Stuck at home and want to stay in swimming shape? Here are my favorite dryland tools that swimmers can use to train at home.
Many of us long for the familiar smell of chlorine. The unblinking stare of the pace clock.
Although we cursed the early mornings, the distance workouts, and the short-rest kick sets, the loss of the routine, the camaraderie and the daily challenge of pushing our bodies is something we all miss.
For those of us who don’t have access to a backyard pool, or who aren’t able to use our gym for our favorite strength training exercises, there are plenty of options for staying fit and healthy while we do our part to keep our collective communities healthy.
Here are some home gym essentials that swimmers can use at home to get stronger, stay in shape, and keep themselves physically ready to hit the water swimming when the padlocks to the local pool are unshackled.
1. Superstroke Stretchcordz
One of the classic dryland tools for swimmers, StretchCordz are about as swim-specific as you can get for building strength in the pulling motion on dryland.
StretchCordz are great as they allow you to make technical corrections (you can really emphasize that high elbow catch), they can be used to train target stroke rate, and all you need is a doorknob to attach them to. StretchCordz are also useful for priming your muscles before swim practice or even competition.
A sample set I do with my StretchCordz is a simple 16x [:30 pulling + :30 rest]. As you progress, you can step back a little further, increasing the tension and resistance over time, strengthening your pull. StretchCordz come in a variety of difficulties, with blue being the most challenging,
Make sure to hit your trusty foam roller and warm-up your lats prior—they will get a killer workout!
StretchCordz with Paddles
Stretchcordz with Handles
StretchCordz (for Breaststrokers)
What about breaststrokers?
Welp, even breaststrokers can get in on the StretchCordz action with this slightly more elaborate set-up that allows swimmers to target the full breaststroking motion.
2. Pull-up Bar
Pull ups are another staple in the dryland training regimen of most swim clubs and teams. Most of the power for pull-ups comes from your lats.
Like any other form of exercise, technique and form is paramount.
While being able to rock and swing your way to a higher rep count might pad your ego, it’s form and technique that matter.
Researchers found that competitive swimmers who performed pull ups with excellent technique were faster in the water compared to their teammates who could crush reps with less-than-optimal form. [source]
The Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar is the same one that I have had at home for the past nine years, and ranks as my favorite doorway pull up bar of all time.
It’s sturdy (at one point I weighed 265 pounds and this thing didn’t budge) has a variety of grips, and takes about three seconds to set-up. (You will wanna take it down if it’s in a high traffic doorway lest you feel like bonking your head on it.)
3. Skipping Rope
Jumping rope is a powerful way for swimmers to safely boost aerobic conditioning, strengthen the ankles, and build fast twitch muscle fibers.
There are a few reasons that swimmers should hop to it and jump some rope: For starters, it is low impact. It helps develop ankle strength, builds fast twitch fibers without having to put a lot of weight or stress on the body, and can be done in the garage or in the driveway.
And unlike a StairMaster or stationary bike, your posture won’t go to Slumped-over-ville. Skipping rope encourages keeping your shoulders back and a straighter spine.
It’s low impact, doesn’t require a ton of room, and a skipping rope costs just a handful of dollars.
There are a lot of things that make swimming unique. The biggie is the fact that there is a ton of breath holding and breath control during our events. We hold our breath off the start, breathe every few strokes, and gulp down as much oxygen as we can before that final turn, when our lungs are burning and our legs feel like cement.
In the water we work on building breath control and discipline with breathing patterns, not breathing in and out of the walls, and extending our underwaters.
But there is a way you can strengthen up your breathing muscles on land—with a respiratory device called the PowerLung. The way the device works is exceedingly simple—you inhale and exhale into a plastic tube, with dials increasing the resistance on both sides of your breath. Think of it as weight lifting for your respiratory muscles.
(When researchers had a group of competitive swimmers train with a respiratory breathing device for six weeks, the swimmers improved 100-meter times 1.7% more compared to the control group.)
Anecdotally, after just a couple weeks of using the PowerLung Sport, my breathing “power” was remarkably improved. I don’t even know how else to describe it—my breaths were fuller and stronger. In the water, this improvement was especially apparent.
At the end of all-out sprints, when I would usually be racing to catch my breath, getting air down was more controlled and measured.
5. TRX Slam Ball
Medicine balls are a great multi-purpose tool for explosiveness and strength. The ways you can use them are almost endless.
You can use it as a way to make your Russian twists—one of my all-time favorite core exercises for swimmers—more challenging. You can roll them from hand to hand when doing off-set push-ups. And in terms of raw explosiveness, using medicine balls to perform wall throws and single and double-arm slams keep you sharp and fast.
The only problem with most medicine balls is that throwing them into the floor, or into a brick wall, tends to crack the outer shell. I have split more than my fair share of medicine balls over the years, and the TRX Slam Ball is one of the few that can take a thorough slamming and not spill open like a can of beans.
Make sure you are good to go with exercise. As with any weight training or aerobic training, make sure you are physically cleared. Check with your doctor and coach before undertaking any exercise program.
Progression is the goal, not crushing yourself on day one. Ease into your new dryland training program. The goal is longevity and progression, not destroying yourself during your first session.
Technique is everything. You wouldn’t swim with lousy technique, nor would you load a bar with a ton of weight without having a solid foundation of of form. Don’t sacrifice technique and form for high reps.