Most swimmers have some type of weight training program (or dryland) that they do in addition to their workouts in the pool.
And while strength training is pretty straightforward, there are a few things that swimmers should do during dryland to help prevent injury, increase success, and help others.
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Before you even start your strength training, it’s important to get in some stretching first. Stretching, specifically dynamic stretching is one of the best ways to loosen up your muscles. In turn, this can reduce your risk of injury.
Dynamic stretching encourages the joints and muscles to go through a full range of motion. These can involve exercises such as arm and leg rotations/circles, squats, and lunges.
Stretching also plays a role during dryland, too. And swimmers (and other athletes!) shouldn’t be so quick to ignore the benefits.
Related article: What is Dryland in Swimming?
Adding some static stretching in between sets or reps can help improve flexibility and keep your muscles from locking up. It may also help with recovery by flushing out some of the acid buildup in the muscles.
Lastly, swimmers should also stretch after dryland. Stretching following any workout can help improve flexibility and also help with your recovery. And for some, it can help swimmers from feeling sore the next day.
2. Safety – Be Aware of Surroundings
Things can get a bit busy in a dryland room. Weights are being moved around and used, and swimmers are focused on their workout.
It’s easy though to get caught up in your workout or a conversation, and not pay attention to the surroundings right by you. However, weights have the potential to be dangerous and during dryland, you should be aware of your surroundings.
As someone who has seen a few bad injuries in dryland, I would like to stress that dryland isn’t the time to play around. Swimmers can and have been injured due to people not paying attention or playing around.
Some safety tips are:
- Know who is by you and what they’re doing
- Check around you before doing any exercises that extend out to your sides or behind/in front of you (such as lateral raises or donkey kicks)
- When carrying weights around, make sure no one is doing core work nearby or they could take a weight to the head/face
- Don’t startle or scare someone when they’re lifting. Always make sure they know you’re there or better yet, wait until they’re done if you have a question
- Use or ask for a spotter if you’re lifting heavier than your usual amount
- Don’t swing around or throw weights
- If using a bar, don’t hold the bar and turn around. It’s a good way to hit someone
- Wear closed toes shoes with a good, non-slip sole
- Don’t wear dangly jewelry that could get caught
- We’re actually of the opinion that you shouldn’t wear any rings either for the same reason. Degloving is…not pretty
- Keep your hair pulled back/up so it also won’t get caught
These tips aren’t all-inclusive and your team may have its own set of rules, too.
Lastly, know where your first aid kit is in the event of an emergency. And in an emergency, do your best to stay calm and listen to whatever your coach tells you. Don’t get in the way.
Swimmers should always hydrate during dryland. This is especially true if you’re training outside and it’s hot.
It’s easy to think that you’re not sweating too much inside a cool weight room. But you’re losing more water than you realize. Keeping your muscles hydrated can prevent muscle fatigue and injury.
Related article: The 10 Best Water Bottles for Swimmers
Staying hydrated can also help you feel better during and after your workout. Plus you may be able to recover faster.
If you struggle with drinking water during your workout, consider other options that may make it easier to stay hydrated. Sports drinks, flavored water, or workout mixes can add flavor to water or encourage you to stay hydrated.
You can also try using motivational water bottles to encourage you to drink more. These have set time markers to help you drink enough water throughout the day. Try one and see if it works for you!
We’ll also throw a little note in here that you should be hydrating during and after your swim workout too! You still sweat when you’re in the water and it’s important not to ignore your hydration needs in the pool.
4. Work More Than Just Weights
In the weight room, it’s tempting to want to focus on just lifting weights. Whether that’s free weights or using a weight machine.
And weights have their purpose and are great pieces of equipment to use! But they’re not the only pieces of equipment in the dryland room.
Most dryland rooms have box jumps, pull-up bars, bands or stretch cords, and floor mats for swimmers to use.
And you should use them! Why?
Dryland isn’t just about throwing weights around to make your muscles bigger and stronger. It’s about working the smaller but still equally important muscles that you use when swimming.
A strong core is so vitally important to swimming that you should try to include core work in every dryland workout. To add some difficulty to your core/ab work, add some free weights or medicine balls.
Related article: How to Do Dryland Workouts at Home
Box jumps (though a pain and thoroughly exhausting) can provide a great leg workout while also working your reaction times. Box jumps are probably the best way to simulate pushing off the wall and working those specific muscles.
You can also work on your starts and pushing off the walls by doing some squat jumps if you don’t have box jumps.
It may feel counterproductive to not focus on just weights during dryland. But you may find that your swimming improves by mixing some of these into your workouts!
5. Focus on Technique
As swimmers, we spend countless hours in the pool focusing on our technique and trying to improve it. But the same should be true for the dryland room, too.
Correcting and having good technique ensures that you’re strengthening the correct muscles…correctly! This can reduce injury and obviously, helps you target the specific muscle you’re wanting to strengthen.
This is especially true for exercises such as squats and lifts. Where you can hurt your knees or your back if you’re not careful.
Related article: 30 Words to Get You by at Swim Practice
Many inexperienced swimmers arch and lift with their back when trying to move weights around. Or if they’re attempting a deadlift. The same is true for squats or lunges with inexperienced swimmers doing these exercises with incorrect technique.
If you’re not sure if your technique is correct or you need assistance, ask your coach to watch you during that exercise. Doing so can give you good feedback on proper weight lifting techniques and ensure you’re getting the best workout you can.
6. Build into Sets
Even after you stretch, you shouldn’t start loading up the weight machines with the heaviest weight you can lift. Nor should you reach for the largest dumbbell. Instead, swimmers should build into their sets by starting with lighter weights and increasing weight as they go.
The same is also true for adding repetitions to your workout.
You shouldn’t start with a high number of reps if you plan to keep adding more. If you plan to do 5 sets on the bar with additional weight for each rep, start with a reasonable count. Or a reasonable plan.
Don’t max out in weight and reps on your first set and expect to keep building more into the workout. This can lead to injury if you’re not careful and will only tear down your muscles more.
Related article: What New Swimmers Should Know About Swim Practice
Instead, warm up with the machine weight or some lightweight on the machine to get your muscles primed. Then start adding weights.
Work with your coach to develop a strength training plan and what the best way is to build into your sets. And remember that this can be different for each swimmer.
Some swimmers lift better by increasing the number of reps during each set but keeping the same amount of weight. While others increase the weight but decrease the number of reps during the set.
Encouragement in the dryland room goes a long way. Just as it does in and away from the pool!
Some swimmers hate dryland or struggle with it. They may dislike lifting in front of others if they can’t lift as much as those on the team. Or dryland may be difficult for them because of their body type or any limits their body might face.
And that’s okay! Everyone has their preferences and while a lot of swimmers like the social aspect of dryland, others may not.
This is one reason we like weight partners and matching swimmers with equal strengths and abilities. It can allow each swimmer to push the other without one swimmer feeling less than the other.
Related article: 10 Things You Should Do After a Swim Workout (But Aren’t)
And even though it seems like something small, encouragement can help your teammate(s) make it through a challenging dryland workout. This is true for both swimmers who like and dislike dryland!
Hype your teammates up and cheer them on. Congratulate them if they hit a new weight limit or broke their own personal best.
Doing this in an honest and genuine nature can help teammates rally around each other. It can also detract from any anxiety and fears that teammates are judging or being negative.
Be kind to others, because you never know what’s going on in the part of their life that you don’t get to see. It takes and costs nothing to give someone a kind word or words of encouragement 🙂
Strive to do this at least once during dryland!
While these tips are simple, doing them during dryland can improve your strength training if you make them part of your routine. Speak with your coach before making any changes to make sure any changes are best for you.
As always, happy swimming!
What to Know About Swim Practice and Dryland: New to a swim team? You might have several questions about what you need to know about swim practice and dryland, and what it entails. Here are some various swim practice questions to get you started. From swim practice etiquette that you need to follow to dryland workouts. And everything in between.
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Chevron is a current competitive swimmer with almost 20 years of experience in the pool. And although she fell into the sport by accident in her high school years, she still trains daily and competes throughout the year. She’s committed to providing guidance to all levels of swimmers and believes that everyone should know how to swim.