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How to Train for Swimming When You Can’t Get to the Water

Dryland training is a great supplement to pool training, but it requires more than just weight training.

As important as it is for swimmers to train in the water, there’s no denying that it’s not always convenient to get to the pool.

If you’re traveling, working long hours, have kids in tow, or you’re just going through a busy season of life, you’re not always going to be able carve out an adequate amount of time to train.

That’s why many swimmers complement their pool training with dryland training.

Dryland training allows you to focus on strength building and muscle conditioning, and enables you to practice certain swim techniques – like hand and fingertip positioning – without having to schedule workouts around water access.

But dryland training is not just about going to the gym, or lifting weights.

There are specific goals and strategies that swimmers should use when dryland training to get the maximum results when it actually comes time to dive in.

Here’s what every swimmer should know about dryland training when you can’t get to the pool.

Dryland training off seasonThe Core Components of Dryland Training

Three-time Olympian, Gary Hall Sr., once described his three core components of dryland training:

  • Strength training
  • Stretching
  • Fitness

But the goals of each component are not the same as a competitive bodybuilder or a regular gym-goer.

True dryland training takes each of the core components and incorporates specific exercises to improve their swim techniques.

You don’t lift weights just to get stronger. You lift weights to become a stronger swimmer, for instance.

When it comes to strength training, stretching and fitness, there are a few things to consider before starting a dryland training routine.

1. Resistance training improves strength and mobility

Swimming is an excellent way to stay in shape, but it doesn’t always build dense muscles the same way that gym training or weightlifting does.

You need strong, dense muscles to propel yourself through the water.

This is where supplementing weightlifting techniques can come in handy for swimmers. Dryland weight training can add strength to your core, back and leg muscles that will improve your power once you’re in the water.

Yoga can also add to flexibility and strength-building of smaller, stabilizing muscles, as well as overall strength and muscle movement.

Using dryland training tools like a swim bench (Vasa Trainer or a Sports Bench with a cord) will allow you to maintain the right techniques even if you can’t get to the pool regularly.

Dryland training off season
(Image source)

2. Core strength training is essential to dryland routines

There are a lot of aspects of swim training that can only be truly trained and tested in the water, but there are plenty of ways to strengthen your swim form during dryland training.

One of the key focuses that should be included in your dryland training routines is core strengthening.

A strong core (abs and lower back) helps you maintain a correct swim posture and body tautness longer, and this establishes a foundation for improved efficiency because it minimizes drag and maximizes speed.

Exercises that engage your core in a horizontal position are also beneficial for swimmers, since this is how your muscles will be engaged in the water.

Planks, side planks, and “bird dogs” are all examples of dryland exercises that can strengthen your core and give you a foundation for a better swim.(We have more examples of dryland training for core strength here.)

3. Injury prevention requires a mix of exercises and stretching

Swimmers face a lot of chronic injuries in the water due to the amount of repetitive motions on the muscles.

One of the benefits of dryland training is that you can vary your exercises.

This allows you some time to build muscles without fatiguing those that you will use to power your swim strokes.

Stretching and adequate recovery time are also an essential piece of any dryland training routine. If you’re overworked at home or in the gym, you’re more likely to be overworked when you get to the water.

Tired and fatigued muscles can easily cause major injuries, so be sure that you know when to take a break from your training and give your tendons, ligaments and muscles a rest.

Dryland training off season

The Biggest Challenges to Dryland Training

Of course, the importance and benefits of dryland training doesn’t mean that’s always easy to do, or that you always have perfect results.

Some of the biggest challenges that swimmers face when dryland training include:

  • Time spent training (getting to the gym, carving out time at home, etc.)
  • Overworking muscles or muscle groups
  • Not training with proper biomechanics or not training with a swim coach

It’s important that swimmers keep these challenges in mind when training out of the water. Here are a few ways to overcome these obstacles.

1. Supplement gym training with at-home training

While getting to the pool often puts swimmers in a time crunch, it can often be equally challenging to find time to workout at home.

Work, family or other life stresses can just as easily interfere with dryland training, too.

For swimmers who want to overcome their time challenges, it’s important to find times during the day and week that work to train and set (and stick to) a regular training schedule.

Supplementing at-home workouts for gym workouts – even if they’re shorter in length – can reduce the stress to “get somewhere” to train.(Here’s how one busy athlete gets it done.)

If you’re serious about training when you can’t get to the pool, you should make an effort to do full dryland training sessions as often as possible, whether at the gym or at home.

But even a few minutes here and there can help improve muscle growth and bone density.

2. Don’t overwork your muscles or over-train

As mentioned before, injury prevention is an essential piece of a swimmer’s training routine.

With regular training, you will be able to build up enough foundational strength in your muscles to prevent chronic injuries, even with the repetitive motions of swimming.

It’s still important to supplement those times of strength training with other forms of exercises that give your muscles a break, especially if you’re training for multiple events.

Seek to understand the warning signs of injury before they occur, so you will spot whether or not you’re over-training before it turns into something more catastrophic.

Ideally, seek advice and workouts from a qualified swim coach who understands your limits.

3. Pay special attention to training with the correct biomechanics

Swimming is a highly technical sport. If you’re not training with the correct body, hand, wrist and fingertip positions, it’s less likely that your swimming stroke will improve.

While swimming in the water, you will notice the effects of poor body mechanics by slower swim times, fatigue, or if you are lucky, comments from a good coach.

That’s why it’s essential to pay attention to proper stroke mechanics when swimming.

Dryland training off seasonDepending on the exercise, it’s not always as easy to know if you are using poor
mechanics when dryland training.

It helps to ask a coach or fellow experienced swimmer to watch your form. Or train in front of a mirror so you can see your body positioning.

You can also use specialized dryland swim training equipment to ensure that your body is aligned the same or similar way as it would be in the water.

While dryland training will always be different than training in the water, biomechanics still matter and using proper form will help you gain an efficient stroke for swimming in the water.

Final Thoughts

Dryland training is a great alternative when life or schedules prevent you from getting to the pool to train.

But it’s important for swimmers to understand that dryland training isn’t just about lifting some dumbbells or doing a few pushups.

The goal of a dryland training routine is to build muscle (especially core) strength and prevent injury while still maintaining the proper biomechanics of your swim.

Swimmers should pay special attention to training with supervision and finding the right time and space to perform dryland exercises so they can maximize results to achieve a stronger, better and faster swim.