8 Workout Variables Every Dryland Program for Swimmers Needs

There are 8 different ways to change or adjust a dryland program for swimmers without needing to change a single exercise. When coaches come to us and explain that they don’t know how to be creative with a workout, or that their swimmers are getting less out of their dryland program than before, this is what we teach. These are called workout variables, and they consist of slight shifts in the way an exercise is executed in order to manipulate the effects of a training session. The 8 workout variables are: range of motion (ROM), volume, load, tempo, rest, order, density, and complexity. All 8 of these variables are interconnected and play off one another; however, when you change just one of these variables, the feel of the workout and the load it causes on a swimmer is completely changed.


1) Range of Motion (ROM)

Range of Motion (ROM) refers to an athlete’s ability (or inability) to pass through an ideal body position when performing an intentional movement. Swimmers with an optimal ROM can recruit more motor neurons which results in better muscle contractions. A better ROM allows for better exercise technique and execution. It even makes the athlete more coachable, as they will have the physical ability to fix errors in their stroke and move into better positions both in the water and in dryland. ROM can be trained through functional dryland exercises, dynamic warm-ups, and flexibility training. We have lots of suggestions for improving ROM on the SURGE Strength YouTube Channel.


2) Volume

Volume refers to the number of reps – this can be the number of reps completed within an exercise set or within the entire dryland session. It can also be inclusive of the total amount of training the athlete is completing for the week, training phase, or even the training year. The amount of training greatly impacts the athlete’s ability to raise their fitness level as a result of a dryland session or to come away fatigued. When programming volume, there is a fine line between progressive overload and turning what should be a strength session into more cardio conditioning.

  • Progressive overload: systematically increasing demands on the neuromuscular system through resistance training in order to create adaptations that increase performance


3) Load

Load refers to the amount or type of resistance added to an exercise. Some common sources of load include gravity, resistance bands, weights (such as barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells), sleds, ropes, balls, or even a person’s body weight. The amount of load can be measured subjectively through the athlete’s rate of perceived exertion, or objectively in terms of pounds by using a percentage of the swimmers 1 rep max. No matter how you measure the load, this is critical to think of in conjunction with the level of work you’re doing in the pool. Dryland programs for swimmers need a balance of both the dryland and the swimming.




4) Tempo

The tempo is the speed at which the athlete is performing an exercise. It changes the intention of the exercise. For example, if the athlete moves slowly through the eccentric or lengthening phase of an exercise, they are going to train the ability for the body to absorb force. If they move explosively through the concentric or shortening phase of an exercise, the athlete is going to be training power. Tempo allows the swimmer to focus on body control, power, strength, and endurance with or without external load.


5) Rest

Timing rest is critical because it determines which energy system an athlete is primarily using to complete the exercise set. A long rest or full recovery allows for the ATP-PCr or “fast-twitch” energy system that is used for sprinting to fully recover. Short rest or partial recovery keeps the athlete in a glycolytic energy system that is best used for mid-distance or long-distance aerobic activity. It is important to train in all energy systems if you want more power and endurance in a race. Therefore, it is important to know when to rest for longer periods of time and when to use partial recoveries to your advantage.




6) Order

Exercise order should be considered to get the most optimal dryland plan possible. Power exercises, which are most taxing, should be programmed first. Then, look to train compound exercises. Compound exercises are movements that load the body across two or more joints. Finish the session with accessory exercises that isolate the muscles at one joint. Keep in mind that changing the order can be advantageous at times depending on the scenario, but puts the athletes under higher fatigue. Order can also refer to the bigger picture of training which would be placing dryland before or after swim practice. Decide what the priority of your dryland session is, then choose an appropriate exercise order.


7) Density

Exercise density is a combination of volume and order. We use density to manipulate how much you are training a specific movement. For example, if you have 2 vertical pulling exercises in 2 different working sets, you could move them to be in the same set to increase the density of vertical pulling in the session. Your workout would also become denser if you add another vertical pulling exercise to the session. Keep in mind that density affects the ratios of pushes to pulls and squats to hinges within your session and can lead to injury if not kept in our recommended 1:1 check.




8) Complexity

Finally, complexity refers to the technical difficulty of an exercise. In the SURGE Strength Dryland Certification, we break down exercise complexity into 3 levels. Level 1 is the simplest and level 3 is the most difficult or complex. It is important to know that more difficult does not equate to better. Simple exercises, like squats or pull-ups, are easier to load. It can be beneficial to sprinkle in more complexity as the swimmer progresses to train variables such as balance or stability.



All 8 of these workout variables can be considered to scale a dryland program for swimmers. They will also help to accommodate the spectrum of fitness levels within a team or group. They can be used to change the intention of a training session or shift the focus to address a swimmer’s weak point. These variables help the swimmer benefit from each exercise in the program in different ways without having to move into different training phases or rotate through new exercises. The “grateful eight” variables are an incredible tool to individualize dryland workouts and set apart your program from other teams who may be doing similar exercises without considering all 8 variables available to them.




SURGE Strength dryland program for swimmers

SURGE Strength




SURGE Strength dryland program for swimmers

SURGE Strength




SURGE Strength

Courtesy of SwimSwam’s exclusive dryland training partner, SURGE Strength.

SURGE Strength, a strength training brand created by Chris Ritter, CEO of RITTER Sports Performance, aims to build better athletes and faster swimmers through dryland programs, and coaching education.

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About Chris Ritter

Chris Ritter

Swimming has always been a part of the life of Chris Ritter, founder of RITTER Sports Performance What Chris discovered after his swimming career, as he entered his swim coaching career was how important dryland training for swimmers can be. Chris has earned numerous strength and conditioning certifications, including: CSCS, NASM-PES, USAW …

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