Fish Don’t Have Biceps So Why Should I Weight Train for Swimming?


First off, weight training for swimming is not just another trendy thing.  Your competitive swimming rivals are using sports specific training.  If they are doing it and it’s working for them and you are not doing it, then they will probably beat you.  The water is both a resistance and liquid medium that you glide through. In swimming you are using pulling, pushing and kicking motions to propel yourself forward. Resistance exercises that mimic these movements will improve the speed and power of your strokes. That should be enough to get you started with some sort of dry land anaerobic exercise regimen.

Will Weight Training Make Me a Better Swimmer?

It is important to define what you mean by better.  If by better you mean will it make you faster in swimming when the split seconds count then yes; with a sports specific training program, the way your muscles and nervous system generally cope with fatigue during a race will improve significantly.

What is the Best Way to Develop Anaerobic Power for Swimming?

First of all, the term anaerobic means “without oxygen.” Your muscles use up oxygen to do work.  When they run out of oxygen, they can’t move.  An anaerobic workout using weights will, in time, make your muscles more efficient by creating a greater capacity and efficiency for them to use the oxygen that you breathe in.  One of the best ways to develop anaerobic efficiency is by sticking to a weight training program.

Is it Okay to Do Weight Training and Swimming Every Day?

There may be some debate about this.  The best answer is that it depends on what your goals are and what your present fitness level is like.  If your goal is to create your ideal physique for bodybuilding, then that is outside the scope of this article.  As a bodybuilder, you will be using swimming as an aerobic exercise just to burn fat.  Your goals then would be different.

As a competitive swimmer, no, it would not be advisable to weigh train every day.  Adequate recovery is needed for your swimming.  In fact, the best routine to follow would be some type of circuit training no more than two or three days a week. CR training is when you choose  six to twelve exercises doing one after the other.  Lighter weights than usual are used and you rest no more than thirty seconds in between exercise sets.  If you were training off season you might follow a two month cycle in which you would start off with lighter weights performing fifteen to twenty reps which activate the slow twitch muscle fibers.  During the two months you add more and more weight to your exercises until you are doing between eight to twelve reps (or even less) per exercise.  Mix it up a bit.  Do no more than three rounds of a circuit.

Some exercises may include:

Incline bench press for chest

Back squats for hip and knee extension

Leg press

Leg extensions

Leg curls

Calf work

All kinds of rowing

Pull ups

Standing tricep press downs

Bicep curls

Stomach crunches

Hyperextensions

Can You Give Me an Exercise for Say, the Front Crawl Stroke?

First off a little history tidbit from Wikipedia:
The front crawl has been in use since ancient times. In the Western world, the front crawl was first seen in a swimming race held in 1844 in London, where it was swum by Native North Americans, who easily defeated all the British breaststroke swimmers.   However, the English gentlemen considered this style, with its considerable splashing, to be barbarically “un-European”. The British continued to swim only the breaststroke in competition.

(Yes, this excerpt seems out of place here but I thought it was fun).

A good exercise for the crawl stroke is to find an overhead pulley system in your gym.  Grab a hold of the pulley handle with one hand and get down on your knees.  With your arm straight, pull down in front of you palm down using your lats, triceps and stomach muscles simulating crawl mechanics.  Repeat.

 Some More Ideas

1) Flutter kicks with ankle weights.  Lie on your back on the floor or on a weight bench with half of your legs hanging off.  Do as many flutter kicks as you can without going to failure.  These will target your thighs and lower abdomen.  Do the same lying on your stomach to strengthen your hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

2) To strengthen shoulder, trapezius and upper back muscles for crawl and butterfly strokes, lie on your stomach on a (weight) bench. With your arms hanging down, hold a light dumbbell in each hand palms facing each other.  Using the butterfly stroke motion, slowly pull the dumbbells back then out and up and around towards the front and then down as you mimic the motion of your hands re-entering the water in the stroke.  At the top of the motion, your palms should be facing down.  Repeat.  Use one dumbbell at a time to develop crawling motion.

3) This movement is somewhat the opposite of the previous one to develop the crawl and butterfly strokes.  You lie on your back and execute a type of pullover.  Lie supine and start out with arms straight overhead towards ceiling holding dumbbells with palms facing away from you.  In a circular motion, move both dumbbells away, down and back around and then “pull” the weights back up to the starting position.  During the circular motion, keep arms semi-straight and palms in the direction as they would be when doing the butterfly stroke.  Repeat.  Then use one dumbbell at a time to develop the muscles used for the crawl stroke.

You Get the Drift

Your dryland weight training for swimming is supposed to simulate swim strokes.  Training with cable pulleys and using various medicine ball throws are also excellent.  Swimmers and triathletes would both benefit from sports specific weight training.  Adding weight training to your swimming workouts is surely adding more work to your schedule but you’ll end up being stronger and faster in the water.

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