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Lifting for Swimming


Can anyone advise a lifting routine for swimming? My brother is on the swim team in high school and needs to build up his strength. He has zero weight training experience and has very low strength levels at this point. His endurance is pretty good though in the pool.

Any help would be greatly appreaciated.


I was a swimmer for many years. Was great.

As far as the correct workout for him, look up CW's Big Boy Basics. Follow that throughout the summer, and he will improve his swimming.


I am going to say what most people are going to say. Have him focus on the big lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench, rows, and pull-ups. Focus on the technique at first because you said he is new. Start light and teach him the moves and give him time to get the motor pattern down. Once he gets that start bumping up the weight.

A basic layout would be to pick a lower body lift, a push, and a pull. Change the lifts every workout and lift about three times a week.

I used to swim, and I know swimming beats the crap out of the shoulders. So I would limit the pressing to the minimum and make the reps higher.

The power in the water comes from similar places to power on land, the hips, back, legs, and shouders. Remember to remind him that swimming his the reason he is doing this though. Do not sacrifice to much energy lifting that it hurts his swimming.

Also... EAT! All this activity needs fuel, so fuel up.

Swimming is a tough sport.

Hope this helped.


Hey there, this site is great for specific questions, but yours is very general.
A great site is the elite fitness site, then go to Q&A then there will be workout programs, pics of exercise so your brother can see what to do.

Obviously these sites are geared toward muscleheads, but they do explain strength, speed, flexibilty, endurance all the things that a swimmer needs.
Hope this helps.


Big boy basics is pretty similar to what I recommended.


Thanks for the quick responses.

Any specifics that he needs to worry about with swimming? I know that swimming beats of the shoulders but I was curious if it tends to also cause particular imbalances. For example, are there any prehab exercises that he needs to be doing already?


You're right. I posted first you copied me.

To the OP. Just work hard and youll be okay. I didn't have too many imbalances. Only thing that was wrong was our team was 80 female to 8 male, so I had too much female attention. Thats a good imbalance.


TrainerinDC - I was just commenting on the similarity of our posts to the OP.

OP - When thinking about imbalances all I could think of would be doing some external rotations and rear delt work becuase of all the strokes being so focused on comeing in, but you again have to watch the shoulder work.


I was just playing with ya. The advice was similar because it was correct. =D


Swimming is generally not a sport that benefits much from weightlifting. Unless he is focused on the sprint events (50m), he would see a much bigger improvement by working harder on technique. The thing with swimming is that very little of your energy actally goes into forward propolsion.

Thus technique paramount as a small improvement here gives big returns in time. If you are sprinting then strengthening the muscles that work the recovery, both arms and legs, is handy (when I swam for my state team we used to do alot of this stuff).

Having said all this, if your brother wants to be a muscley guy who swims (as opposed to a dedicated swimmer) then what everyone has said is cool.

Oh yeah, a buddy of mine who swims nationals (here is Aus) says creatine is popular with swimmers because the water retention is neutral in the water.
Good luck bro.


I do not recommend weight training for swimming. Strength is simply not a limiting factor in this activity.


As another poster said, sprinters are those who will benefit most from resistance training. If you are only in the water for 20 seconds, you better be explosive.

I have used resistance training more for injury prevention and improving the many imbalances that develop as a result of swimming in mid-distance and distance swimmers.

One thing I have found to help is always relating their lifts to their bodyweight. If he weighs 180 pounds as opposed to 160, he will have to pull that much more weight through the water.

Also, find out what the coach will be having them do for 'dry land' training. This will help you develop a program to prepare him for preseason training.


I would 100% disagree with you. I swam for a long time and we lifted. I feel it made me a better swimmer. Sure little energy is used, say 40%. But 40% of 500 is always better than 40% of 200.

Focus on your compound lifts, follow big boy basics, eat, and swim. This will improve your swimming.


Agreed, correct swimming technique requires a LOT of core strength to maintain correct body position and help with streamlining. I reckon a focus on overhead squats (core strength and flexibility), O-lift variations (explosiveness and conditioning) and a bunch of external rotation and back work would do the trick. Focus on strength/speed and not bulk.

If the swimmer is a freestyler they would not need much chest work due to the large amount of internal rotation experienced whilst swimming. Make sure that this is balanced out with a lot of backstroke, sort of like doing antagonistic supersets.




I competatively swam for years and do have to agree with other posts, I did no weight training at all.

The only way to get faster is to improve your tecnique. A good coach will film you above water and below water to show you what your stroke looks like and then show you how to improve it to be a faster swimmer. In my opinion if you are a truly dedicated swimmer a swimming program laid out by a good coach should be suffcient. I would have to say the resistance provided by the water is sufficient to build a swimmers body and muscle structure to make him a faster swimmer.


A nationaly reknowned college swim coach that I lift with strongly disagrees.

How would an increased capacity for work, whether it is expressed in speed, endurance, and particularly a combination of both Not benefit an athelete?

I'll send him a link and see if he'll chime in.


While I was no star swimmer, I swam the 100 fly and 50 fly (relay) for my high school team. My technique SUCKED but the fact that I lifted weights allowed me to pullmyself through the water and finish the race. Yes, technique is everying, but strength WON'T HURT. Do the compound lifts (rowing and pullups would be good) and maybe some direct tricep work.

Oh, and have your brother swim in camis (if you can get some, or baggy pants and button down shirt). That's one hell of a workout in the water.



I used to study (for my sports science degree) with a number of guys, elite swimers (competing in worlds, European championships and Olimpic games)
I know that those who competed in BREAST STROKE did quite a bit of weight training.
The guy that did back stroke did some too.
the other free stylers did not!
yep, agree, they did quite a lot work with extra hand pads for increased water resistance, and pulled some shit behind them in water when they were swimming.
Even those that did, I would not say now that they did anything fantastic at that time.
However, from my perspecive now as a S&C Coach, I reckon that some basic lifting would not hurt any swimmer!!!
Some squats, overHead squats, power cleans, snatches, deadlifts, rows, chins, good abs work (with hanging legs/knees raises) will definetely make you a stronger athlete and this is to say a stronger swimmer.

I have not met anybody yet who complained on excesive amount of strengh he had!!

(well, apart from my mumm when I was supposed to twist close tight her jars with pickles - but I guess, it does not count here!)


P.S. 3 session a week, good bodyweight warm-up, 4-5 basic exercises, 5-6 reps, always at the end some external arm rotator combo (arm abducted and adducted superset) - and make it light but, rather hight volume to balance out internal rotators that work so intensively while swiming.
finish wih some extra stretch


I second the external rotations. I am a dedicated lifter who just registered for a triathlon - swimming being my weak point. I plan to eat big, but clean, focus on the big lifts and also do lots of external rotations. CW recently mentioned in one of his WSP threads that ext. rotations are undervalued and should be included in every program. I imagine this is especially true for swimmers.



Those who are discouraging weight training don't have a clue. For a swimmer, there are three main things to worry about:

1) structural balance (external rotation, dorsiflexion, wrist extension, etc)

2) hip strength. I recently talked to Dr. Mookerjee at Bloomsburg about what seems to make the best swimmer, and thorough testing found that hip strength was the best indicator of performance given adequate technique.

3) improving strength in the stroke prime movers. Not a ton of time is required here, but remember that endurance is partly a function of limit strength. Execercises that use the same muscles (don't try to get fancy with matching movements, it doesn't matter nor work) in the 6-8 rep range, maybe a little more (10-12) would be beneficial.

Have a good one,