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.



Nothing wrong with the program. Although, I am not quite understanding YOUR selection of exercises.

But, for athletes, I still prefer a WS4SB type program.


never can understand these posts…

you want to be specifically good at swimming, so you come onto a bodybuilding/weightlifting forum to get opinions from strangers who probably couldnt even swim the fly…

why not ask your swim coach what types of exercises you can do to be faster in your 3 events??



do a lot of pullups. if you can get to 20 deadhang pullups (palms facing away from you) you’ll see some added strength in your stroke. for the fly you should do dumbbell pullovers with weight that you can manage for about 4x12, 5x10, 3x15 (sets x reps). do planks, too.


Straight arm pulldowns give you mega power in your pull


I don’t know much about swimming but my guess would be being lean and strong would make you a lot better at it.

Who was the 40 year Olympic woman swimmer who was a beast? She had more muscle then her competitors who were half her age.

I would strengthen your lats with pull-ups. It seems like that would mimic the stroke the best. I’m pretty sure if you were a beast at high rep pull-ups pulling yourself through the water would be easy.


I never had much success with dry land practice for swimming. It is hard to simulate swimming motor patterns in the gym.


First post here - Had to sign up for an account when I saw this question. Former HS swimmer, 4 years at a D1, NCAA championship attendee. Also a freestyler. To all the gym gurus please take this with a grain of salt, I’m trying to break this down to swimming specifics. Getting right to it…

Right off the bat I think you are on the right track with your lifts in that you seem to focus on heavy compound movements. If you break down the parts of a race you basically need explosiveness, endurance, and flexibility. You get your endurance from the 4+ hours a day in the pool, and your flexibility comes from stretching. You are stretching twice a day right?

Squats and cleans will give you the strength and explosiveness off the blocks. Ensure you are doing heavy back squats as well as weighted jump squats. They look stupid but they help. Overhead plate lunges will help with the legs, as will Tabata squats. Your legs are super important at the end of the race, you will want to train them for sheer power as well as endurance. Nothing is worse than dragging them home the last 22 yards.

Back is important, Pullups, cleans, and regular deadlift will help a lot help here as well. Don’t be afraid to try inverted rows, barbell rows or GHB reverse situps to incorporate your glutes and lower back. Your back will be developed from the miles you put in, but it still needs love too.

Chest and Shoulders will benefit from dips - if only to balance out your large back. Benchpress will help you get the size you are looking for.

Much of your power will come from your core so make sure to do some abs at least every other day. Choose 6 or 8 situp combinations and crank them out - crunches, elbow touches, V-ups, etc. Rep range is your call, but make it suck.

Our weights days started with a dynamic warmup, compound heavy lifts (squat, clean, DL) then usually a circuit of 5-6 movements: dumbell bench press, dips, GHB situps, GHB plate twists, walking lunges, curl-squat-press, etc. Abs usually followed for 12-15 minutes, then it was into the pool.

I think most importantly make sure you have some buddies to train with, it makes life easier. Some days instead of lifting go out and play ultimate frisbee or football - Swimming is monotonous already, you may as well have some fun. Hope this helps.


Swim coaches may not be the right people to ask how to get strong. The three main plifts are useful for pretty much every sport that requires explosiveness and should be the basis for all beginner training routines. That way, the athlete becomes more intimate with lifting movements, will have well rounded strength and will be less injury prone. KISS !