Dryland Workouts for Swimmers to Avoid (and What to Do Instead)

Dryland training
Written by: arena coaches at 11 March '22 0
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Searching for fitness solutions online is always a little risky. There’s thousands of websites that claim to provide support but are really just getting you to read their unresearched articles to sell you unrelated products. It can be a waste of your time, and more importantly, performing the wrong exercises could actually cause you harm. This is especially true when looking at dryland workouts for swimmers. Dryland training, such as heavy free weight lifts, could hinder your abilities during your swim workouts.

This article will illustrate some dryland exercises that might be recommended but should actually be avoided at all costs by swimmers. We won’t leave you hanging though. We’ll provide you with alternative dryland workouts for swimmers that will still target the muscle groups you want to train. 

Dryland Workouts for Swimmers: Staying Injury-Free

A swimmer sits on a mat and stretches her leg

When it comes to swimming, it is crucially important to focus specifically on technique or, more precisely, on your race pace. This concept also translates out of the water where your workouts should be specifically designed to achieve a certain level of performance or strengthen the muscles required for a particular swim stroke. 

Nevertheless, some trainers, particularly those who do not have a background in swimming, advise swimmers to try dryland workouts for swimmers that can often cause more harm than good. This article will illustrate some exercises that might be recommended but should actually be avoided at all costs by swimmers. In contrast, try the exercises we recommend. 

Avoid Bench Dips

The first exercise to avoid are bench dips. They fit into the calisthenics strength training style of working out. Similar to pushups, you are only lifting your own bodyweight. You will definitely find this exercise in most gym workouts, but it is a dangerous exercise for swimmers

The starting position is with your arms extended behind you resting on a bench with your glutes raised off the floor and legs extended. The exercise is then performed by bending your arms — first engaging your shoulders and then your triceps — until your glutes almost touch the floor. 

The problem with this exercise is that your rotator cuff is over-strained during the downward motion, which can result in injuries, particularly if the exercise is performed incorrectly.

Recommended Alternative: Tricep Kickbacks With a Resistance Band

So, what is the right exercise for your triceps for all four swim strokes? Tricep kickbacks with a resistance band.

Place a resistance band beneath one of your feet, and grasp it with one hand. Bend forward at the waist until your upper body is almost horizontal to the floor, and bend your knees slightly. Starting with one arm perpendicular to the floor with the resistance band tight, extend your arm backward until it reaches shoulder height. After completing this movement, return to your start position. Perform this arm exercise for both sides of the body.

This exercise is specifically designed to strengthen your triceps and will help strengthen the coalface of your swim stroke.

Avoid Leg Raises Lying on the Floor

The second exercise is leg raises lying on the floor (also known as leg lifts). This is a popular core strength exercise in the gym, but it can cause injuries. Like situps, when performed incorrectly, you can damage your lower back or abs. 

Recommended Alternatives: Planks or Flutter Kicks

You can get better and more targeted results by performing planks. Resting on your elbows and toes with your body parallel to the floor, make sure your head is facing forward. You can also perform lateral planks by twisting your body so your shoulders are perpendicular to the floor, balancing on your elbow and the outside of your foot. To get the most out of this core workout, use a mirror or a spotter to make sure your body is in a straight line.

This exercise will teach you how to use your abs, which is so important for proper posture when swimming all four strokes or diving in. 

If you find yourself really missing leg raises, there is a similar core exercise that puts less tension on the lower back. Flutter kicks offer a more intense ab workout with no rest between repetitions. Just lie on your back, lift your feet six inches off the ground and flutter your feet up and down in opposite directions to build a strong core

Avoid Deadlifts

The final exercise to be avoided are deadlifts. Alongside the bench press and squats, deadlifts form part of the three lifts found in the powerlifting community. Deadlifts are an intense full-body lift, and one of the key pillars to building serious strength. 

But, they can be particularly harmful when performed using heavy weights. They should be avoided because if performed incorrectly at an early age, they can cause serious damage to your gluteus maximus and hamstrings.

Recommended Alternatives: Lunges or Burpees

Lunges are a safer option. Starting in a standing position, take a step forward, and bend your knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Make sure your rear knee is not touching the floor. After completing the movement, straighten your bent leg and return to a standing position. If you want to increase the intensity, you can hold a pair of dumbbells during the exercise.

Another option is burpees. Burpees will give you a full-body workout, and they require no equipment and minimal space. There is a lower risk of injury since all you are lifting is your own body weight instead of barbells slathered with heavy plates. 

Burpees will cause your muscles to grow, and your cardiovascular endurance will improve. Pay attention to your breathing throughout the movement, and add more repetitions incrementally. Once you are pushing out hundreds of burpees a day, you will probably notice that your stroke rate will have improved during your swim training.

These exercises work on all the main muscles in your lower body and will help improve your leg kick, dive, and tumble turn. 

Dryland Workouts for Swimmers: Extra Tips

A woman wears arena gear while doing dryland workouts for swimmers in the gym

If you’re really worried about injuries outside of the pool, a simple rule to follow would be to avoid anything you can pick up when training — from medicine balls to Olympic bars with heavy plates. 

If you want to gain strength while getting in some good cardio sessions, stick to calisthenics. Try some high-repetition workouts. Performing multiple sets of burpees, squats, pushups, dips, and other calisthenics movements will work every muscle required for swimming without the need for expensive equipment. 

Don’t forget about all the cardio options you have on dryland too. On-land cardio compliments swimming training very well; triathlon training is a perfect example of this. The cardio improvements you make on a bike or during runs will reflect in your pool training too. From the cross-trainer to trail running, anything that raises your heart rate can help you out when you’re in the water.

Lastly, make sure to always warm up before whichever dryland workouts for swimmers you chose. Cold muscles are much more prone to injury both in and out of the pool, so don’t get complacent. If you’re stuck for space or ideas, an easy way to warm up your whole body is a set of 50-100 jumping jacks.

Cross-Training Works When Done Safely

A woman stretches on a mat in the gym

Incorporating dryland workouts for swimmers into your routine can do more than just lead to improvements in the pool. You may learn more about what your body is capable of and even discover a new physical activity that gives you joy.

So, remember to avoid bench dips, lying leg raises, and deadlifts. Instead, replace them with tricep kickbacks with a resistance band, planking, flutter kicks, lunges, or burpees.

When it comes to swimwear for the pool and training gear during your dryland exercises, arena has you covered. Check out our online store for a huge selection of trending sports gear.


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arena coaches

Swim coaches, trainers and experts will give you all kinds of tips for performing at your best in both training and races.