Arm Exercises for Swimmers to Make Your Stroke Stronger

Dryland training
Written by: Thomas Board at 10 December '21 0
You are reading: Arm Exercises for Swimmers to Make Your Stroke Stronger

It’s no secret that swimming is a full body workout. That means we need to look after every muscle as well as have strong muscular and cardiovascular endurance. The upper body has a huge part to play in every stroke from freestyle to backstroke. Even with the strongest legs on earth, and a perfect pull, a weak upper body will slow your swimming to a crawl.

Swimmers who are serious about getting results in the pool should also incorporate dryland training into their swim workouts. You can work any body part, but in this article we’re going to focus on the arms. This may well be the part of the body everyone likes to train — it’s much less intense and painful than leg day. Plus, not only can you gain strength that’ll improve your stroke, you’ll find yourself with bigger biceps and triceps.

We will look into gym-based dryland workouts for growing your arms. Following that, we’ll delve into the much more affordable world of no equipment (generally) bodyweight arm exercises for swimmers.

Equipment-Based Arm Exercises for Swimmers

Arm exercises for swimmers: swimmer doing bicep curls

Hopefully, your pool membership also includes access to a gym full of equipment to help you train your arms. There’s tons of equipment in modern gyms that allow arm exercises for swimmers: cables, Smith machines, free weights, and much more. Let’s take a look at some examples of equipment you can use for dryland exercises and a movement you can perform while using it. 


Dumbbell curls are probably the first thing you visualize when you think about somebody training their arms. There’s a reason bodybuilders love using dumbbells, they’re versatile and you can pick the weight depending on what it is you want to do. 

Grab a bench and set it horizontal to try out a chest press. Lie down and have your arms at a 90-degree angle to your torso with your elbows in line with your shoulders. Your forearms should also be at a 90-degree angle to your biceps. Now simply push the dumbbells up until your arms are straight and repeat for 10-12 reps. You should pick a weight that causes the set to become challenging on the last few reps. Do this for four sets.

This chest press targets your deltoids, pectorals, and your triceps. It not only develops your arms but a lot of your upper body as well.

Preacher Curls

Despite the title, you don’t need faith for this exercise to work, just determination. Preacher curls are one of the most effective isolation exercises. An isolation exercise is one that targets an individual muscle group, using other muscle groups as little as possible. If your coach has told you that your biceps need some work, look no further than preacher curls. 

Most gyms will have a preacher curl bench. This will allow you to either use dumbbells or a barbell to target either one bicep or both at the same time. Some gyms will even have a preacher curl machine, which alleviates the need for extra equipment. Simply put the pin in the desired weight and curl for reps.

Try three sets where you push yourself to failure: pick a weight where you are failing between 8-10 repetitions.

Bodyweight Arm Exercises for Swimmers

Swimmer fixing her hair

Calisthenics has become a worldwide movement in recent years thanks to fitness influencers and YouTube superstars. It’s apparent that you can build serious muscle and endurance just by playing around with your own body weight. There’s also a much lower chance of injury since you’re not throwing around heavy chunks of iron. Don’t feel discouraged by any lack of dumbbells and bicep curls, there are hundreds of bodyweight arm exercises for swimmers.


There are some extreme exercises in the world of calisthenics such as the planche or the human flag. But when it comes to what you need as a swimmer, the fundamentals have got you covered. 

To perform a pushup, simply put your body in a high plank position with your palms flat on the ground beneath your shoulders. Then let your chest sink towards the ground until your nose touches the floor and push yourself back up to the original position. If this sounds too familiar to you, there are plenty of pushup alternatives that will make your workouts more dynamic. 

This ancient exercise isn’t just an arm exercise for swimmers, it will target your chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and more. It will even improve your core strength, which can help you achieve a stronger straight line in the pool, helping you to minimize your drag. This is one of the ultimate exercises to improve your upper body swimming strength.

You can also turn pushups into a full-body cardio and strength workout by letting them evolve into a burpee


Dips are one of the most essential arm exercises for swimmers. Your triceps are one of the most important muscles you use when swimming. It’s fortunate that there’s an exercise that targets your triceps that you can perform even in the most sparsely furnished apartment. 

You have the option of bench dips or traditional dips, the latter being more effective as more bodyweight is utilized. 

Even though bench dips will build your triceps, they should be avoided by swimmers as they pose a risk of injury to your rotator cuff. 

For the more hardcore conventional dips, you can use either a pair of bars like you’ll find in a calisthenics park, a dip station, or one of your kitchen’s worktop corners. Grab the bars or put your hands flat on the worktop with your palms directly below your shoulders. Lean your body forward so that your chest sticks out past the hands.

Put your legs in at a 90-degree angle, and cross your calves. Then lower your body, keeping your chest forward to apply balance. 

Dips are very hard for beginners and will make your triceps burn. You’ll also target your pecs, anterior deltoids, and some of your back muscles. 


A fond favorite of the military, the humble chin-up is definitely up there as one of the best dryland exercises for swimming. The chin-up doesn’t just work your biceps, it also hits your lats and your scapula. 

Not to be mistaken with the pull up (which you should also use), a chin up is performed by gripping a bar with your hands in line with your shoulders, palms facing toward you. As the name suggests, pull yourself up until your chin rises above the bar. 

Chin ups can be one of the most difficult arm exercises for swimmers to start with, especially if you are pulling a lot of weight. You may want to invest in some resistance bands which will help push your body up. Failing that, your gym may have an assisted pullup machine. 

Build Strength for Improved Pool Results

Arm exercises for swimmers: swimmers swimming side by side

Adding dryland arm exercises for swimmers to your workout regime will make positive changes to your performance in the pool. Start to look at dryland training as part of your warmup. Chances are you will have access to a gym; don’t be shy if you have never used the weight area before. Everyone is doing their own thing in the gym and they are too focused to pass judgement on you. Don’t forget to try out preacher curls and the dumbbell press. 

If you can’t access the gym, there’s no excuse to not exercise at home. You don’t need any equipment for pushups or dips, and other calisthenics equipment is cheap. 

Don’t be fooled into thinking that arena only has equipment and clothing that helps you out in the water. We also make sportswear for men and women that’s as fashionable as it is functional.


Written by:

Thomas Board

Tom is an outdoor and adventure travel writer and full-time firefighter based in Leeds, UK. He spends his free time summiting the mountains of Wales and wild swimming in the lakes of Snowdonia all year round.