Alternative Training Methods for Swimmers

It’s no secret swimming is one of the most beneficial exercises we can put our bodies through. It’s a great way to work your entire body (literally) and cardiovascular system.

With so many health benefits attached to the sport, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular activities around.

For many swimmers, exercise outside the pool such is not the most desirable. Due to COVID-19, the closure of most pools and sports facilities forced swimmers out of the water and to seek out different forms of cardiovascular exercises.

Cross-training is a widely used approach for structuring a training program to improve competitive performance in specific sports – by training in a variety of sports.
With swimming off the cards for most, have swimmers found a new love of other exercises that aren’t in the water?


Cross-training is designed to improve your cardio, strengthen muscles or help with your speed and recovery. For swimmers, cross-training is any type of training outside the pool that compliments a swimmers training program.

What are the benefits?



A major benefit of cross-training is the ability to develop a swimmer’s strength (stronger the swimmer is greater propulsion for long via arms and legs which generates more speed in the water & injury prevention).


Cross-training will help develop a swimmer’s explosive power (kick off the wall, jump off the blocks & speed).


Often overlooked but a key attribute in swimming, cross-training helps with flexibility (greater range of movement, rotation, and stroke rate).

Types of cross-training exercises:

There are many forms of cross-training which will benefit a swimmer’s performance. Cross-training can be pretty much anything you enjoy, as long as its relatable and strengthens similar muscle groups and improved your cardiovascular abilities.

Weight training

Used to increase strength and power, a swimmer’s program should focus on the five main muscle groups used during swimming:

1. Latissimus dorsi (lats) – Pull-ups, rowing and lat pull-downs.

2. Arms – Tricep pulldowns, bench dips, tricep extensions, and overhead presses.

3. Chest – Dips, bench press and push-ups.

4. Core muscles (abs) – Sit-ups, cycle sit-ups, jackknives, leg raises, plank and Russian twists.

5. Legs – Squats, lunges, box jumps, calve raises and split squats.


Not a popular pick of the town in the swimming world but running has benefits to improve endurance.

Running is a good method of cross-training for endurance or distance swimmers and helps increase their aerobic capacity. It’s a challenging alternative for swimmers to exercise their cardiovascular system.


Flexibility is key when it comes to swimming and yoga is an excellent tool for mobility. Research has proven significant improvements in a swimmer’s performance when yoga and swimming are partnered together.

Regular practice of yoga can increase the range of motion throughout the body and help swimmers boost their performance in the pool while decreasing their risk of injury.


Advice from the expert:

Exercise Right had the opportunity to speak with Accredited Exercise Physiologist and High Performance Coach, Elliot Richardson and Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Director, Benjamin Garth of Exercise Healthcare Australia.

Elliot works with high performance swimmers, and, with the help of Ben, has answered some misconceptions around swim training and how athletes have begun to look at more training strategies outside of the pool.

It’s fair to say that most swimmers/coach’s outlook on training would be the more hours spent inside a pool the better – is this the right approach nowadays?

A very common approach used by swimmers and coaches was that more time in the pool equated better performance. This approach isn’t always the answer. It may be acceptable when learning and perfecting the fundamental movements and techniques. However, it’s often accompanied by a training schedule that does not support the long-term performance outcomes of the swimmer. Often other important aspects of a training program are neglected just to push-out another water-based session.

Recently more coaches and swimmers have utilised a variety of different training methods, also known as cross training, to supplement water-based training in order to improve performance. It’s imperative to incorporate a balanced training schedule to maximise training longevity and to remain injury free. Good coaches that understand the importance of a balanced training schedule have incorporated more land-based warm-ups and cross-training to support performance when in the pool. These sessions include strength and conditioning, mobility and recovery sessions.

What other training methods should a swimmer incorporate?

The estimated injury prevalence in swimmers is currently 60%, with such a high prevalence of injury an important aspect to remain injury free is to participate in a ‘pre-habilitation’ routine (2). Prehabilitation is performing strengthening and mobility exercises to reduce likelihood of injury. Often this prehabilitation routine is performed prior to the training session to prime the body for the upcoming session and focuses on deficits in the individual’s mobility or strength.

My preference is for my athletes to perform an activation and mobilisation routine prior to each gym or water-based session as well as incorporating strengthening of the muscles often neglected in training such as the external rotators of the shoulder (3).

For the younger swimmers, I often encourage them to participate in different sports/extra-curricular activities to provide balance and to ensure they don’t burnout.

What should a sample program look like for someone who wants to take their swimming to the next level?

This is a sample week of an advanced swimmer who is in pre-season:

Weights Program:

Follow the RAMP protocol:

Raise heart rate – 5-10mins warm-up on treadmill or bike.

Activate important muscle groups – Mid back, lats, external rotators of the shoulder, glutes and abdominals.

Mobilise joints – Thoracic spine, hips and shoulders.

Potentiate important movement patterns – Squat, push, pull and/or hinge.


The recovery session can be based on the athlete’s preference and typically could be a rest, active recovery or a cross-training session. If using an active recovery or cross-training session, they should be tailored to improving an athletes deficit or weak-point in cardiorespiratory fitness, strength or flexibility/mobility i.e. performing a yoga session as the athlete has reduced flexibility and mobility.

Are there benefits for swimmers to look beyond the pool and spend more time cross-training?

Yes, there are! Swimming is one of those sports that require various elements that determine that successfulness of the athlete, these include:

1. Muscular Power and Endurance

2. Cardiorespiratory Fitness

3. Mobility/Flexibility

Participating in a variety of training types outside of the pool allows for the improvement of each of these physiological elements that you simply can’t achieve when only performing water-based sessions.

The research is in! Swim performance increases when resistance, mobility and cardiovascular training is utilised in conjunction with water-based training. Such improvements include stroke velocity, length & rate, improved time off the block & turns, improved cardiorespiratory fitness, as well as maintaining structural balance for injury prevention (1).


Want to take your training to the next level?

When it comes to training, an Accredited Exercise Professional can tailor a program to help and maximise your results.

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We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series.

The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.

Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.


  1. Crowley, E., Harrison, A.J. & Lyons, M. (2017) The Impact of Resistance Training on Swimming Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med, 47, 2285–2307.
  2. De Almeida, M. O., Hespanhol, L. C., & Lopes, A. D. (2015). PREVALENCE OF MUSCULOSKELETAL PAIN AMONG SWIMMERS IN AN ELITE NATIONAL TOURNAMENT. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(7), 1026–1034.
  3. Batalha, N., Paixão, C., Silva, A. J., Costa, M. J., Mullen, J., & Barbosa, T. M. (2020). The Effectiveness of a Dry-Land Shoulder Rotators Strength Training Program in Injury Prevention in Competitive Swimmers. Journal of human kinetics, 71, 11–20.