Swimming in the gym.....3 key S&C exercises for better swimming performance

We all know that to improve your swim performance one of the key things to do is swim more (sorry folks!), but there are a couple of other things that you can do as well as making that almost daily visit to the pool.

Here we show you three key exercises that will help your swimming.

Bird/dog plank

You may not be familiar with the name, but we suspect that you're familiar with the video below...

This exercise has been a staple exercise in the 'core' family for a while and it's particularly useful for swimming in terms of engaging that core and providing a stable spine from which you can rotate. 

If you think about your swim position you want to rotate through your spine and hold a taut posture - rather than being as floppy as a piece of wet spaghetti. 

The bird/dog plank also has the added benefit of working on your sling systems - opposite muscle groups that work in a diagonal fashion on the front and back of your trunk - you know, just like when you're swimming - opposite arm, opposite leg.

How to do it:

  • While maintaining a neutral spine, kneel on the floor with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders.

  • Engage your core and straighten your opposite arm and opposite leg (so left arm, right leg).

  • When doing this, the aim is to keep your trunk as stable as possible - imagine there is a bottle on your lower back, you don't want it to fall off.

  • Bring your arm and leg back down and then straighten out the other arm and leg.

To progress this exercise, lift your feet up off the floor so it's just your knees and hands that are in contact with the ground.  To progress further still, start in a long arm plank position and then straighten your arm and leg; remembering to keep that trunk as stable as possible!

The goal here is to resist the rotational and extensional forces that are attempting to destabilise you.


The Daddy of the weight room - we've all seen 'that' guy saunter up to the pull-up bar and knock out loads of pull-ups......if only he knew what a good swimmer he would make!

Seriously though, the pull-up works the back and shoulder muscles (the lats in particular), with the lats providing the propulsion in swimming.  Work on this muscle group and you'll get greater propulsion from your stroke.

How to do it:

  • Position yourself under the centre of the bar

  • Grab the bar with an 'overhand' grip (this grip type works the triceps, which is good!), with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart

  • Pull up your body until you touch the bar with your chest

  • Lower yourself down in a controlled manner until your arms are straight

If you find that you don't have the upper body strength to even lift yourself a centimetre, then try the following:

  • If you have access to a gym and an assisted pull-up machine, use this

  • If you don't have access to an assisted pull-up machine, try using a thick resistance/pull-up band. Loop this round/through the bar and put your feet onto the band. The band offsets some of your bodyweight, making the exercise more manageable. Progress through the bands of resistance until you can do an unassisted pull-up.

To progress pull-ups, add weights using a belt weight.  Don't be tempted to change the hand or grip position as this will start to work different muscle groups and won't have the same effect.

Tricep dips

If you grew up in the 1980's then you'll know all about the tricep dip and Superstars!  (If you didn't, then you missed out...)

As the name suggests, this exercise works on your triceps (as well as your shoulders and upper body muscles) which you should be using when finishing off the back end of your stroke.  All too often swimmers pull their hands out of the water early rather than extending all the way back.

Build up your triceps and you'll be extending all the way with ease and producing extra propulsion in that last part of your stroke.

How to do it:

  • Sit yourself on the edge of a bench/chair/bath with your hands on the edge and by your sides and with your knees bent.

  • Lift yourself off the platform you are using and lower yourself down to the floor by bending at your elbows, keeping your feet and knees still and ensuring your arms remain in line with your sides and not flaring out.

  • Raise yourself back up again using your triceps until you are back to your starting position.

To progress this further, move your feet further and further away from your body and then eventually up onto a raised platform.

If you really fancy a challenge, then why not try and get up to 100 tricep dips in a day - you can do 10 x 10 reps, 5 x 20 reps....you choose but try and get to 100 by the time you get to bed.  And then progress to 150/200/250 etc!