Weight Training for Swimmers: A Letter from Your Strength Coach

Michael Butler
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It’s all about technique.

I see a lot of swimmers in my gym, and I enjoy helping people achieve their fitness goals. Unfortunately, I also see a lot of swimmers who are doing the wrong exercises.

I’ve had many people come to me and say “I want to become a stronger swimmer.” Some of them knew they needed to lose weight, but they were still swimming flabby, making no real effort to improve their strength, or develop their metabolism.

As a strength and conditioning specialist, I couldn’t write this book or give this advice to you without pointing out that swimming hard without making any real effort to get stronger is a waste of time and effort.

Getting stronger will help you swim stronger. Of course it’s more than pulling your arms and legs through the water. It’s about improving your technique and efficiency to become a more effective swimmer.

Start simple.

For strength development, weight exercises should initially be conducted in the 6 to 10 repetition range, with one to two sets per exercise. This is the time when technique should be the priority.

If you are experiencing aches, pains, and soreness, you are overdoing it. Swimming is a great resistance exercise, and you do not need to add additional resistance to your program.

If you can’t complete all of your reps with proper technique, the weight you are using is too heavy.

Also, when first starting out, reduce the overall volume of your weight training program and focus instead on proper form and technique.

Try to exercise the same muscles you use during swimming.

So, for example, use dumbbells and other free weight exercises for the upper body. Use leg machines and other non-free weight exercises for the lower body.

Show up ready to work.

The first rule of bodybuilding is that if you want to make dietary changes or start taking supplements or lifting weights, you must show up ready to work. If you don’t give your body the proper fuel to start with, it will hinder your progress. By your first appointment, you should be willing to make some changes to your diet. We’ll work on that together.

Trust the process.

If you are looking to strengthen your swimming and weight training, your first step is to clear your mind. STOP the mental chatter and negative self-talk.

The human brain can hold only one thought. If you put in any additional mental chatter, the brain has no choice but to re-route that energy. You must make a diligent effort to focus. Focus on one thing. Your weight training program.

If you’re having a tough time, sit down and write down any thoughts that keep running through your head. This may be more than one thought. Now, below each thought, write a statement that is powerful enough to counter that thought. You can do this with a combination of positive reverse psychology and positive self-reliant statements.

For example:

Negative Thought: I’m not as strong as I want to be.

Positive Reverse Psychology: And that’s the reason you are going to be great!

Negative Thought: I’m a slow swimmer.

Positive Self-Reliance: I have speed! I just don’t know where my speed is just yet.

Negative Thought: I’m not good at the bench presses.

If there is uncertainty, ask.

I have been a strength coach for nearly 20 years, and in that time I’ve helped a lot of swimmers make a lot of progress. At the very beginning of people joining the training program (or later on if they are degreed, certified, national level swimmers), I ask them a fairly standard set of questions to help us work together. I am happy to answer questions, and my experience and knowledge can help you, but I do want to get a feel for what you want and what you have done. I don’t use much equipment, and programs can be more tailored to individual needs.

You aren’t sleeping enough.

What’s going on?

Before you continue reading and say to yourself, “Not Me,” think about how long you were in the water yesterday, and whether you were sore in the morning after your swim. Consider whether your shoulders and arms are chronically sore. Consider how flexible or mobile you are in your hips and shoulders, and whether you have trouble stretching out. The truth is, you are not doing enough stretching and mobility work, and the stiffness and tightness is limiting both your strength and your flexibility.

You also need to sleep more, because miles in the pool do not translate directly to fitness, especially when you factor in all of the other endurance sports that people swim. If you want to improve your fitness in the pool, you need to add strength training.

Here’s why you need to stop going hard all the time:

  • It damages your body
  • It doesn’t work any of your muscles optimally, and
  • It’s not as efficient as swimming

All of this serves to make you less fit in the pool.

Be proactive about staying injury-free.

One of the biggest marketing lies for swimmers is that they are “low-impact.” Swimming is one of the most impactful activities you can do. If you have ever suffered from shin splints or stress fractures, you know exactly what I am talking about.

When you are upright in a typical swimming stroke, your foot is pushing down through a long lever (your lower leg). When you are up on your toes, your force is multiplied. So training for hours on end without sprinting and jumping will not only make you slower, but it will also make you more injury prone and open to chronic injury.

To the untrained eye (and Coach’s untrained eye), it may not look like you need to sprint or jump to become an excellent swimmer.

So you could easily convince yourself that it’s not important. And then you could have a very painful lesson as to how important it actually is.

You can be a great, effective swimmer without sprint and jump training. But it’s very risky to rely on slow improvements and small sticking points to your continued success in the sport.

Your posture can be better.

The most common postural misalignment among swimmers is a change in the curvature of the spine in the forward flexed position. The curve of the spine can become flexed to a degree that you shouldn’t only pay attention to, but actively work to change.

As the spine is flexed forward, the back of the body is forced to absorb more of the torso’s weight. When you tax the back heavily in this way, it can cause back pain and discourage you from vigorously training. A flexed back is less stable than an extended back because of the additional pressure on the discs and smaller muscles of the spine. You can work to improve your posture by working on your core and muscles of the back, particularly the lats.

In Summary

Physical fitness is as much a part of our lives as eating or sleeping. As those examples show, fitness is a basic, primal need.

Paleolithic humans relied on physical strength to survive their environment. Physical power helped our ancient ancestors hunt, carry heavy objects, and keep themselves safe from vicious animals.

Today, those primal needs still play a role in our lives. Some jobs require heavy lifting, others demand agility and extreme flexibility. And almost everyone is engaged in a physical activity, whether it’s wandering around the grocery store or typing away at the computer.

Whichever form it takes your physical fitness is critical to your survival, if not your sanity. Knowing how to train for physical fitness is a must for anyone who wants to enjoy a long, happy life. But how should you get started?

Following this guide was a great way to get you started. You may not have thought of yourself as a running kind of person, but this guide will show you how you can enjoy a physical activity made to challenge all skill levels.

This guide will also help you to learn more about balancing your fitness training. You will learn the most effective methods for training, and how to use different training strategies.


Have you ever wondered if weight training benefits swimmers?

If you’re a swimmer who’s been training for a long time, you’ve definitely noticed your body changing over time. One of these changes, more specifically, is the decrease in flexibility and strength.

With time, swimmers tend to develop tight and overused muscles and become increasingly fragile. This leads to injuries, and some swimmers end up giving up and stop swimming because of it.

Weight training is here to help! Just like your body needs to develop and adapt to new movements, it also needs to be challenged and become stronger.

Weight training is the most effective tool for increasing muscle strength, body composition, and muscle density. It also reduces the risk of injury and alleviates body stiffness.

So if you’ve been thinking about starting weight training or trying out fast lifts for swimmers, you might be wondering what weight training is all about. Weight training is simply putting resistance on your muscles to develop them.

Trying to tear them with a barbell or press them until they get real jacked isn’t the goal. The goal is to challenge them with a resistance load that’s enough to make them fail to lift it between 3-5 times.