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In-Pool Strength Building While You Swim

By Lauren Jensen, Team Sport Beans/NTTC | April 07, 2009, 12 a.m. (ET)

To maximize your time and training efficiency, you can do several forms of swim-specific strengthening in the pool.

While strength training in the gym against resistance can also pay big dividends and comes highly recommended, do not overlook the gains you can make during the time you are already swimming in the pool. Below are some suggestions. By adding one or more of them into each swim, you will become a stronger and ultimately a faster swimmer.

  1. Use all of the strokes: Butterfly is an excellent way to build upper-body strength. Backstroke stretches your pectoral muscles, preventing them from becoming over-shortened and weak. Breaststroke is a great way to build strength through your hips in a different plane of motion than freestyle, cycling and running.
  2. Pulling: Doing longer sets of pulling (with or without paddles) is a great way to build upper-body strength.
  3. Kicking: Just like isolating the pull can strengthen your upper body, kicking with a board and deep water kicking using different kicks (flutter, breaststroke, egg-beater and dolphin kick) can strengthen your legs. You can also use short fins for added resistance.
  4. Frog jumps and push-offs: By adding in plyometric (jumping) movements in the water, you can strengthen your legs with less risk than on land.
  5. Using drag suits or other resistance: By wearing extra loose suits, T-shirts and even an old pair of running shoes, you can add some resistance and increase the workload on your upper body. Be creative and have fun with this.
  6. Strength specific drills: Swimming drills, including the fist drill, Tarzan drill, sculling drills, push-back drills and vertical drills, can be put into your workout to increase the strength workload as well.
  7. Pool circuit training: Swim 25-50s with strength training exercises between each length or lap.
  8. Sprints: Yes, triathletes should sprint! By swimming as fast as you can, you are improving your power – your ability to produce more force in a given amount of time. Include short sprints 12.5s to 25s at least once per week.

Have Fun!

Lauren Jensen races as a pro triathlete for Team Sport Beans/NTTC and has raced triathlon for over 20 years and coaches fellow triathletes through TriFaster. Contact Lauren at or through