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Swimming is a great lifetime activity.  Whether you're a recreational, masters level, triathlete or competitive swimmer, doing some dry land cross training should be an integral part of your regular weekly workout routine. It can be hard to leave the pool for one day and opt for a dry land workout, but there are many benefits that will leave you a better swimmer and with a more well-rounded level of fitness.            

Swimming involves the entire body, but most of the stress falls on the shoulders where the repetitive motion can lead to injuries and muscle imbalances.  In addition, swimming is done in a hypo-gravity state.  Scientific literature supports the claim that swimmers not engaging in a more load bearing activity risk lowers bone loss (1,2).  Women ages 19+ and men over 45 are at a greater risk of losing bone density without a true load-bearing type of activity.  A review in Cochrane’s meta-analysis database demonstrates that swimmers engaging in other activities maintain bone health and could possibly be even more resistant to fractures (3). One or two days a week of cross training is paramount in establishing a solid overall exercise program that will keep you injury free, mentally fresh, in good bone health and make you a stronger swimmer. 

Consider your dry land days of cross training an “active recovery workout” away from swimming. One less pool workout saves your shoulders from potential overuse (i.e. tendonitis a/o bursitis).  Pick an activity that is good for your bones such as resistance training, yoga or jogging. Yoga will help with muscle imbalances, balance, core strength, and flexibility. Resistance training is especially beneficial as it not only provides the weight bearing needed for bone health but the strength gains made will translate into a more powerful stroke in the water.  For this reason, I’ve included some exercises below that are swimming specific.  Several can be done with either tubing or dumbbells.  

Bent Knee Standing Rows:


Bent knee standing rows

best knee standing rows

Bent over rear deltoid flys -- Keep back straight and knees slightly bent. Use a lightweight to avoid 'jerking' the weight up. Keep back straight and chest out. 

bent over read deltoid flys

Bent over rear deltoid flys
Bent over rear deltoid flys

Reverse lunges with arms high -- Keep abs tight throughout the movement. Make sure to step back far enough so the front knee is not beyond the foot.

Reverse lunges with arms high  Reverse lunges with arms high  Reverse lunges with arms high

Straight arm standing pull downs -- Keep core tight and shoulders back.  Use a heavyweight.

Straight arm standing pull downs
Straight arm standing pull downs

Single-arm Chest press while on ball -- One arm only increases core activation.  Start and finish position is with the upper arm parallel with the floor.

Single-arm Chest press while on ball  Single-arm Chest press while on ball  Single-arm Chest press while on ball

Balldrop squats -- The idea is not to drop the ball but to gently let it fall to the floor and catch it as it rebounds up.  The ball should not bounce much at all. Make sure to keep your back straight and keep your butt back, chest out.

Balldrop squats  Balldrop squats  Balldrop squats

Cable core twists -- use less weight than you think. Initiate motion with core, not arms. Keep the “triangle” between your arms and chest intact.  Knees slightly bent and sit “back”.


Cable core twists  Cable core twists  Cable core twists

Plank with knee to opposite elbow -- head up, chest out. Rotate hips to opposite knee while trying to keep shoulders aligned straight ahead.

Plank with knee to opposite elbow
Plank with knee to opposite elbow

Plank with knee to opposite elbow


1.  Scofield KL1, Hecht S. Bone health in endurance athletes: runners, cyclists, and swimmers. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Nov-Dec;11(6):328-34.

2.  Namju Lee1 and Jongkyu Kim2. A review of the effect of swim training and nutrition on bone mineral density in female athletes. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2015 Dec 31; 19(4): 273–279.

3. Alejandro Gómez-Bruton,1 Alejandro Gónzalez-Agüero,1,3 Alba Gómez-Cabello,1 José A. Casajús,1,2 and Germán Vicente-Rodríguez. Is Bone Tissue Really Affected by Swimming? A Systematic Review. Published online 2013 Aug 7. PLoS One. 2013; 8(8): e70119. Brenda Smith, Editor

Kevin M. Casey, MPAS, PA-C, ATC. is an IRONMAN Finisher and Masters Level Swimmer.

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