Training in the gym for swimmers

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 05: Florent Manaudou of France celebrates after winning the Men's 50m Freestyle Final during day three of the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) at the Hamad Aquatic on December 5, 2014 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
DOHA, QATAR – DECEMBER 05: Florent Manaudou of France celebrates after winning the Men’s 50m Freestyle Final during day three of the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) at the Hamad Aquatic on December 5, 2014 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

If you are a sprint swimmer weight-training is an important part of your overall training. Sprinters, train the same way in the weight room as you would in a pool. What this means is that you’re not lifting heavy weights all the time. Instead, just like your swimming, you will vary your training.

Lifting nothing but heavy weights would be like doing all resistance work in the pool!

A sprint swimmer’s season, will go through different phases and stages of training. During a summer season a sprint swimmer will undergo endurance, speed and power work in the pool. The same variation needs to be applied to your training sessions in the gym.

Mix it up

Getting the most from your gym sessions requires you to mix up. Just like you would in the pool, you need to do the same thing in the gym. This variation ensures that your body isn’t doing the same thing over and over again. This will confuse your body and ultimately lead to faster gains and faster times in the pool!

As we all know a typical swimming season will start in April and culminates in September. This summer’s swimming season can be perfectly complemented by your weightlifting sessions. An example plan to complement a swimming season would be;

  • April – endurance lifting
  • May – power lifting
  • June – speed lifting
  • July – endurance lifting
  • August – power lifting

This combined plan with your normal swimming sessions will ensure maximum gains and a definite increase in speed and endurance

The fastest 100m freestyle sprinters in the world will swim the first 50m split within a second of their personal best for that distance. That tells you that they’re going at their full capacity for the first 50. The remaining 50 therefore requires endurance in order to finish the race. Weightlifting and gym work will help you tremendously with this.

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Correct exercises and form

For someone new to the gym it can be hard to translate the exercises you are doing to the pool. Some exercises in the gym simply will not translate into the pool and it is for this reason that pool work remains the most important element of any swimmers training.

For swimmers wishing to improve their race times gym work should be approached always with your swimming in mind. This means being clever with your exercises and routines, not putting a lot of stress on your knees and back, and most importantly practising good form and technique.

Good form can be the difference between your weight sessions culminating in injury or culminating in faster lap times

Hazardous to a lot of swimmers are exercises like squats, dead-lifts and cleans. These put tremendous stress on your knees and back if not done correctly. For this reason I stay away from these exercises. I see countless swimmers run into problems or injuries doing these exercises. If you plan on not getting injured I would advise you to swot up either on YouTube or a personal trainer friend on correct form. You are only as good as your last injury.

Finances can be a problem

If you are worried about finances for a personal trainer then your options are;

  1. Don’t pay anything and do it all yourself, through video’s and articles like this one.
  2. Get more money..Better job, part-time job or rob a bank 🙂 – Don’t do this.
  3. Make friends with a trainer and offer to trade skills, whatever you are good at I am sure they would love to learn that from you. Languages, computer skills and book-keeping are all assets that people would love to learn more about, but just don’t get the chance.

Workout plan

A good solid beginner workout plan to see strong gains would be hitting the gym three times a week. During each of the sessions I wouldn’t worry too much about dedication to specific muscle groups and instead exercise every muscle group each session.

For each session you can choose to do between eight and twelve exercises. Ensure that you use as many different muscle groups as you can. This means using free weights and machines in order to maximise your workout sessions. So let’s delve into your workout in more depth.


The back muscles are the most important muscles for any swimmer, for this reason I ensure that I work out my back every gym session, I wouldn’t necessarily advise you to do this but make sure you do not miss it out! Great exercises for your back includes; the seated row and narrow grip, standing pull downs and also lat pull downs.


You will find a wide variety of exercises you can do that will improve your chest and directly mimic some of the strokes you will be doing in the pool. My favourite is the chest press, this utilises the upper chest which is very important for strokes like freestyle.


Every swimmer knows that broad shoulders mean faster times. A swimmer’s shoulders should be worked on by utilising such exercises as the standing shoulder press and standing shoulder extensions. Please be careful with your shoulders, however, as they get plenty of work in the pool. For your gym sessions you should limit it to every 4 to 5 days to work on your shoulders. This ensures your muscles grow without getting injured.

Biceps and triceps

If you need me to tell you how to exercise your biceps and triceps then you really need help. Arm curls, seated free weights, standing extensions and presses are some of the ways you can exercise these two muscle groups.


Your leg muscles are comprised of three main groups; the quad muscles, hamstrings and calves. It is important not to neglect your legs, this is a common mistake made by lots of bodybuilders. You know the ones you see walking about with giant muscles on their arms and backs with skinny legs. We do not want to look like that. The idea of gym work is a well-rounded approach that will complement your swimming and your existing frame.

Get going

For everyone new endeavours can be hard. The hardest part can most times be starting the endeavour.

As humans we resist change, we like things to be predictable. Starting to train in the gym can be like this, I’ve heard people say “oh but if I train in the gym I will lose my stamina in the pool” or “training in the gym will fatigue me for my pool sessions.” Both can be true. But most times this resistance to the gym is simply the resistance to something new.

If you over train in the gym or the pool this will have detrimental effects overall. This is why it is important to have a balanced and mediated approach to the gym. You shouldn’t be going to the gym every day if your aim is to improve your swimming times. To improve swimming times you have to get better in the pool which means more pool time. See your gym sessions as a compliment to your pool sessions. They are there to make you stronger and fitter in the pool. You should therefore work around all your gym sessions with your swimming sessions in mind and ideally have a day’s rest in between a gym session and a pool session. As most sessions in the gym will essentially be destroying your muscles in order to rebuild them bigger, a day’s rest between a gym session and a pool session can be advisable.

Good luck with your gym sessions and I hope it improves your swimming times no end.