T Nation

Lifting for Swimming

alright guys, new to T-Nation, but absolutely love what I’ve read so far. I’m a high school swimmer looking to lift to improve my swimming times (I swim the 50 and 100 free, along with the 100 fly) and fill out a little bit. My lifting right now is based around the Big Boy Basics program, with the exercises I do being front squat, sumo deadlift, hang clean, snatch, pull ups, and tricep rope extensions.

I do lots of dryland (sports drill) work, and run (sprint) a bunch. My main question I’m wondering is if you guys think this training (in addition to a ton of swimming) will really help my events improve. Please recommend any different programs/exercises that you feel would be beneficial.



You’ve got a pretty good program. Having coached a couple of very, very good swimmers (one Div 1 now, one will be on his home country’s Olympic team), I’ll base my recommendations on what worked with them.

Several big things strength training can do to shave some seconds off your 50 and 100 sprint times: (1) faster off the wall coming out of turns - explosive leg and hip extension - you already know how important this is; (2) improve your core strength - stronger hip and torso muscles, which you already know are a major component to driving your free stroke; (3) shoulder stability - getting your shoulder joint bombproof so you can train hard all season and peak when you want to, at the end of season meets; (4) strengthen your lats - same purposes as (2).

Here’s what I’d do:

Ditch front squats and sumo deadlifts. You need explosive hip and leg extension, but you don’t need the kind of hip and quad mass and slow-speed absolute strength that front squats and sumos reliably build. (They’d be exactly what you need if you were an offensive lineman or linebacker, but you are a swimmer, so don’t train like a tackle.) KEEP the hang cleans (or) snatches - both will help your hip-leg extension as well as that “oomph” in your fly recovery and that forward weight shift, and ADD explosive jumps onto a box (start with something about knee high and work up to a height where you have to explode but are not going to Barney it and bust your shins). Speed and explosiveness are more important than load - be fast in the legs and hips - just like a start or turn. The speed and power of the latter two movements more closely mimics what your hips and legs do when you come off the blocks and off the wall. (You’re not a powerlifter or Olympic lifter - don’t train like one.) Keep the reps per set in the 3-5 range - be fast on all of them. 4 sets of 3-4 explosive reps is the ticket with these movements.

The sprinting is great. Keep doing it. Shorter and more explosive is more relevant to you than longer and slower. 20’s, not 40’s.

Add some rotational core exercises - Russian twists, or standing anti-rotation work with a cable stack or “land mine” apparatus - don’t overdo the range of motion - keep it about the same amount and tempo of rotation as you use in your stroke, just add some resistance. (There are some great articles on this site demonstrating the various rotational and anti-rotational “core” exercises one can use.) You want to feel the work being done by the muscles on the front and sides of your torso - the meat-chain that connects your ribs to your pelvis - same muscles that should be driving your rotation in your free stroke. For fly, good old basic back extensions on a 45 degree Roman Chair will help - don’t get carried away with the extension, just a good solid contraction in your erectors, the ropes that run from your pelvis up the sides of your spine. Keep the weight moderate and push the reps higher over time on all this core work.

Train your lats with pullups, pulldowns, and straight-arm pulldowns on a typical lat pulldown. Work harden your entire shoulder joint with front, side, and rear delts raises/flyes, face pulls, and a rotator cuff circuit. That will help you attack the water on entry and lessen the chance of chronic shoulder problems if you are prone to that. Do a BUNCH of different movements here - harden that shoulder at every angle. Don’t huck too-heavy weight around - keep it real and feel the target muscles and movements doing the work. You need both strength and strength-endurance in these groups, so work in the 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps range and see how that goes for a month.

Since, as a sprinter, you kick like a fiend, train your hip flexors as well - the muscle that connects the top of your thigh bone to your pelvis, and drives your kick. Hanging leg raises are the ticket there - and be sure you are regularly, after every workout, stretching your ankles (the usual sit on the heels stretch) and your hip flexors (kneel on one knee, pull that foot up behind you, then press your pelvis forward, feeling the stretch in the front of that hip). Lots of reps - multiple sets of 15-plus.