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Dryland for Swimmers

This article is Part 2 of 2 about the importance of dryland for swimmers, featuring Tim Crowley and Dan Daly, among the World’s most respected coaches; we are privileged that they are a vital part of the Vasa community.  Read their answers to key questions important for every swimmer, swim coach, and triathlete.

Vasa: Do the exercises in a dryland for swimmers’ strength program need to be “specific” to swimming?

Coach Tim Crowley:

Yes and no. Swimmers need general strength exercises to build athleticism and foundational strength and power. This can include many traditional exercises like leg squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and chest press exercises. The best time of year to build a strong foundation is in the off-season following a brief recovery time from all training. 

There is also value in specific swim stroke patterns on a Vasa Trainer or Vasa SwimErg to develop power and specific strength. These can begin in the off-season and get more stroke and event-specific as the season develops.

Dryland for swimmers Dryland for swimmers

Coach Dan Daly: 

Some would say there is no sport-specific training. Regarding biomechanics and loading the body, well-established exercises and best practices for maximizing athletic strength and power can be translated to any sport. 

A swim-specific program should recognize these approaches as a foundation for well-rounded athletic development, focusing on the unique demands and injury risks of swimming. The repetitive demands of swimming can be associated with common imbalances, dysfunctions, and injury, particularly in the shoulders and lower back. These issues are often best offset with alternative training specific to those swim-related muscular imbalances and deficits in strength, separating swim training in the water from strength training in the gym. 

As function and general physical conditioning are established, the top of the swim training pyramid could include more specific exercises. For example, strong evidence associates strength in the classic weighted pull-up and push-up exercises with improvements in freestyle force production and speed and jump performance to more explosive starts, turns, and kicking propulsion. The highest level of swim-specific carryover has been shown doing resisted swimming exercises like the ones performed on a Vasa SwimErg or Vasa Trainer Pro and in the water using parachutes, bands, and power racks.

Vasa: What are 3 or 4  “go-to” dryland for swimmers’ exercises?

Coach Tim Crowley:

  1. Trap bar deadlifts or jump squats provide a great return on investment. They provide strength and power for explosive starts and turns.
  2. Rotator cuff exercises with light hand weights or plates ( 2-3 Lbs), bands, or special cable systems such as Keiser or the Ancore, will help shoulders stay healthy and offset all the internal rotation swimmers experience. 

Lightweight Shoulder Prehab

Vasa SwimErg Shoulder Prehab

Shoulder Prehab with Bands

  1. Vasa Trainer 2-arm swim pulls build specific strength. The load can easily be progressed by increasing the angle of the monorail and by adding more rubber stretch cords. That same 2-arm swim pull exercise can be done on a Vasa SwimErg with lighter loads to develop specific power, which can be measured with the Power Meter.
  2. The Pull-up is a simple exercise and builds swim-specific strength. Also, it is easy to teach. The Vasa Trainer is a great tool to teach and master the pull-up since the load is easily adjusted. This exercise is also very effective for doing higher-velocity pull-ups that develop power. This is often difficult when using a pull-up bar.

Coach Dan Daly:

  1. Pull Ups – Arguably, this is the most swim-specific strength exercise due to the upper body pulling dominance of the strokes. This same pattern could be performed on a Vasa Trainer Pro at a steep incline with resistance as a variation or alternative. 
  2. Squat Jumps – Specific power for faster and further starts, turns, and kicking propulsion, particularly breaststroke and butterfly. The Vasa Trainer Pro Leg Power Platform is the perfect accessory for working leg power in the swim-specific horizontal position. 
  3. Push Ups – Correlated with freestyle swimming speed. It’s the yang to the pull-ups yin. With joint actions specific to the pushing phases of the strokes, and most specifically breaststroke. The front stanchion of a Vasa Trainer is a great entry point for those who cannot yet perform a horizontal push-up on the floor. Alternatively, the cable chest press, seated on a Vasa Trainer Pro is a great variation of the same pattern. 
  4. Resisted Swimming – The evidence suggests this is the most specific place to spend your time getting strong and is best done in the water using parachutes, bands, and power towers. However, it may only get you so far if you aren’t also developing general strength using the suggestions above. It can be replicated on land using a Vasa Trainer Pro or Vasa SwimErg.

About the Coaches

Tim Crowley and Dan Daly are among the World’s most respected coaches; we are privileged that they are a vital part of the Vasa community.  They have contributed useful dryland for swimmers’ workout and technique videos, which you can find in our Video Library.

Tim Crowley discusses Dryland Training for Swimmers

Tim Crowley
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Montverde Academy
Author: High-Performance Aging & The Powerful Triathlete



Ask the Coach Dan Daly How to Swim FasterDaly Daly, CSCS
Dryland Strength & Conditioning Coach