5 Dryland Exercises for Faster Underwater Dolphin Kicking

Michael Butler
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Power cleans.

This exercise can be done with or without weights. The lowering phase of the power clean resembles the underwater kicking motion. Doing power cleans with a high number of reps will also help you work endurance and can make you more comfortable with breath control, as you have to inhale at the lowest position of the power clean. This is a favorite among swimmers and speed skaters.

Lateral lunges. Lunges are an excellent exercise for developing strength in the legs. They replicate the kicking motion more closely than any other exercises. If you don’t have weights, add ankle weights to build muscular endurance in the legs. Some swimmers do hundreds of these per day, which is why they have strong legs and glutes.

Box jumps. Box jumps are a great plyometric exercise. They replicate the pushing off motion in competitive swimming. If you don’t have access to a plyometric box, use a sturdy step or bench. Jump up from the landing position and land on your toes to reduce impact on your joints. Box jumps are often performed with one leg at a time. Try to do them with both legs at the same time.

Split jumps. This exercise is the same as box jumps, except that you land in the lunge position with one leg forward and one behind the body. This works isometric strength in the leg muscles.

Clean pulls.

Why they matter.

I love power cleans for a lot of reasons. Clean pulls build explosive strength and power. You can do them as a warm up, or cool down, or even as a standalone workout. They’re a great exercise for surfers because they build those fast twitch muscles, and they’re easy to do anywhere.

You may feel a little silly doing them at first. After all, no one else is watching, so why bother? Well, first and foremost, this is ridiculous because you need to take care of yourself, and it’s your day. People see you on the beach or at the pool, but no one’s watching while you surf.

When you start doing this exercise, you may feel silly to do it on dry land, but it’s actually perfect. Many other exercises could be done in a more convenient place, but clean pulls are a terrific warm up and they teach you how to explode under the water.

To do the clean pull, you’re going to start behind your head, which is a great position to learn in. This is the position you need to be in to start your underhand skim boarding turns, so working on this position early will help you learn to start stronger.

Kettlebell swings.

Kettlebell swings do several things, but the primary effects are on the posterior chain as well as the core.

Roll outs.

A great lower body exercise to build strength in your upper body, practicing your push ups and handstands to improve your shoulder “sockets”.

Stand with your hands on the ground in a handstand position and keep your upper body off the ground, pointing your fingers backwards as you lift your legs up. Keep your legs straight and spread them to a comfortable width that you can maintain throughout the set. Lift and kick your legs up as you roll over your hands, until they are forward and your toes are pointing to the ceiling. Continue for the desired distance or time.


Harder than it looks but a great full body movement that builds strength into your fins to help your underwater kicks faster.

Unlike rollouts you have to use balance and strength to maintain the movement throughout, simply practicing this movement in a push up position, leaning forward to the front tip of your toes helped in maintaining balance for those who found it tricky.


A great cardio exercise that also targets the core and arms, using the handle to pull yourself through the water much like you would with fins on your feet.


Deadlifts help build strength in the legs, hips, back and core, providing a huge benefit to the Underwater Dolphin Kick (UDK) stroke.

The deadlift is best done with a trap bar or regular barbell, but can also be done with dumbbells. The start position is with your feet approximately hip-width apart. This is the same position you would be in for the UDK with fins. Your back should be straight and body facing forward.

With a barbell or trap bar, pull from the floor, extending your hips and knees to full extension and locking out your back and shoulders. It is important to keep a good posture. Keep your abs tight to support your back.

Lower the weight under control to the floor. Repeat.

You can alternate between deadlifts and squats to alternate leg work.

The Takeaway

Improve your balance, strength and kicking technique with these five simple dryland exercises.

Try the exercises individually to improve your performance with simplified versions of the real movement. Focus on the muscles, not the fitness components, such as speed and distance.

As you get better and more comfortable doing each movement, start combining them to practice kicking in the same way you swim it.

Make sure to have a stopwatch on hand and time yourself with each exercise. Start small, with just 2-4 sets, and work your way up to doing 5-8 sets.

Challenge yourself to become a faster and stronger swimmer with this dryland training!