to recruit more muscle fibers or adjusting the angle to make an exercise harder or easier. 
  • Volume: Increasing the number of sets and reps in a workout. I mostly recommend adjusting sets and leaving reps. For example, you can start on 2 sets and progress to 4. 
  • Tempo: Increasing the time spent in the 3 phases of muscle contraction, namely concentric, isometric, and eccentric. It’s best to start by increasing the time for the eccentric phase, where the muscle is worked most intensely
  • Resistance: Increasing the resistance of an exercise by adding weight or using a stronger band. 
  • Switching exercises: Progressing from an easier exercise to a harder, more complex exercise. 

For an in-depth breakdown of these variables, you can read my article on dryland exercises for swimmers. 

Regarding progressive overloading, it’s also important to be conservative. I recommend adhering to the Principle of Progression defined by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. It states: “Increases in time, weight or intensity should be kept within 10% or less each week to allow for a gradual adaptation while minimizing risk of injury.”

Do You Want to Make Every Lap Count?

Stop wasting your time in the pool feeling lost and doing directionless swim workouts, and start training effectively! Our ebook contains 97 structured and goal-orientated swim workouts to help you become a better, faster, and fitter swimmer. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned pro, there are a multitude of workouts for every type of swimmer.


Putting Your Swimming Weight Training Program Together

Now that you’ve decided on your training goals, planned your training, selected appropriate exercises, rep-, set-, and rest schemes, and know how to adjust your training accordingly to become stronger, you have to put everything together in a coherent and structured fashion. 

You can easily do this in a few steps:

  • Organize your training split into meso-and microcycles over a certain period (8-16 weeks). 
  • Add exercises from each movement category, focusing on pulling and hinging exercises. Also, place more important and harder exercises first in your workout.
  • Specify the sets, reps, and rest for each exercise (and decide if you will be doing your workout in a circuit style for time efficiency). 
  • Adjust variables from week to week to apply progressive overloading to your training. 

And just like that, you’ve successfully created your own weight training program designed to improve your swimming performance.

The Best Weight Lifting Exercises for Swimmers

While we’ve already briefly discussed exercise selection, there are hundreds of weight lifting exercises out there, and it’s easy to get distracted. In this section, I break down some of my top picks for weight lifting exercises. 

You should focus on compound exercises targeting the main muscle groups involved in swimming.

Compound exercises are exercises that activate more than one muscle group simultaneously. I recommend staying away from isolation exercises like bicep curls and so on. They can certainly come in handy where appropriate, but for the most part, you don’t need them.

Remember: We are swimmers, not bodybuilders. We train for function and speed, not for size and mass. Those things will come naturally as you get stronger, but they shouldn’t be your main focus. Your main focus is on becoming stronger and more athletic.

Weighted Pull-Ups

Apart from being one of my favorite exercises, if there is one exercise I recommend to swimmers, it is the pull-up. The pull-up is a great upper body exercise, primarily targeting your traps and lats but also activating your core, bicep, and shoulder muscles.

In case you are unaware, the lats are super important for swimming. And so are the traps, too- especially for butterfly swimmers. These muscles will help you have a powerful pull in all your strokes.

Weighted pull-ups are a very challenging variation of this exercise. If you aren’t great at pull-ups yet, I recommend you start with the standard bodyweight or band-assisted variation until you can do 10-15 solid reps before adding any weight. 

For additional progressions, consider reading my article on why every swimmer should do pull ups

How to perform the pull-up:

  • Grab onto the pull-up bar with hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Retract your scapula, set your shoulders, and brace your core.
  • Then use your back, lats, and arms to pull yourself up until your head is over the bar.
  • After that, slowly lower back down into the starting position and repeat. 
  • Avoid using momentum or swinging your legs- keep the movement controlled.

Lat Pulldowns

The lat pulldown is another awesome compound exercise targeting your lats and back muscles. As you know by now, these muscles are responsible for a strong and efficient pull. That’s why strengthening them is in your best interest.

The lat pulldown is a popular exercise among swimmers and is frequently structured into swimming strength and conditioning programs. It’s also easier than the pull-up, so it can be a good place to start if you can’t yet do pull-ups. 

I recommend alternating between lat pulldowns and pull-ups but don’t do both in a single training session.

How to perform the lat pulldown:

  • Start by sitting down at the lat pulldown machine and adjusting the pad so it sits securely on your thighs to minimize movement.
  • Grab onto the bar with a wide and comfortable grip width while looking forward with your torso in an upright position.
  • Then retract your shoulder blades, set your shoulders, brace your core, and pull the bar down in front of you until it touches your upper chest.
  • Slowly allow it to move back into the starting position and repeat.


The deadlift is the ultimate full-body weight training exercise. A large number of big muscle groups are involved during this movement, especially involving the posterior chain, with the primary muscles being the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, traps, lats, and shoulders.

The deadlift is also great for developing stabilizing and functional core strength. It improves power output and is a great overall exercise for increasing athleticism. 

There are a few variations of the deadlift. Namely the standard conventional deadlift, the sumo deadlift, the Romanian deadlift, and of course, the trap bar deadlift.

From personal experience and some research, I recommend the conventional-, Romanion-, and trapbar deadlift. These are the most effective variations for increasing general strength and athleticism.

How to perform the deadlift:

  • Start by standing with feet about shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly pointed out.
  • Grab the bar on the floor in front of you and pull it forward until it touches your shins.
  • Brace your core, retract your scapula, set your shoulders, and ensure your back is straight.
  • After that, you can pull the bar up while keeping it directly against or close to your legs as you move upward.
  • Once you reach the lockout position, you can lower the bar back down in a controlled manner.
  • Make sure to keep your back in a straight line and your core braced throughout the entire movement.

Barbell Rows

Barbell rows are a good compound exercise for developing your lats, traps, shoulders, biceps, and lower back. These muscles play an important role in developing a powerful pulling motion while swimming.

Like all of the other exercises, the barbell row is also great for developing core stability, allowing optimal power transfer while swimming.

If you find this exercise too hard or complex, start with simpler variations, like dumbbell, cable, or machine rows. 

How to perform the barbell row:

  • Start by placing the bar on the floor in front of you.
  • Then go into the deadlift position and pull the bar up.
  • Once the bar is in the air, you need to retract your scapula and brace your shoulders and core.
  • Then lower the bar down by slightly bending your torso forward. 
  • Make sure to keep your back straight.
  • Once you are in this position, you can ‘row’ the bar up until it touches your stomach, lower it, and row again until you have performed 6-8 repetitions.

Related: Upper body exercises for swimmers

Bench Press

The bench press is an excellent weight training exercise for developing your chest, triceps, and shoulders. These muscle groups all play a critical role in swimming fast and efficiently. 

The triceps are largely involved in freestyle and backstroke swimming, while the chest is largely engaged in breaststroke and butterfly swimming. And, of course, the shoulders play an important role in all strokes.

The bench press exercise is also great for building explosive upper body power. This will allow you to generate strong and fast pulls while swimming.

How to perform the bench press:

  • Start by lying down on the bench with the bar secured above you.
  • Then grab onto the barbell with hands in a comfortable position slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Retract your scapula and ensure that your shoulders are in a stable position.
  • Straighten your arms and brace your core to unrack the bar. 
  • Move the bar until it’s above your chest.
  • Now from this position, lower the bar until it gently and briefly touches your chest, and then push back up into the starting position.

Back Squats

The back squat is, without a doubt, one of the best weight training exercises for developing a strong lower body. It is a highly functional movement targeting the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. 

It’s also great for developing power, allowing for better starts and turns and more explosive kicking while swimming.

Additionally, the back squat is great for developing core stability and control. Suppose you are going to perform this exercise under a high load. In that case, you will need to know how to brace and control your abdominal muscles effectively to support the load on your back.

I recommend starting with box back squats or smith machine squats. This will ensure that you nail the technique before progressing to the standard variation of this exercise. 

Also, ensure you have adequate strength for these variations. If not, start with other easier squatting variations. 

How to perform the back squat:

  • Go into a comfortable stance with the bar placed on your traps.
  • Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart and your toes are pointed out slightly.
  • Brace your core and lower into the squat position until your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
  • Then push back up into the starting position in a controlled manner.

Related: Leg exercises for swimmers

Overhead Press 

The overhead press is an excellent exercise for building chest, trap, shoulder, and arm strength. It’s also great for developing stabilizing core strength which is highly important in all swimming strokes.

Another huge plus from the overhead press is its tendency to mimic the overhead arm position that swimmers are frequently involved in. This will teach you how to generate some good power in this position, ultimately contributing to faster swimming times.

There are a few variations of the exercise that you can try out. The most typical is the standing overhead press with a barbell, but you can also try out seated- and dumbbell variations of the exercise for added variety. 

How to perform the overhead press:

  • Grab onto the bar with hands shoulder-width apart or just outside of shoulder-width apart.
  • Briefly brace your core as you uncrack the bar.
  • Make sure to keep the bar just above your chest with your arms in a stable position.
  • Brace your core and push the bar up until your shoulders lock out at the top.
  • Your arms should be behind your head when you lock out, and you should aim to keep the bar as close as possible to your face as you push up. (P.S Try not to bump your nose)
  • Then once you’ve locked out, you can slowly lower the bar back down and repeat.

Related: Arm exercises for swimmers

4 Ways Swimmers Can Prevent Weight Training Injuries

Weightlifting injuries are more common than they should be, which can paint weight training in a bad light. Swimmers usually get injured from weight training mainly due to a lack of knowledge about how to lift properly, sustainably, and responsibly.

There are 4 main factors when it comes to avoiding weight training injuries. If you follow the guidelines below, your chances of getting injured in the weight room will be very low. 

Lift to Become a Better Swimmer, Not to Satisfy Your Ego

When you are in the weight room, it’s always important to be open-minded and know your ultimate goal. If you are a swimmer, that goal should be to become stronger and more functional so that you can swim faster.

Keeping your goal in mind will help you to focus on what’s important. If you are going to lift to try and impress others, you are only training your ego, and you’re not going to become a better swimmer.

Chances are you’re going to become a slower swimmer and maybe even an injured one. You’ll likely focus on loading the bar as heavy as you can, ultimately compromising lifting technique and proper programming and progress.

I don’t encourage 1 rep max testing, either. It simply isn’t worth the injury risk. If you’d like to calculate this number (for training purposes), you can do a 3 or 5 rep max test and use that information to calculate your 1 rep max

Learn the Proper Lifting Technique for Each Exercise

Only add weight to the bar once you know exactly how to perform each exercise with perfect technique. I recommend using only the empty bar or a PVC pipe to practice the exercise technique.

Video yourself to see how your technique looks and what changes when you move a certain muscle or change a specific angle of your body. Watching videos online can also be a valuable tool for improving your technique. 

You can even get someone experienced, like a personal trainer, to help you learn the right exercise technique.

Once you are comfortable performing the exercise with good technique, you can slowly add some weight to the bar. Be sure to keep the principle of progression we discussed earlier in mind. 

Always Warm Up Properly Before Weight Training and Any Exercise in General

Warming up properly is super important. 

Get a set warm-up routine that you do before every training session. This won’t only prevent injury but will also get you into the right mindset before training.

It doesn’t have to be anything complicated or long. About 10-15 minutes of warm-up is more than enough.

I like to do some foam rolling on each large muscle group. I’ll then do resistance band exercises like band pull-aparts and external rotations. If needed, I may go for a light 5-minute jog or hop on the rowing machine to get my heart rate up and increase blood flow.

Incorporate Daily Stretching for Increased Mobility

Stretching is one of the most valuable things a swimmer can incorporate into their daily routine. It is an important tool for avoiding injuries in the weight room and the pool.

Still, more importantly- it helps to increase your range of motion and physical function, which can help improve your swimming technique.

I recommend doing at least 15-20 minutes of static stretching daily, preferably after your last workout, for optimal results.

Compile a list of your favorite stretches and combine them into a stretching routine you can follow.

It is important not to do static stretching as a way of warming up since it can decrease physical performance, as noted by this study from the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.

Static stretching is aimed at increasing flexibility and not at warming up. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Swimming and Weight Training?

In this section, I answer some frequently asked questions about swimming and weight training. 

Should I Lift Weights Before or After Swimming? Planning for Adequate Recovery 

Standalone weight training sessions with a few hours of recovery between lifting and swimming are ideal. In this case, it also doesn’t matter much if you lift or swim first. For back-to-back sessions, lifting weights before is recommended. It should be noted that you’ll have to reduce the intensity of your swim workout after. 

The trick is to balance everything perfectly (or as well as you can). If possible, ensure you have a few hours to rest and recover between sessions. Eat enough healthy foods, nap, and ensure you stay hydrated. This will help you to sustain this training schedule quite effectively.

For back-to-back workouts, I recommend lifting first. This reduces injury risk since you are still fresh in the weight room. It will also help you to warm up for swim practice. 

Unfortunately, there will be a tradeoff here. Your swim workout won’t be able to be as intense since your muscles will be more fatigued. If your weight training session were low-moderate intensity, you would be able to increase the intensity of swimming after.

Generally, lifting weights after swimming isn’t advised since your muscles will be tired and can put you at risk of injury. 

To ensure your body is recovering at its best, I recommend getting enough sleep, eating the right foods and enough of it, stretching and foam rolling, and you can even try other recovery methods like ice baths.

For a more in-depth answer, read my article: should swimmers lift weights before or after swimming?

How Many Days a Week Should Swimmers Lift Weights? 

As a general rule, swimmers should lift weight 3 times per week for optimal results. 2 Times per week is ideal for times when you are busy and want to maintain your progress, and 4 times per week can be used in the off-season when you are swimming less. 

How Should Swimmers Approach Weight Training Before a Swim Meet or During Taper? 

It’s important not to stop lifting weights during taper. Doing so could detract from your swimming performance during the meet. 

Instead, you should ensure you are going into the meet on a training phase emphasizing power. That should be combined with a gradual decrease in your total training volume.

You should only be doing 25% of your total training volume during the final week of taper. That’s a 75% decrease in volume. 

You can reduce volume by 25% the day before for general meets. There is no need to adjust your current training phase.

For important, non taper meets, you can reduce volume by 50-75% for a workout or two before the meet. Once again, no need to adjust your training phase. 

What Rep Range Is the Best for Swimmers?

The rep range you choose is greatly dependent on your goals. 

Lower reps (6 or less) with higher weight and more rest are great for building strength. They will also result in less fatigue and better recovery since you are primarily staying within the phosphagen and glycolytic energy systems. You also won’t build as much muscle with this rep scheme. 

Higher reps (8-12) with lower weight and less rest are ideal for building muscle. Similarly, an ever higher rep scheme (15+) can help to train muscular endurance. 

While you should choose rep schemes that align with your goals, I recommend primarily staying in the 6 or less rep range, especially for compound exercises like bench presses, back squats, and deadlifts.

This will ensure that you build adequate strength while minimizing fatigue that can affect your performance in swim training.

There are cases where higher rep schemes come in handy. An example would be when you want to increase the structural strength of muscle fibers (aka build muscle).

This should, however, be approached strategically to ensure you aren’t too exhausted in swim practice. 

Generally, use a lower rep scheme for compound exercises; depending on your goals, you may use a higher rep scheme for smaller supplementary exercises. 

Will Weight Training Make Me Bulky?

Weight training won’t make you bulky. Building muscle is a challenging and tedious process that takes time.

Not only that, but you have to eat correctly and ensure that your training program is optimized for hypertrophy through factors like training intensity, volume, reps, and rest schemes. 

Generally, however, you will build some muscle. For most swimmers, this is, however, going to be a positive thing and will enable better athletic performance.

But you don’t have to fear becoming overly bulky, which of course, will be detrimental to your swimming performance. 

Ensure your program is optimized for strength and athleticism by focusing on larger compound exercises at lower reps.

Also, make sure to include function and mobility exercises. 

Can Weight Training Negatively Affect My Swimming Technique? 

Weight training can enable better body movement in the long run, benefiting your swimming technique. However, your technique might be slightly affected in the short term, especially when you are tight from a workout session.

As mentioned a few times in this article, I recommend combining your weight training with functional and mobility exercises as well as regular stretching.

This combination promotes better movement, mobility, and flexibility, which will greatly benefit your swimming technique.

Suppose you incorporate no mobility and function into your training program. In that case, there is a chance that you become tighter and lose mobility, which can be detrimental to your swimming technique.  

Weight Training Equipment for Swimmers 

If you have access to a gym, you should already have access to most of the equipment listed below. However, it’s still good to have a look since there may be items you don’t have access to at your particular gym. 

Having some equipment at home for days when you can’t make it to the gym is also good. You can also consider setting up a home gym if you have the budget. 

Some good equipment to start with include:

Equipment Need Requirement Budget Level Included with Gym Buy on Amazon
Pull up bar Must have Low to Intermediate Yes > View Price
Dumbbells Must have Intermediate to high Yes > View Price
Kettlebell Must have Low to high Yes > View Price
Superband Optional Low Depends > View Price
Mini band Optional Low Depends > View Price
Resistance tubing bands Optional Low No > View Price
Ab roller Must have; intermediate/advanced athletes Low Depends > View Price
Medicine Ball Must have Low Yes > View Price
Suspension System (TRX) Optional Low to Intermediate Depends > View Price
Stability ball Optional Low Yes > View Price
Sandbags Optional Intermediate Yes > View Price
Weighted Vest/ Weight Belt Must have; intermediate/advanced athletes Low to intermediate  Unlikely > View Price
Olympic barbell and Weight Plates Must have Intermediate to High Yes > View Price
Bench Must have Low to Intermediate  Yes > View Price
Power rack  Good-to-have Intermediate to high Yes > View Price
Rowing machine  Nice-to-have Intermediate to high  Yes > View Price

Combine Swimming and Weight Training to Swim Faster

Weight lifting can benefit all swimmers, whether you are a sprinter or distance swimmer. It can help you to become faster and more athletic in the water. 

Always stay responsible in the weight room, use good exercise technique, warm up properly, and stretch regularly to avoid injuries. 

Consistency and planning are also crucial. Plan your training and stick to it week by week, month by month, and you will, inevitably, reap the rewards.

Train hard!

Photo of author
I am Benjamin, a competitive swimmer with over a decande of experience in the sport of swimming. I also hold certifications in Exercise Science and Nutrition. I am very passionate about competitive swimming and love sharing everything I have learned about the sport. I specialize in swimming butterfly and my favorite event is the 100m butterfly with the 50m and 200m fly closely following.

A Cheat Sheet for Creating the Perfect Swimming Workout and Routine

Download this FREE cheat sheet to create the perfect swimming workout and routine. Learn how to structure your swim workout and enjoy 9 example workouts, ranging from beginner to advanced.

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