Simple Strength Training for Swimmers

An Easy To Follow Strength Training Program

Are You Out of Swimming Shape?
Getty Images.

Weight training and dryland exercises can be used for many things, including injury prevention, rehabilitation, gain strength, build general or specific fitness, or to cross-train to improve abilities in other sports. Many training programs seem too complicated to follow. You may get discouraged, almost before you start. If this has happened to you, then perhaps you'll give this weight training program a try.

This is a basic, simple program. You can adjust it as needed, but its central purpose is a quick, easy to follow plan. You can do it once a week for strength maintenance or two to three times a week to build strength and power. If done several times each week, separate workouts by 1-2 days to allow for full recovery.

Intensity is The Key

While lifting, focus on each repetition, using good form and keeping the weight under control. No throwing or dropping - use weights that you can control.

Each lift has a minimum/maximum number of repetitions

  • During the early portion of the program (the first 6 to 10 weeks), if you can exceed the maximum number, then add 3% to 10% more weight the next time you do that exercise.
  • Later in the program only increase the weight if you can exceed the maximum number two workouts in a row.
  • If you cannot do the minimum number of lifts, decrease the load by 3% to 10% the next time you are doing the routine.
  • If you miss a week, decrease the weight load for each exercise, building back to your pre-miss levels over the next few weeks.
  • Start with a moderate to light weight load for the first workout and slowly add weight each subsequent workout until you reach a weight load that meets the minimum/maximum number of lifts for a specific exercise.

Substitute Different Lifts

Squats instead of a leg press machine, for example, if needed due to available equipment - or if wanted because you like one type of lift more than another.

Control The Speed of the Lift

Aim for a 1-2 second positive, loading, or lifting effort and a 2-4 second negative, unloading, or lowering effort.

Stick With the Basic Order of Exercises

Work muscles from large groups to more specific muscles.

Take Minimal Rest Between Lifts

By alternating upper and lower body exercises, rest for general areas being worked is automatic, and your heart rate will remain slightly elevated for the entire workout.

Avoid Plateaus

Switch the program from one set of lifts to two sets at half the minimum/maximum level with an increased weight load periodically, as often as every four weeks. When you switch back to week 1-4 Min/Max, remember to use a lower weight than you were using during the weeks 5-8 Min/Max sessions. During the week 5-8 Min/Max sessions take 1-2 minutes of rest between exercises for the same part of the body.

Keep a Training Log

Track weight loads and progress through the program.

Don't skip the warm-up or warm-down!

The Strength Training Routine

  1. Warm-up: 5-10 minutes of aerobic work, like a spin on a stationery bicycle or an easy jog.
  2. Exercise: Leg Press
    Week 1-4 Min/Max repetitions goal:20-25
    Week 5-8 Min/Max repetitions goal: 8-12 x 2 @ 1-2 minutes rest
  3. Exercise: Rowing
    Week 1-4 Min/Max repetitions goal: 10-15
    Week 5-8 Min/Max repetitions goal: 5-10 x 2 @ 1-2 minutes rest
  4. Exercise: Leg Extension
    Week 1-4 Min/Max repetitions goal: 15-20
    Week 5-8 Min/Max repetitions goal: 6-10 x 2 @ 1-2 minutes rest
  5. Exercise: Push-ups (remember up on a 1-2 count, down on a 2-4 count)
    Min/Max repetitions goal: maximum possible in 60 seconds
  6. Exercise: Leg Curl
    Week 1-4 Min/Max repetitions goal: 15-20
    Week 5-8 Min/Max repetitions goal: 6-10 x 2 @ 1-2 minutes rest
  7. Exercise: Bent-arm Pull-down (mimics the basic pull of freestyle or butterfly using the lateral pull-down machine)
    Week 1-4 Min/Max repetitions goal: 10-15
    Week 5-8 Min/Max repetitions goal: 6-10 x 2 @ 1-2 minutes rest
  8. Exercise: Calf Raises
    Week 1-4 Min/Max repetitions goal: 15-20
    Week 5-8 Min/Max repetitions goal: 6-10 x 2 @ 1-2 minutes rest
  9. Exercise: Rotator Cuff Exercises (light weights, surgical tubing, or stretch cords. Do several different types: internal rotation, external rotation, etc. - focus on smooth movements - intended to reduce/prevent shoulder injury)
    Min/Max repetitions goal: 10-15
  10. Exercise: Back Extensions
    Min/Max repetitions goal: 10-15
  11. Exercise: Abdominal Crunches (this exercise always has two sets of repetitions)
    Min/Max repetitions goal: 10-25 x 2 @ 1 minute rest
  12. Cool-down: 5-10 minutes of easy aerobic work, like a spin on a lifecycle or an easy jog.

That's it - a general workout for upper and lower body that should only take 35-60 minutes. We recommend doing body core work - abs, back, etc. - at least every other day. We also recommend that swimmers perform stretching every day following your workouts.

Swim On!

Updated by Dr. John Mullen on April 27, 2016