Does Being a Rock Star at Pull Ups Make You a Faster Swimmer?

Does Being a Rock Star at Pull Ups Make You a Faster Swimmer?

The pull-up has long been a part of the swimmer’s dryland.

Swimmers, with their strong lats and shoulders are basically made to dominate the pull up bar. Olympians like Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, Katinka Hosszu and Nathan Adrian have long used your basic pull-up to strengthen their swimming.

But how much of a predictor is the pull-up for swimming speed?

In other words, does being good at pull-ups help you to swim faster?

A study published recently in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research sought out to see how much of an impact a swimmer’s pull up abilities both in mechanics (i.e. are they doing the pull ups properly?) and overall volume (how many pull ups can they do in a row) on swim speed.

The researchers took a group of 12 male swimmers, averaging out at 19 years of age, with an average 50m freestyle time of 26.41.

The fellas did a number of tests:

  • Pull-ups to failure. The mechanics of their pull-up motion were also recorded;
  • Squat jump once for height, and 30 squat jumps to determine medium jump height;
  • 50m free kick for time.

There were some surprising and not-so-surprising results:

The faster swimmers in the water had better form on the pull-up bar, but they weren’t necessarily the ones who did the most reps.

Pull Up for Swimmers

Doing a few pull ups with controlled technique better predicts swimming speed than your overall number of pull ups.

I imagine that this is the case because the swimmers with better technique and form on the pull up bar have stronger stability and core muscles. We’ve all seen the swimmer swing up and down on the pull up bar with zero form, and yet still manage to hammer out a decent number of reps.

Technique and form–just like on dry land as in the water–outperforms blind reps.

The swimmers who could do the most squat jumps in a row, or jump the highest, weren’t necessarily the fastest swimmers.

Some good news for those of us who aren’t natural-born high jumpers.

There was a significant relationship between kicking speed and swimming speed.

This can’t come as too much of a shock—fast swimmers have fast kicks. (Russian sprint legend could kick 50m in 27 seconds…long course.)

Which goes to show that if you want to be a faster swimmer, start by being a faster kicker.

See More Stuff Like This:

Why Swimmers Should Be Doing Dumbbell Bench Press. Ready to unleash your inner Arnold while also adding power to your swimming? Here’s why you should be incorporating dumbbell bench press into your strength training regimen.

Image Credit: JD Lasica

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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