Getting up early for swim practice when I was in high school meant my alarm went off at 3:45 am. If you think that sounds fun to a 16 year old girl, or anyone for that matter, you’d be wrong.
And to make matters worse? The pool I had practice at kept their water at a balmy 79 degrees. Which, if you’re unfamiliar with pool temperatures, is about the equivalent to swimming in a bucket of ice.
So when dryland days rolled around, I still woke up at 3:45 am but did NOT jump directly into frigid waters akin to those of Alaska. I was one happy kid. When I transitioned into working with mostly triathletes, I found out they didn’t do dryland exercises. Or really know what the word dryland meant (apparently that’s a swimming term). I decided to do something about that.
How could I let the happiest of workouts I had when I was younger go unrecognized? Anyway, I’ll stop my rambling and reminiscing and move on to the meat of this post.
The best dryland exercises swimmers can do to to benefit their swimming are: pull ups and push ups.
Pull ups are great because they focus on strengthening the same muscles you use during freestyle without needing technical expertise. Meaning that you can safely do them by yourself without a coach watching over your every move.
They work your back, rear shoulders, and forearms. Pull ups also strengthen your lats better than any other exercise, which is one of the main muscles used during your freestyle pull.
If you’re like me and have trouble doing pull ups without assistance, you should start off with negatives, which strengthen the same muscles without having to actually pull your body up from the ground.
A negative is where you stand under a pull up bar, use a box/stool to jump up and grab the bar, placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Using the momentum from your jump, pull yourself upward until your chin is above the bar. This is your starting position. Now slowly, and with control, lower yourself while keeping your core tight and focusing on using your lats to bring yourself back down to the box/stool.
This move might seem easy, but it’s definitely a tough one. Whenever I do these I’m usually sore for a few days afterwards.
Moving onto the push up, which, done correctly, is an upper body workout AND a core workout. This combo of strength is what swimming is all about, using your upper body propel you forward through the water and using your core to stabilize you as you do it.
You can do both of these exercises without weights and they take up very little time. Try adding them to your workout routine 2-3 times a week to strengthen your swimming muscles.
In the beginning you might not notice a difference, but as you progress and get stronger you’ll definitely see some changes in and out of the water. Most notably for me is that I now understand the feeling I’m looking for when I pull during freestyle.
Doing these dryland moves in conjunction with your normal swim workouts is not only a great way to add strength, but also to give you more body awareness of the movements you’re making in the water.
Lissa Henderson, TriSwim Coach