Strength training and swimming: Things to consider

A teammate asks, regarding my strength training routine:

Would you recommend something similar for me (only been swimming 1.5ish years very haphazardly), or do you think the benefits are only for those who have slowed their pool gains down significantly?

My answer: “Yes, but….”

Yes – because:

  • Weightlifting and calisthenics are good for you, both in promoting strength and general musculoskeletal health, and in preventing injury.
    • If you learn to deadlift properly, for example, you’ll never throw out your back lifting a heavy box.
  • Getting stronger will, in general, help you swim faster. At least, a little bit faster (see next point).

But – because:

  • Strength training is a “low leverage” activity for improving swimming speed. The highest leverage, by far, is in swim technique.
    • So, unless your technique is already in the range of excellent-to-perfect (and even Olympic swimmers are constantly working on their technique), strength training is not the most efficient method of swimming faster.
  • My routine involves several “free weight” exercises – which are the best way to lift weights, but also potentially dangerous. In doing squats, deadlifts, overhead press, and bench press, you must use proper lifting technique, or your efforts may easily backfire. Unless you’re already gym-savvy, it’s a good idea to ask a trainer to watch your technique before attempting these exercises.
  • Ease into any new routine – no need to be a hero. If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, try starting with a few body-weight exercises. Then add some resistance bands.
    • With free weights, start with just the bar, adding weight only when you can easily do 8-10 reps with perfect technique. Don’t be distracted by the ex-football players benching 300 pounds at the next station.

Bottom line: You can swim very fast without ever setting foot in a gym (that’s especially true of distance swimming). Strength training can help at the margins, but frankly, I do it more for the general health benefits.

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