What Should I Do In The Gym To Improve My Swimming?

It is a great idea to mix in a few gym workouts as part of your swimming training. Swimming gym workouts are not just for elite swimmers and athletes, but can also help the everyday regular swimmer to improve strength, fitness and form.

I like to mix in gym workouts as part of my swimming routine. When I use the gym, I want my exercises to be targeted at swimming, so every move will help me in the pool.

Most gym exercises will help with an aspect of your swimming. However, gym exercises that are particularly effective for swimmers are double-arm triceps pushdowns, cable crunches, reverse dumbbell fly, lunges, single-arm lawn row and burpees.

Since swimming is a full-body workout, nearly any gym exercise will help with your swimming in some way. However, some muscles are more prominent in swimming, and therefore the gym exercises that target these swimming muscles are more effective.

As the list of gym exercises for swimming could be endless, in this article I have selected a few key exercises that target the arms, chest, shoulders, abdomen, back, legs and whole body, explaining what muscle groups these chosen exercises target and how they are used in a swim stroke.

This article covers:

  • What should I do in the gym to improve my swimming?
  • Do swimmers need the gym?
  • Is there an exercise machine that mimics swimming?

What Should I Do In The Gym To Improve My Swimming?

A quick search online will show multiple gym experts recommending dry land gym exercises to help your swimming.

It can be a bit frustrating, as sometimes we just want a straight answer. However, all these gym experts seem to recommend different gym exercises for swimmers. So which ones are correct?

As swimming is a full-body workout, there are multiple exercises you can do in the gym to advance your swimming, so all the recommended dry land exercises by gym influencers online are technically correct.

What I find is lacking is an explanation of what muscles are used while doing gym exercises, and how these muscles impact different swim strokes.

I have compiled the following table of my favourite dry land gym exercises that will directly benefit swimmers. This table shows which swim strokes these exercises most benefit.

Gym ExerciseSwim Strokes BenefitedAreas WorkedPrimary Muscle Groups Used
Standing Double-Arm Triceps PushdownsFront Crawl
ArmsTriceps brachii
Cable CrunchesFront Crawl
Dive Start
AbdomenRectus abdominis
Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell FlyFront Crawl
ShouldersRhomboid major, rhomboid minor, posterior deltoid
LungesFront Crawl
Dive Start
LegsRectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius
Single-Arm Lawn MowerFront Crawl
Whole BodyRectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, latissimus dorsi
Dive Start
Whole BodyRectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, gluteus maximus, pectoralis major, triceps brachii
This Table Shows Dryland Gym Exercises For Swimmers

1. Standing Double-Arm Triceps Pushdowns

This is a great exercise for targeting the triceps.

Although this exercise will improve all four swim strokes, this exercise is of great benefit for the breaststroke, as the pulling action resembles the final pull motion of the breaststroke.

Here is a demonstration of how to do a standing double-arm triceps pushdown.

2. Cable Crunches

Using the pulley machine in the gym can be a great way to build core strength.

Although this exercise will benefit all four strokes, it is particularly good for flip turns and underwater dolphin kicks.

When doing this exercise, I find it can be very easy to use your arms to move the weight, but try to ensure that you are moving the weight with your core muscles, as this is the targeted muscle group for this exercise.

Here is an example of how to complete cable crunches in the gym.

3. Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell Fly

This is an excellent exercise to strengthen our shoulders, which will benefit our swimming overall, but in particular, the breaststroke and butterfly.

Here is an example of how to perform the bent-over reverse dumbbell fly. Ensure to keep your head and back in line if doing this exercise to prevent injury.

4. Barbell Lunges

Lunges are a fantastic exercise to improve our swim kicks. In addition, it is great for any leg motion in the water, including wall push-offs and dive starts.

It is important to keep your torso upright and straight during this exercise. It can help to keep your head up and your eyes focused on one object in the distance to maintain an upright form.

Here is an example of how to do a lunge.

5. Single-Arm Lawn Mower

This exercise engages both the upper and lower body and can help us link these aspects, which is beneficial to all strokes, particularly the front crawl and backstroke.

The single-arm lawn mower is a full-body workout that engages both leg, arm and shoulder muscles.

Here is an example of how to complete a single-arm lawn mower.

6. Burpees

Burpees are a great dry land exercise that requires no equipment.

By completing burpees, you will improve your strength for kicking off the wall and speed at transitioning into a streamlined position.

Do Swimmers Need The Gym?

Strength is a fundamental component of competitive swimming, therefore swimmers who compete or who want to swim with power and speed will use the gym for strength training.

All Olympic swimmers incorporate dry land strength training exercises as part of their training schedule on a weekly basis.

For us recreational swimmers, many will argue that swimmers do not need the gym, as the workout we need we can get from the pool.

This may be true for casual recreational swimmers, but for any swimmer of any level who wants to improve their performance, then using the gym and building strength will greatly help.

If you want to improve your swimming, swim faster, have more power and even compete, then incorporating gym strength workouts into your routine is a great way to do this.

If you want to know more about how the gym and a swim compare, check out this article that covers this topic in much greater detail, Swim Or Gym: Which Is Better? (Explained)

Is There An Exercise Machine That Mimics Swimming?

There are some swimming-specific exercise machines on the market, but there is not a large variety to choose from.

The Vasa Swim Trainer & Swimming Training Bench is an exercise machine that is designed for swimmers with the aim of mimicking swimming and is one of the most popular and comprehensive.

From my research, the Vasa Swim Trainer products are the most professional that target swimmers directly, however, they are expensive, with prices starting at $1000.

Although there are cheaper swim benches available, which involve lying flat on a padded bench with stretch cords attached to the wall, these are still in the $200 price range.

If you are looking for a way to improve your swimming strength without getting into the water, using simple stretch cords with paddles is a great option.

If you have a workout bench and can anchor stretch cords to the wall, then you can replicate the swim benches that are on the market for a fraction of the cost of these more expensive swim-specific machines.

To learn more about stretch cords and how they are a great dry land exercise for swimmers, check out this article which covers the topic in much greater detail, “Stretch Cord Exercises For Swimmers – Improve On Dryland”

Final Thoughts

Swimmers looking to increase their performance in the pool can greatly improve their strength and power with a well-rounded gym program.

The exercises I have listed in this article are some of my favourites for swimmers, as they directly target swimming muscles and strokes and can be done with the equipment found in nearly every well-equipped gym.

If you are looking for a way to take your swimming to the next level, incorporating strength training exercises into your workout week is a great way to do this.

Happy swimming!

Emma Moore

Hi, I am Emma, and I am obsessed with all watersports, from swimming to surfing and everything in between. I spend my free time in the water or preparing for my next water travel adventure.

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