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Strengthen Your Swim with Targeted Strength Training

By Morgan Johnson

strengthNext to refining your technique, swim-specific strength training is the best way for amateurs to take their swim to the next level, allowing age-groupers to advance far more quickly than they would have time to if they were only trying to put in more laps at the pool. Tools like the Vasa Swim Ergometer and Halo Swim System are great for more targeted training, but an athlete can also get in a great swim workout with just a few simple tools. At the Playtri Performance Center in Dallas, Texas (a USA Triathlon Performance Center), head coach and former Olympic swimmer Ahmed Zaher has spent countless hours with athletes and the rest of the Playtri coaches developing strength training that really works for improving athletes’ swim times.

Work the following routine into your strength training if you are ready to ramp up your swim fitness!

Swim Strength 101
Do this routine as part of your normal strength training. Try to give yourself as little time as possible between each exercise to apply the most effective stress to the muscle groups. Repeat 2-4 times.

Simulated High Cadence Swim Drill

  • Using resistance tubing (Halo or other) wrapped around a stationary anchor, hold on to the handles on each end of the tubing.
  • Bend from the waist until your torso is almost parallel to the floor, with the head facing down, arms stretched out in front you as if you were streamlining.
  • Back up until there is tension in the tubing with the arms outstretched.
  • Move your arms just as if you were swimming, using an exceptionally high cadence or turnover.
  • Repeat this for 40-80 “strokes.”

Crunches with Weight

  • Grab a free weight or medicine ball weighing 3-10 lbs. depending on your fitness, along with a stability ball.
  • Lay with your mid to lower back on the stability ball, holding the weight or medicine ball over your head with both hands, arms straight.
  • Focus your eyes on the weight and crunch up towards it, then back down.
  • Do 20-40 times.

Stability Ball Push-Ups

  • Using a stability ball, place the hands on top with the body straight back in the push-up or plank position.
  • Lower the body bending the arms to the sides to bring the torso closer to the ball.
  • If this is too challenging, start with the ball against a wall, then work up to the free-standing push-up.
  • Repeat 10-30 times.

Tricep Rotations

  • Get a slightly heavier weight than you used for the crunches (5-15 lbs.).
  • Standing up right with good posture, holding the weight in one hand, bring the arm up so that the upper arm is out to the side and parallel to the ground with the elbow bent at a 90 degree angle.
  • Keeping the upper arm as still as possible, lower the forearm until it is parallel to the ground, then bring it back up to its previous upright position.
  • Repeat 10-20 times with each arm.

Oblique Rolls

  • Using a stability ball, assume the plank position, body straight, palms flat on the ground, with the legs resting together on the ball (the closer the ball is to the feet, the more challenging the exercise will be – start out with the ball under the knees or thighs).
  • With the head continuing to face down, roll the legs and torso to the side until only one leg is resting on the ball with the other leg “stacked” on top.
  • Roll back to the original position, and then roll to the other side.
  • Repeat rolling to both sides 10-20 times.

We hope you enjoy your new-found swim strength, and always remember — there is no substitute for face-to-face coaching with a certified triathlon coach who has expert knowledge of you and the sport! If you are ready to take your racing to the next level, find a USAT certified coach or performance center (like Playtri) to help you work toward your goals.

Morgan Johnson is a USA Triathlon certified coach and the Lead Developmental and Youth Programs Coach at the Playtri Performance Center in Dallas, Texas. She is also a member of the USA Triathlon South Midwest Regional Council, and a former member of Team USA. You can reach her with questions or comments at