Jen Rulon

Swimmers swim. Cyclists cycle. Runners run. Triathletes swim, bike, and run. That’s it, right? What do all of these athletes have in common? They should also lift! As you know, I am a huge advocate of strength training for endurance athletes.

Especially right NOW that everyone around the world is stuck inside without a pool – it is more important than ever to strengthen your swimming muscles and do dry land exercises to get ready for when we can all jump back in the pool. But remember – even when the pools open back up, you should continue to do these strength exercises for swimmers!

So I present to you:

“Top 5 Strength Exercises for Swimmers.”

1.  Pull-Ups/Weighted Pull-Ups/Negative Pull-Ups

Either you LOVE pull-ups, or you HATE pull-ups. I love strict pull-ups being used as part of the strength portion of your workout. Why? I ask you this: “What muscles do swimmers use for the front crawl swim stroke?”

The same muscles are being used:

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoid
  • Pectoralis Major
  • Triceps
  • Latissimus Dorsi

Pull-ups are hard for a lot of athletes, so here is my suggestion:

  • If you can do a strict pull-up: I would like for you to do at least ten strict pull-ups. Too easy? Challenge yourself and start adding some weight to your pull-ups. Place a dumbbell between your feet or your knees. Start small: 5 – 10 lbs of weight, and knock out five pull-ups. If you can knock out five pull-ups, then increase to 6, 7, etc. Up to 10 pull-ups with the weight that you started off with.
  • If you CANNOT do a strict pull-up: Negative Pull-Ups, make sure your grip is pronated, jump up to the bar, and make sure your chin is over the bar. Then slowly lower yourself: 10-20 seconds of lowering.
  • Check out this great article from Breaking Muscle. I used to do a lot of banded pull-ups with both my clients and me, but I have changed my ways.

2. Dumbbell Rows

  • I LOVE this exercise! I have seen so many people be able to do pull-ups, chin-ups, and toe 2 bars, just by doing this exercise. Not only will it help you in the gym, but it will also help you in the pool! (Thanks to Dan from King William District CrossFit, who showed me the light!)
  • What muscles are being used in the dumbbell rows? Just to name a few: Trapezius, rhomboids, Latissimus dorsi, deltoid (Posterior), and brachialis.
  • Make sure you activate the scapula versus using your whole body. Your torso should be horizontal to the floor. Check out this video for tips on the proper form:  Dumbbell Row 

3. Back Extension (Weighted or Non-Weighted)

  • When a triathlete is in their wetsuit for an extended period, what gets fatigued? Their lower back. Being in the wetsuit can be a very “unnatural” for an extended period.
  • This exercise will target the erector spinae, along with the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors.
  • You can do the back extension on the GHD machine (CrossFit gym) or the Roman Chair in a global gym.
  • Here is a decent video for you to see how to do it properly. If you don’t have this machine, check out how to do it at home.

4. Squats

  • What’s not to love about the squat? You can do air squats, Back squats, dumbbell squats, Overhead Squats, Front Squats, and Goblet Squats. There are endless kinds of squats.
  • It is a full lower body exercise working the hip and knee joints, along with the numerous muscles on the anterior (front) and posterior (back) part of the leg and the butt.
  • We want to increase the strength of the knee extensors since this will improve both force and endurance when you are kicking, whether it is the butterfly stroke or the front crawl.
  • Some swimmers will do a flat start in a competition; what muscles would you be using? Very much the same as in a squat.

5. Barbell Windshield Wipers (Core Work)

  • We hear this all the time from our swim coaches: Use your core; turn more by using your core. How do we get that strong? So many great core exercises, but I like this one. (Hollow Rocks, V-Ups, Strict Toes to Bar to name a few others)
  • We are using our abs for this type of work, but we are also tapping into our hip flexors.
  • Check out this video on how to do floor wipers. (
  • If you do not have a barbell at home, just hold up some hand weights!

Here is a FANTASTIC photo of what muscles are being used in ALL the strokes!

Muscles used for Swimmers



Building strength for athletes, whether you are a swimmer, cyclist, runner, or a triathlete, is an ABSOLUTE must. Start looking around at who is lifting more. They may be the ones passing you in the pool.


AUTHOR: Jen Rulon

I have been coaching triathletes, runners, and cyclists for over 21+ years; I received my Master's Degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Science. And as you may have learned, there is more to life than swimming, biking, and running. It is a lifestyle, and I am here to help you cross that finish line with a smile, whether it is an Ironman Triathlon or the Ironman of Life. You can find my knowledge shared in Triathlete Magazine, Runners World, on the TEDx Stage, the Health and Wellness Expo in San Antonio, TX, Southwest Research Institute Human Performance Summit, Training Peaks Workshops, "Self Motivation Strategies for Women" on Amazon, Men's Journal Online, and the New York Times. I also practice what I preach—she's a 15x Ironman Triathlete who participated in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, on October 14, 2017.

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