Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tri-Training: Want to improve your swimming? Start on land: By Abby Kramer.

Want to improve your swimming?  Start on land!
After years of experience being a competitive swimmer, teaching, and coaching swimming I’ve learned that improving technique and efficiency also happens outside the pool.  Yes, technique is crucial (more on that in a future post!) but strength training can be an excellent tool to help with efficiency and power.  I’ve selected 4 great strength training exercises that specifically target muscle groups that are crucial for swimming efficiency and technique.  Coming from a background in personal training, my mind first wandered to “flashy” exercises: kettle bells, crab walks, assisted hand stand push-ups, etc.  All fun and great exercises (feel free to email me if you want some of these!) but not easily accessible.  I decided to keep it simple.  All of these exercises require no equipment, very little space, and you can transition between them very easily.  Heck, you can even do them at the side of the pool pre or post workout.  That way, no excuses right?!  Let’s get to it:

Exercise 1: Power Plank with Row
The latissimus dorsi isn’t nicknamed the “swimmer’s muscle” for nothing.  It adducts (brings the arm in), internally rotates, and extends the arm, which is just what we’re aiming for in the freestyle stroke.  Therefore, you’ve got to have good lats to swim!  Start this exercise in a plank position.  All 4 of these exercises are in a plank position because it is crucial to have a strong core to support body rotation, or “roll” for your freestyle stroke.  It’s key in any plank position workout to keep your low back straight (no sagging!) and your butt even with your back (no pushing it up!)  You can start this exercises with no weight and perform it with a dumbell as needed to increase difficulty.  Bend one elbow and lift it up, aiming toward the sky.  Keep your arm as close to your body as possible.  Perform 8-12 repetitions, 3 times, on both sides. 

Exercise 2: Downward Dog Push-Up
This exercise will have your shoulders on fire in no time!  Start in a plank position, as before.  Bring your hands together to make a “triangle” shape.  Then bring legs in closer to your body to a “downward dog” position to your level of comfort.  This exercise is the exception, it’s ok to have your butt in the air!  From here perform the number of push ups you can perform, without breaking good technique.  I usually have people start pretty low, aim for 5 and increase as they become easier.  Perform 3 sets.  To increase difficulty, raise one leg in the air and switch every set.

Exercise 3: Leg Pull Back
I love this exercise for core, shoulder strength, and mobility.  Start in plank position.  SLOWLY roll forward through your ankles as far as you can, without breaking good plank form.  Then push backward as far as you can.  There won’t be a lot of movement in this exercise but you should feel your abdominals and shoulders working.  Start with 3 sets of 5-6 repetitions, and increase as needed.

Exercise 4: Lateral Raise Plank
This exercise does a great job at targeting the oblique muscles of the abdomen which are SO important, as all swimmers should constantly be working on their rotation.  So this exercise is not only strengthening the core, but making it stronger in the position it needs to be in!  Love it.  Start in plank position.  Keeping the arm straight raise it laterally while rotating the body all the way to the side.  Then slowly roll back to the starting plank position.  Either rotate sides each time, or perform 8-12 reps on one side, and then the other.  Repeat 3 times.  Feel free to add a dumbell to this exercise as well for added difficulty.

I would recommend performing these exercises at least 3 days per week for the best results.  By combining strength training to swim workouts we can help strengthen the muscles that are unique to swimming and increase speed, stability, and power.  Hopefully these exercises will be easy to incorporate to your training.  Feel free to contact me with any questions at:  And remember, “Just keep swimming!”

BIO: Abby Kramer is currently in the Chiropractic program at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, IL.  She is a certified personal trainer and has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science.  She decided to take her passion for fitness and a healthy lifestyle a step further and become a doctor.  She was a competitive swimmer in high school and college, and now a runner.  She has done 2 sprint triathlons and had a blast!  If she’s not studying or running, she’s enjoying time with her husband, 2 dogs, and her favorite city, Chicago.


  1. I definitely need to be adding some strength training to my workout and these look like a great place to start. Thanks Abby!

  2. no problem, let me know if you have any other questions!