How To Ramp Up Strength Training

The early months of the long course season (April and May) give you time to learn new exercises in your strength training—whether it is a progression for a new lift, a more challenging core movement, or anything in between. Like most things in sports, doing the same exact strength training you did last season may not help you improve. To continue to get better, you need to challenge your body to learn more complex movements. If you normally lift weights (mainly collegiate programs), keep up your regular exercises while adding in new techniques. For example, if you did well with squats and dead lifts last season, begin the progression to learning Olympic-style lifts like power cleans. You should start simple by learning the mechanics of a lift without much weight. It may take several weeks to progress from the bodyweight movement to a full exercise with weight, but the resulting impact on your body will be greater strength in a number of dimensions that will translate better to your swimming.

If you do not lift weights, you can improve your strength training by progressing to more difficult bodyweight exercises, such as pullups, and adding plyometrics, like box jumps. You may also increase your resistance training using tools such as elastic bands in dryland or stretch cords in the pool. The critical part of adjusting your strength training is learning new patterns of movement. In the most general sense, repeated presentation of a stimulus will cause a decrease in reaction to that stimulus. You cannot get the same positive physiological effects by going through the same strength exercises all year. This window of time in the early season allows you to explore new exercises that not only develop your athleticism but also keep you mentally engaged in your training.

In addition to expanding your repertoire of strength exercises, be consistent with your strength training throughout the summer. With a short season and meets closer together, it can be tough to have a regular schedule of strength training. Especially prior to entering college or in between collegiate seasons, it is important to maintain muscle memory for the movements you do during season. This is a large component of injury prevention when you get back to college in the early fall.

Swimmers want strength, not necessarily accompanied by muscle bulk or excessive weight. With strength training, some weight gain can occur because muscle tissue is quite dense. With the intent to improve your efficiency in the pool, you want to strike the strength to body weight ratio in your strength training. Having lean muscle mass means you have enough strength to pull your body through the water with the optimal size for your body. Each swimmer builds muscle differently from the next; check in with your coach about how your strength training is affecting your body, and try to use exercises like pull ups to test how well you can support your own mass.

Swimming strength and conditioning must be geared toward developing athleticism in the pool. First and foremost, you need to build cardiovascular endurance in the beginning of every season. Your strength training will improve your power and explosiveness in the water, giving you the fitness and speed to have successful racing.

New Call-to-action

About BridgeAthleticBridgeAthletic Logo 3

BridgeAthletic works with elite professional, collegiate, and club swimming programs to provide a turnkey solution for dryland training.  Led by Nick Folker, the top swimming strength and conditioning coach in the world, our team builds stroke-specific, custom-optimized dryland programs for each of our clients. The individualized workouts are delivered directly to athletes via our state of the art technology platform and mobile applications. Check Nick and BridgeAthletic out as recently featured in SwimSwam.

About Nick Folker Nick Folker

Nick Folker is the Co-Founder and Director of Elite Performance at BridgeAthletic. Nick’s roster of athletes includes 35 Olympians winning 22 Olympic Medals, 7 team NCAA Championships and over 170 individual and relay NCAA championships.   Megan Fischer-Colbrie works as the Sports Science Editor at BridgeAthletic.  Megan was a four-year varsity swimmer at Stanford, where she recently graduated with a degree in Human Biology.

The Championship Series by BridgeAthletic is designed to empower athletes with tips from the pros that will help them reach peak performance come race day.  We will be covering competition-focused topics such as nutrition, recovery, stretching, and mental preparation.

Follow BridgeAthletic on Twitter here.

Like BridgeAthletic on Facebook here. 

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

I think that picture is Roy Allen Birch? Maybe not the best model of strength training for swimming… Undoubtedly jacked, but only swims 50 meters and recently tore both his kneecaps off in dryland.

Reply to  floppy
7 years ago

I was thinking that was an odd choice too with his recent, terrifying injury.

8 years ago

Olympic Lifts have a much greater carry over into swimming than power lifts. Olympic lifts can help increase fast twitch muscle fibers as well as explosiveness while at the same time teaching you to control you body! One of the major faults in our sport today in my opinion is people do not understand the importance of olympic lifting in swimming!

Reply to  Thomas
7 years ago

Louie Simmons considers Olympic lifting a demonstration of strength, not an effective builder of it. I know he is primarily concerned with geared (in both senses) lifters, but I think he is pretty convincing on this topic. I love Olympic movements, and do them as often as my delicate shoulders allow. But I feel like my progress in them is derived from my progress grinding out heavy reps of squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press. So many masters swimmers neglect the improvements in swimming performance, and frankly physique that the relatively small amount of time (compared to hours in the pool) training seriously and hard in the weight room bring.

8 years ago

But Michael Andrew…

Steve Nolan
Reply to  CraigH
8 years ago

That’s the one thing I really don’t get coming from Rushall. (If I remember correctly, they believe there are no gains to be made via dryland strength training, yes?)

Hulk Swim
Reply to  Steve Nolan
8 years ago

Steve, I am with you there… I have seen too many gains in ‘athleticism’ to drop dryland. We do it all on land and no gym equipment… but we are mostly young and someday I’ll go back to a gym.

Reply to  CraigH
8 years ago

Rushall is off the mark on this one, referencing obscure studies from the late 1980’s to “prove” that strength training does not help athletes to swim faster. I could write an entire book on why this isn’t true, using both science and the art of coaching…anecdotal evidence if you will. It is 2014 and we still have people who don’t believe that a stronger athlete is a better really blows my mind. Even in the mile now you need to be strong. Tell me about our last two mile WR holders on the women’s side….Ziegler was 6’0 and STRONG…Ledecky is quite the athlete herself, 5’11, and VERY well developed physically.

Rushall – What say ye on the physicality… Read more »

Gina Rhinestone
Reply to  DutchWomen
7 years ago

Libby Lenton beat the Dutch 5 times in 07 . Your pic shows ( I think) rthe 2008 40 relay . Australia had a 16 year old Cate Campbell & were missing Jodie Henry . It was not Libby’s lack of height but the team was not strong enough . Libby herself beat everyone to win the 100 fly & a .01 behind Steffan . It could be argued Libby did not benefit from the LZR as did the larger girls .

But yes Libby held the power to weight ratio for bench press at a top Brisbane gym . She did a lot of weights .

Reply to  DutchWomen
7 years ago

Dear Dutchwomen:

Hardly an obscure study – the 2000 Olympic Trials Project conducted by USA Swimming demonstrated that dry-land training was “negatively correlated” to swimming performance for both men and women elite swimmers that had qualified for the 2000 USA Olympic Trials.
In addition, that was true for all strokes and distances.


Reply to  DutchWomen
7 years ago

Allison Schmitt couldn’t do a single pull up when she won a Gold in the 200 free – if strength is so important, why aren’t all the best swimmers also the strongest on dryland?

Reply to  ChestRockwell
7 years ago

Checkmate, meatheads. This one is done. Chest Rockwell knows a gold medalist that can’t do a pull up so clearly strength must not be important.

Reply to  Bossanova
7 years ago

LOL. Yes, n=1 means CASE CLOSED. My point is that there are contrary examples to what Dutchwoman posted. I don’t think there is a coach or swimmer amongst us who hasn’t been baffled by a fast swimmer that can’t move their own body on land which has to raise some eyebrows.

8 years ago

Nick, do you support Olympic lifts for all collegiate swimmers, or does it depend on the stroke and distance?

Reply to  asdf
8 years ago

I’m not Nick, but I’m several years removed from my swimming career and a year or so into dedicated Olympic lifting training. I feel like the power versions of the lifts when taught correctly have a lot better carryover to swimming at any distance than your typical squat/press/deadlift program. Though those are all important as well.