Guide to strength training for swimming

In the gym, the goal of swimmers is to get stronger without bulking up. “The more bulk you have, the more resistance you create,” explains Bill. “The aim is to build muscle power and endurance without getting huge.” A strong core is particularly important. “Water is an environment that is moving all the time, so you need really strong core muscles to combat that,” says Bill. “All of the strokes require a lot of abdominal power.”

Although elite swimmers do use weights, much of their strength programme focuses on improving power-to-weight ratio through exercises that move and lift the body’s own weight.


Main muscles worked: biceps and triceps (front and back of upper arms), pectoral muscles (chest), abdomen (stomach), abductors (hips), quadriceps and hamstrings (legs)

Balance on your toes and hands: hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Straighten back and legs. Breathe in, lower your torso to the floor by bending your elbows to 90 degrees. Engage (tense) your abdominal muscles to help to keep legs straight.

Breathe out and push back up to the starting position.

Recommended routine: Perform 3 x 5 push-ups with 45 seconds rest between sets. Gradually build up until you can manage 3 x 15.


Main muscles worked: hamstrings (back of thigh), quadriceps (front of thigh), gluteals (bottom), calf muscles, trunk (the muscles in your torso), and lower back muscles

Stand with feet almost shoulder-width apart. Make sure that your neck is not tense – try lengthening your torso while retaining the spine’s natural S-shape.

Contract your abdominal muscles and breathe in. Start to release your knees until they are over your toes and your thighs are parallel with the ground. Keep your heels on the ground and the weight over the back of the foot rather than the toes. Keep your back straight and hold your arms out in front of you for balance. Try to keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth to activate the neck’s stabiliser muscles. Breathe out and press through the heels to return to the start position.

Done properly, the flexing of the hips, knees and ankles will lengthen and strengthen the spine, as well as working all the main muscles in the legs.

Recommended routine: Perform 2 x 15 squats with 45 seconds rest between sets. Gradually build up until you can manage 3 x 30. It can also be performed with weights.

. Abdominal crunches

Main muscles worked: abdominals

Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hands by your ears. Curl your shoulders forwards, keeping your lower back on the floor. Tense the abs, breathing out as you lift and in as you lower. Keep a space the size of a tennis ball under your chin, so your head stays in line with your spine. Each rep should take about four to five seconds.

Recommended routine: Perform 2 x 20 reps with 30 seconds rest. Gradually build up to 4 x 25.

The plank

Main muscles worked: abdominals, core muscles, biceps and triceps, calf muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings

From lying face down, push yourself up on to your elbows and feet. Keep a straight line through the head and hips, without raising your bottom too high. You should feel no tension in your back – if you do, lift your hips a little more.

If this movement is too difficult, perform the hold from the knees, again, maintaining a straight line through the head and hips, with no tension in the lower back.

Recommended routine: Hold for 45 seconds to one minute. Gradually build up the length of time you can hold the position.

Swiss ball hamstring curl

Main muscles worked: hamstrings, quadriceps and core muscles

You will need a Swiss ball to perform this move. Lie on your back on a mat and press your heels into the middle of the ball. Extend your legs and position your feet together, pointing your toes.

Keep your shoulders on the floor, arms by your sides (palms down) and lift your hips off the ground by engaging your abdominal muscles and breathing out.

Pull the ball towards your bottom until your feet are flat on its surface. Inhale and push the ball back to the start position.

Recommended routine: Perform 2 x 10 repetitions (reps)with 30 seconds rest. Gradually build up to perform 3 x 15.

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