5 CrossFit Moves That Directly Translate To Swimming

by Retta Race 11

March 12th, 2019 Lifestyle, News, Training

Warning: this is another CrossFit-related post. Take a deep breath and keep an open mind.

As a refresher, I’m a Masters swimmer who added CrossFit to her weekly workout routine several months ago. I’ve already written about how the 2 sports’ training regimens and competition meets are more closely related than one might think. As the mix of sweat, chlorine and chalk continues, I feel I’m continuing to gain a better grasp on how these two sports’ paths are intertwining.

I can see how things I’m doing in ‘the box’ are impacting what I’m doing in the water, at least cognitively. Even if certain movements don’t directly equate to a specific swimming move, my body awareness and mental focus when doing a movement has aligned the two sports beneficially for me thus far.

With this in mind, here are 5 CrossFit movements I have found complement, translate to and enhance what I’m doing in the pool.

#1 – Kipping Pull-Ups

Pull-ups have long been a staple in swimmers’ dryland routines, as the action engages the all-important latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major muscles, among others – both crucial to powerful swimming. However, before CrossFit I’d never heard of the idea of kipping pull-ups, which involves more of a thrusting of the body up to the bar, using momentum from one pull-up to the next.

The kipping pull-up, in many fitness gurus’ eyes, is a form of pull-up ‘cheating’, since you’re not relying solely on your own upper body muscles, but relying on the force of your legs and core to power yourself up to the bar. I tend to agree..BUT, every time I do a kipping pull-up my butterfly muscle memory kicks in. There is very similar movement between the butterfly stroke in the water and the kipping pull-up on land, with the hip thrusting and dolphin leg action.

Is the similarity enough to warrant crushing 50 kipping pull-ups in a row everyday? Probably not. But, the hip-snapping and leg-swinging does make me feel a little more in my usual element when tackling the kipping pull-up in a WOD.

Video – CrossFit

#2 – Toes To Bar

Another CrossFit move happening on the bar is called ‘Toes to Bar’, where the athlete hangs from a pull-up bar only to kick his/her legs up to touch the metal before bringing them down again. A full hang with extended arms and hips must take place between each leg raise.

A WOD I recently completed consisted of a descending scale of a total of 110 toes to bar with a series of hang cleans in between each set. I was complete toast after this workout, with my entire body in agony, including my hands that were ripped raw. But, the soreness in my abs highlighted the fact that they were engaged the entire time I was on the bar.

The action is very similar to a flip turn, in that, when you bring your legs up to the bar, you’re ‘hinging’ at your abs, which is the same motion we do when initiating a flip turn. Bringing your knees into your chest quickly and compactly during a flipturn came into play when performing these toes to bar, which hit me as another CrossFit move-to-swimming translation.

Video – CrossFit

#3 – Jumping Squats

Although not unique to CrossFit per se, the jumping air squat is a movement performed regularly in boxes around the world. Bearing no additional weight, the athlete plunges down into a deep squat, with hips below parallel, only to explode upward to get as much air under his/her heels as possible. This transfer of power from the heels, though the body, and ultimately upward is very much like the explosion that happens when swimmers leave the wall post-turn.

We’ve all see swim races won or lost on the effectiveness of turns at the wall and a huge component of a turn’s success is the push-off. Performing jumping air squats on land can help one gauge the power transfer from land to air, which translates to the same action when in the water when firing yourself as a cannonball off the wall. Something to think about the next time you’re in the gym.

Video – Shrugged Collective

#4 – Thrusters

At least in CrossFit terms, a thruster is where the athlete enters a below-parellel squat while bearing a front-racked barbell. From this squat position, the athlete powers his/her way up to a standing position, while simultaneously ‘thrusting’ the barbell over head. This is technically a compound lift, as it combines a clean, front squat and push press in one continuous movement.

The thruster is actually a favorite move of mine because you don’t just rely on your legs or your arms. It truly is full-body motion with power generated from your legs being transferred through your core to your upper body….mmm….whole body movement….power transferring throughout….this sounds like…swimming!!

Video – CrossFit

#5 – Push Press

Another Retta fave, the push press involves a front-racked barbell being hoisted overhead with some assistance from the legs in the form of rapid hips and leg extension. My shoulders thank me for not relying solely on them to get the weight overhead, as there’s no doubt that the triceps, deltoids and back muscles come fully into play.

When I reach full extension overhead, I feel like I’m at the powerful front end of a butterfly stroke. The full extension up top is also reminiscent of a body leaping into its water-entering position off of a starting block. In both scenarios, the push press makes me think about exploding to the top when I’m in the water and using muscles not just in my arms, but further down in my core, back and legs.

Video – CrossFit

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I'm so glad

Loretta has the crossfit bug! I had it too for a couple years about a decade ago, complete with the zeal for sharing my passion with others. The skills you learn, the strength you gain, the way your body changes, and the supportive community are all great stuff. But I eventually realized that doing random stuff for time doesn’t train you for anything specific. Even crossfit competitors do much more structured training for their events. I progressed to strength training with a coach and I joined a masters swim team. I get similar fitness benefits and community, but my training now focuses on preparing for specific competitions.


Definitely agree with the kipping pull ups and toes to bar. Gotta space it out though cause, as you said, you will rip your hands up.


Orthopedic surgeons rely on the kipping pullup for continuous income! If you want to develop shoulder issues as a swimmer keep going. There is so much stress created on the shoulder joint (real G forces created) and any small issues in the shoulder joint become magnified. Much better off doing a regular pull up with legs bent and feet at 90 degree angle to the knees.


actually if you want the most benefit from a pull up, you want to be in a hollow body position and engage the core. knees bent and feet back usually makes people look up and arch the back. keeping tension through the core would be better. Also, as a swimming, and crossfit athlete kipping pull ups are close to doing butterfly pulls. but again as with everything in life, knowing your limits and working around them are how you get better at anything.

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