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Dry land stretch cord swim workouts you can do at home

By John Hansen | March 31, 2020, 4:42 p.m. (ET)

swim workouts

Dry land stretch cord training can be an effective way to sustain your swim fitness during the off season or in our current quarantine climate with COVID-19.

Stretch cord training helps you to maintain swim specific strength and efficiency, conditioning muscle groups and mimicking freestyle movements, making the transition back to the pool much easier.  

Dryland stretch cord training, although it lacks the dynamic nature of pool swimming, can be designed so that the workouts included a lot of variety, as well as targeting specific elements of the swim stroke. Although each swim workout below is geared towards a particular element of the stroke, combined together, they can address your stroke as a whole. 

The sets below include a warm-up, drill set and main set which are each assigned a stretch cord tension level, which can be changed for individual conditioning levels, a stroke rate and specific instructions including intensity levels. All the sets are shorter interval-based efforts and the workouts are 20-30 minutes in duration. 

I recommend doing stretch cord training at least three times using the workouts below. See photos below for reference. 

WORKOUT 1 - The Catch

Warm-up: light to intermediate tension

  • Reverse T – Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 3x.
  • Overhead hinge – Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 3x.

Drill set: 4 x drill set – light to intermediate tension – steady stroke rate

  • 30 sec catch sculling. Focus on the hand placement, arms extended forward, elbows slightly bent and hands creating a figure 8. Keep constant pressure on the cord. Rest for 10 seconds.
  • 1 min continuous freestyle. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on high elbow during the catch phase but a low elbow recovery.

Main set: 4 x swim set — intermediate tension – steady stroke rate

  • Double Arm Stroke — 10 complete strokes. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on keeping the elbows high during the catch but low during recovery
  • Continuous Freestyle with high elbow catch – 1 minute. Focus on keeping the elbows high during the catch phase but low during recovery
  • Rest 30 seconds 

WORKOUT #2 – The Pull

Warm-up: light to intermediate tension

  • Reverse T –Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.   Repeat 3 x
  • Overhead hinge –Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.   Repeat 3 x

Drill set: 4 x Drill set - light to intermediate tension – steady stroke rate

  • 30 sec pull sculling.  Focus on the hand placement, elbows bent at 90 degrees and hands creating a figure 8. Keep constant pressure on the cord. Rest for 10 seconds between rounds.
  • 1 min continuous freestyle. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on high elbow during the pull phase but a low elbow recovery.

Main set: 4 x swim set - intermediate tension – steady stroke rate

  • Double Arm Stroke – 10 complete strokes. RI 10 sec. Focus on keeping the elbows high during the pull phase but a low elbow recovery
  • Continuous Freestyle with high elbow pull – 1 minute.  Focus on keeping the elbows high during the pull but a low elbow recovery.
  • Rest 30 sec

Workout #3 – The Finish

Warmup: light to intermediate tension

  • Reverse T –Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 x
  • Overhead hinge –Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 x
  • Tricep Extension –Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 x

Drill set: light to intermediate tension – steady stroke rate

  • 8 x 30 strokes, alternate sides, hip touch drill.  Focus on the hand placement and extending the thumb to touch your hip as it passes the hip. High elbow recovery.  Rest for 10 seconds
  • 4 x 1 min continuous freestyle. High elbow recovery. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on hip touches

Main set: 3 x swim set- light to intermediate tension – steady stroke rate

  • Left Arm - 10 complete strokes. High elbow recovery.
  • Right Arm - 10 complete strokes.  High elbow recovery.
  • Double Arm Stroke – 10 complete strokes. High elbow recovery.
  • Rest 10 sec 
  • 1minute continuous freestyle touch the hip with an extended thumb the last 30 sec. High elbow recovery.
  • Rest 30 sec 

WORKOUT #4 - Acceleration

Warm-up: light to intermediate tension – steady stroke rate

  • Reverse T: Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.   Repeat 3 x
  • Overhead hinge –Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.   Repeat 3 x

Drill set: light to intermediate tension – steady stroke rate

  • 8 x 30 strokes, alternate sides, hip touch drill.  Focus on the hand placement and extending the thumb to touch your hip as it passes the hip. High elbow recovery. Rest for 10 seconds between rounds.
  • 4 x 1 min continuous freestyle. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on hip touches and high elbow recovery.

Main set: 4 x swim set - intermediate tension – steady to high stroke rate

  • Double Arm Stroke – 10 complete strokes. RI 10 sec. Focus on a slow catch and fast finish past the hip.  Accelerating throughout the stroke. Low elbow recovery.
  • Left Arm - 10 complete strokes. Accelerating throughout the stroke. Low elbow recovery.
  • Right Arm - 10 complete strokes. Accelerating throughout the stroke. Low elbow recovery. Rest 10 sec
  • Continuous Freestyle – 1 minute.  Focus on keeping the elbows high during the catch and pull while accelerating throughout the stroke. High elbow recovery.
  • Rest 30 sec 

WORKOUT #5 – Bringing it Together

Warmup: light to intermediate tension

  • Reverse T –Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.   Repeat 3 x
  • Overhead hinge –Complete for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.   Repeat 3 x

Drill Set: light to intermediate tension – steady to high stroke rate

3 rounds of 30 strokes as single arm stroke (15 each side) for each drill below, rest 10 sec after each drill, focusing on the following:

  • Drill 1: Focus on a high elbow during the catch and pull.  Low elbow recovery.
  • Drill 2: Focus on hand placement and thumbs touching the hips.  Low elbow recovery.
  • Drill 3: Focus on high elbow during the catch and pull while acceleration throughout the stroke.  High elbow recovery.

Main set: light to intermediate tension – steady to high stroke rate

4 x swim set

  • Double Arm Stroke – 10 complete strokes. RI 10 sec. Focus on a slow catch and fast finish past the hip.  Accelerating throughout the stroke. High elbow recovery.
  • Left Arm - 10 complete strokes. Accelerating throughout the stroke. Low elbow recovery.
  • Right Arm - 10 complete strokes. Accelerating throughout the stroke. Low elbow recovery.
  • Rest 30 sec 

4 x swim set

  • 1 minute continuous freestyle.  Focus on keeping the elbows high during the catch and pull.  Increase to a high turnover the last 30 seconds of each 1 min interval. High elbow recovery.
  • Rest 10 sec 

Training Tips

Cord Anchor Position

  • Warm up: Reverse T - chest height and overhead hinge - 1 foot above the head
  • Drill and main sets: If standing chest height. If lying on bench or ball: waist height 

High vs low Elbow recovery

  • High elbow recovery - elbow rising above the shoulder during recovery
  • Low elbow recovery - elbow stays below the shoulder, with a straight arm, during recovery.  Use predominately to avoid shoulder injury.

Instead of standing for the drill and main set use a strength training bench or large stability ball to lie on, if available. 

To develop your own workouts beyond the workouts provided, mix and match the workouts and sets.  

For more cardio based workouts include higher turnover efforts in the main sets and to create strength sets increase the cord tension.  

Paddles are an additional way to mimic swim movements. If you do not have stretch cord with paddles you have two option to secure paddles to your existing stretch cords:

  • If you have stretch cords without handles, attach your paddles to your cord by slipping one end of the cord though a hole near the middle finger placement, on the side where the hand is placed, then tie a couple knots in the end of the cord to secure the paddle.
  • If you have paddles and cords with handles slip the handle on you hand before placing the middle finger in your middle finger loop on the paddle

stretch cord exercise

Overhead hinge

stretch cords

Double arm pull

stretch cords single arm pull

Single arm pull

stretch cords ts

Reverse T warmup

John Hansen, USAT, and USA Swimming Level 1 Coach and USA Cycling Level 3 Certified coach, Folsom California. Hansen has an MS in Exercise Physiology and previously worked at the UC Davis Sports performance lab for five years. Hansen currently coaches the UC Davis Collegiate Club Triathlon team. Hansen also has his own coaching business, primarily coaching long course athletes, 70.3 and 140.6. Visit HansenMultisport.com or email john1hansen@sbcglobal.net.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.