8 Best Dryland Exercises for Swimmers (All Levels)

8 Best Dryland Exercises for Swimmers

Beyond the pool, there’s a treasure trove of workouts waiting to propel your swimming prowess to Olympian heights.

Aptly referred to as “dryland exercises”, these should be a fundamental pillar of any swimming training plan.

Whether you’re chasing that elite edge or simply wanting to be the star of your local pool, this article highlights 8 of the best dryland exercises for swimmers, including both bodyweight movements and those that use gym weights and machines.

Quick Summary

  • Dryland exercises are those that are done out of the water, such as bodyweight movements and gym exercises.
  • They help improve muscular strength, power and endurance, which can improve swimming performance.
  • Start with; planks, squats, medicine ball side throws, shoulder press, pull ups, cable rows, bench press and weighted dead bugs.
  • You could do dryland workouts once, twice, or three plus times during a week, depending on your overall goals.

What Actually Is “Dryland” Training?

“Dryland” training – sounds ironic for swimmers, right?

But, it’s precisely what might give you the upper hand in the water. Dryland exercises cater to those important muscles you engage while swimming, giving them extra power, strength and endurance.

On top of this, dryland workouts can help target overlooked muscles, ensuring an all-round muscular balance… which can improve athletic movement and reduce the risk of certain injuries.

Ultimately, swimmers can improve their swimming performances (as well as improving more general fitness attributes too) by incorporating specific dryland exercises into their weekly schedule.

Dryland Workouts

Towards the end of this guide, we’ve included example dryland workouts, adapted to if you want to train once, twice or three times a week. This can change how many repetitions and sets of each exercise you do each training session.

8 Dryland Exercises for Swimmers


Planks are one of the simplest yet effective exercises when it comes to strengthening the core.

Begin by lying face-down. Lift your body onto your elbows and toes, ensuring a straight line from head to heels. Avoid arching your back or letting your hips sag.

As you maintain this position, you engage your core muscles, including the abdominals, obliques and lower back, so that they stabilize your body.

This stability translates directly to your time in the pool.

In swimming, a stable core helps keep you streamlined, reducing drag and making your strokes more efficient.

While every swimming style benefits from a robust core, planks prove especially advantageous for freestyle and backstroke swimmers. These strokes rely heavily on trunk rotation and a steady core ensures optimal rotation without energy wastage.

As well as regular planks, try side planks and reverse planks for simple variations.

How Long Should You Hold a Plank For?

Our latest guide delves into the old age question – how long you should hold a plank for? We discuss plank time averages by age and fitness level. We also touch on new research and why you don’t need to hold a plank for as long as you might think.


Squats are the quintessential lower body exercise that targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms extended or holding a weight if you prefer (such as a barbell).

Bend your knees, drive your hips back, and lower down as if you’re sitting on an invisible chair. As you descend, ensure your knees don’t go beyond your toes. Return to standing to complete the movement by really pushing forcefully through your legs.

For swimmers, strong legs mean powerful kicks, and a robust lower body ensures better push-offs from the pool wall.

You can also adapt squats for specific strokes, for example, using a wider stance to better mimic the leg motion during breaststroke.

Squat Variations

There are so many different types of squats, all offering slightly different benefits and uses. Traditional squats are a great place to start, as well as single leg variations like pistol and shrimp squats.

Medicine Ball Side Throws

Medicine ball side throws are all about rotational power, agility, and speed.

Holding a medicine ball, stand sideways to a wall. Using your core, twist your torso and throw the ball against the wall with force, catching it upon return. Repeat this explosive movement several times.

This exercise hones in on the obliques, which play a significant role in swimming. Rotational power is really important for strokes like freestyle and backstroke where the body needs to twist with each stroke.

Strengthening the obliques ensures a more potent and more efficient rotation, allowing for faster swim times.

Medicine ball side throws also works on hand-eye coordination too.

Shoulder Press

A cornerstone for upper body strength, the shoulder press is really useful for swimmers.

Begin by holding weights at shoulder level. As you exhale, press them straight up overhead, ensuring they remain in line with your body. Lower the weights back down slowly.

This exercise targets the deltoid muscles, which are pivotal for swimming strokes like the butterfly and freestyle.

An efficient arm pull underwater can make a significant difference in speed, and having strong shoulders ensures that each pull propels you further.


Pull-ups are the exercise everyone loves to hate… but they get the job done when it comes to strengthening the back.

Using an overhand grip, grasp a bar and pull your body up, aiming to get your chin above the bar before lowering down.

While challenging, pull-ups can revolutionize a swimmer’s upper body strength.

They engage the latissimus dorsi (lats) and biceps… muscles paramount for strokes like freestyle and butterfly.

As you pull water towards your body during these strokes, having well-conditioned lats ensures you move more water with each stroke, propelling you forward faster.

If you can’t quite do a pull up, try using the assisted pull up machine or negative pull ups.

Cable Rows

Cable rows focus on the mid-back muscles (such as the lower traps), offering swimmers a powerful tool to strengthen their pull.

Either stand or sit at a cable row machine, feet braced, and grasp the handle. As you pull it towards your body, squeeze your shoulder blades together.

This pulling action emulates the movement swimmers use during freestyle and butterfly, working the muscles in the same way they’re used in the pool.

Incorporating cable rows ensures that the back muscles are well-equipped to handle the demands of these strokes.

Bench Press

Lying on a bench, the bench press targets the pectoral muscles in the chest and the triceps.

Pressing weights from the chest upwards and then controlling their descent engages these muscles, boosting their strength.

For swimmers, especially those specializing in breaststroke, a strong chest is indispensable.

The breaststroke involves a wide, sweeping arm movement underwater. Enhancing chest strength ensures that this movement is powerful, resulting in better propulsion and speed.

Weighted Dead Bugs

An evolution of the standard dead bug exercise, the weighted version offers an additional challenge for the core (and for us, is a better alternative to sit ups or crunches).

Lying on your back, holding a weight overhead, you’ll move your opposite arm and leg away from each other and then return them to the starting position.

This movement engages the core deeply, demanding stability and control.

We find weighted dead bugs are a great way to add progression to core exercises in a safe way. Bird dog rows would be another great option.

Creating an Effective Dryland Workout

Training 1 Day a Week

If you’re squeezing dryland training into a packed schedule, maximize the benefit by incorporating a full-body workout.

ExerciseSets x Reps
Planks3 x 30 seconds
Squats3 x 12
Medicine Ball Side Throws3 x 10 (each side)
Shoulder Press3 x 10
Pull-Ups3 x 8
Cable Rows3 x 10
Bench Press3 x 10
Weighted Dead Bugs3 x 12 (each side)

Training 2 Days a Week

For bi-weekly training, we can split the exercises into upper and lower body focused days, sprinkling in core exercises on both days to keep that engagement.

Day 1: Upper Body & Core Focus

ExerciseSets x Reps
Planks3 x 40 seconds
Shoulder Press3 x 10
Pull-Ups3 x 8
Cable Rows3 x 12
Weighted Dead Bugs3 x 14 (each side)

Day 2: Lower Body & Core Focus

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats3 x 15
Medicine Ball Side Throws3 x 12 (each side)
Bench Press3 x 10
Planks3 x 40 seconds

Training 3 Days a Week

For those training three times a week, the workouts can be even more specialized.

Day 1: Upper Body Focus

ExerciseSets x Reps
Shoulder Press4 x 10
Pull-Ups4 x 8
Cable Rows4 x 12
Bench Press4 x 10

Day 2: Core & Rotational Power Focus

ExerciseSets x Reps
Planks4 x 45 seconds
Weighted Dead Bugs4 x 15 (each side)
Medicine Ball Side Throws4 x 12 (each side)

Day 3: Lower Body Focus

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats4 x 15
Bench Press3 x 10
Planks4 x 45 seconds

Always make sure to warm up before starting and cool down after your session, and consider adding flexibility exercises or stretches at the end of each workout.


Q: Why are dryland exercises important for swimmers?

A: Dryland exercises provide swimmers with strength, stability, and power that can’t always be achieved with pool training alone.

They target the same muscles used in the pool, boosting performance, and also engage muscles less utilized in swimming to avoid muscular imbalances. This balanced training helps prevent injuries and promotes overall athleticism.

Q: I’m a beginner in both swimming and dryland workouts. How should I start?

A: If you’re new to both, it’s essential to start slowly and focus on form. Begin with the foundational exercises like planks, squats, and basic core movements.

As you build strength and familiarity, you can start incorporating more complex exercises and increase the volume. It’s always a good idea to consult with a CPT or fitness coach to ensure you’re on the right track.

Q: How do I know if I’m doing an exercise correctly?

A: Proper form is vital to prevent injuries and maximize benefits. Always do your research, watch videos, or consult with a fitness professional.

Common signs of incorrect form include unusual or sharp pain, discomfort in the wrong areas (like feeling a core exercise more in your neck than your abs), or being unable to complete an exercise’s full range of motion.

Q: Can I mix in other exercises not mentioned in the article?

A: Absolutely! While this article highlights specific exercises beneficial for swimmers, incorporating a variety of movements and training modalities keeps things fresh and can offer additional benefits. The key is to ensure any added exercises complement your goals and don’t exacerbate potential imbalances or overuse injuries.

Bottom Line

Taking the plunge into dryland exercises can be a game-changer for swimmers of all levels.

From refining power and endurance to preventing imbalances, these workouts provide a tidal wave of benefits.

Focus on form and if in doubt, start with lighter weights and slowly increase over time as you feel more comfortable.

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