As a swimmer, when you can’t get in the water to swim your workout, what do you do?
Move to dry land.
Even when pools are open and fully functioning, “dryland” workouts are key for strengthening swimmers’ bodies so they can move through the water with more power and efficiency – but they’re especially valuable when pool time is not possible.
“I think it’s important to work overall body strength in dryland for swimming,” says Jason Lezak, a four-time Olympic swimmer, eight-time Olympic medalist, and the GM of Cali Condors.
“Although you do nothing in swimming that resembles a bicep curl, for example, having stronger biceps can help your pull. The strength gained outside the pool needs to be translated to hard work in the pool. I believe that younger swimmers can do many of these exercises and other bodyweight exercises to gain overall strength as well, which will help their swimming.”
During times (like during social distancing) when you can’t get into the pool, Lezak agrees that dryland paired with cardio training like running, biking, or rowing becomes very important for swimmers.
So, we turned to Lezak for his own go-to dryland workout.
“My dryland workout during the last two months staying at home is very similar to my workout while I was training for my last three Olympics,” he says. “Instead of using weights, I have just added a stretch cord for some resistance. You can also see how I did these exercises on a strength video I created while I was training for my last Olympics in 2012.”
When doing his dryland set below, Lezak says he likes to “superset” his exercises: “which means group several exercises together and rotate through them.”
For example, he will complete three rounds of a series of moves focused on an area of the body (say, arms) without taking rest in-between each move in the series. Then, he will begin the next exercise group.
For the workout below, complete all the exercises under each section three times before moving onto the next section. You’ll want to set aside about an hour to complete Lezak’s dryland workout.
“To start off, I would recommend doing 10-12 repetitions of each exercise and building up to 15-20,” Lezak notes.
Without resting between each move, Lezak says you will be working on “strength, endurance, cardio, and lactate tolerance, which are all beneficial for swimming.”
However, remember to listen to your own body, modify, and work in rest as you feel comfortable, as well as consult your doctor before starting a new workout program.
“A strong core is very important in all swimming strokes. These exercises work all parts of your abs and core for good stability in the water,” Lezak explains.
Seated Twists With or Without a Medicine Ball.
Opposite Arm-to-Leg Toe Touches.
“Legs for swimming are like a motor on a boat,” Lezak notes. “Swimmers need strong legs to get their bodies high in the water. These exercises will build all-around leg strength for kicking, and explosive power you will need for starts and turns as well.”
Leg extensions: In a seated position, extend feet forward.
Leg curls: In a standing position, bring your heels up toward your glutes.
Step Ups: With one foot on bench or step, bring that leg to a standing position, while bringing the other leg up in a running motion.
Front-to-Back Fast Feet: On a low box, place one foot forward and the other about two feet behind. Rotate one foot forward and back as fast as possible.
Side-to-Side Fast Feet: On a low box, slide side-to-side, tapping box with opposite foot each time.
Alternating Feet Front-to-Back Jumps: On a low box, place one foot forward and the other about two feet behind. Jump as high as possible, and land alternating the position of the two feet.
Upper Body Exercises
“It is important to build overall body strength in swimming, which includes many upper body exercises,” Lezak says. “You can take the overall strength gains outside the water and translate them to be stronger in the water. There are a couple exercises I do which mimic the butterfly and freestyle pull as well.”
Incline Chest Press.
Two Arm Butterfly Pull: Lean forward with arms fully extended shoulder-width apart. With arms at a slight bend, keep your elbows up and pull down to hips.
One Arm Freestyle Pull: Lean forward with one arm fully extended shoulder-width apart and the other arm at your side. Rotate the body 45 degrees. As you pull the arm down toward the arm at the side, rotate your hips toward the center and bring the arm back up, mimicking the freestyle stroke.