Give your swimming power a shot in the arm (and back, and chest…) with these shortcuts…

Build swim strength fast

Good swimming technique is so crucial, and so lacking in so many of us, that it’s easy to focus almost exclusively on that and ignore the need to build power into your ever-improving front crawl stroke. We’re not going to suggest that you abandon all those drills, but building up the strength you need to swim faster is as simple as adding a few minutes of exercises to your day or swapping in a few lengths of different strokes to a session – so why wouldn’t you do it? Here are five straightforward ways to start building up your swimming strength.


A few years ago we asked Ironman world champion and super-swimmer Leanda Cave how to get stronger at swimming, and push-ups was her first response. We all know this classic exercise but how many of us do it regularly? If your technique is right you don’t need to do hundreds either – this is definitely a good ad break filler during an evening in front of the TV. Remember to keep your core braced and straight – don’t drop your hips instead of lowering your upper body with your arms.


When you’re not in the pool, mimic the action of front crawl using a resistance band wrapped around a sturdy object – have a look on YouTube for clips of people doing this to see how it’s done. You’ll see pros using it as a warm-up before races, but for most of us it’s just a good strength building exercise which, again, can be done in your living room. A few bursts of two to three minutes is plenty.


For £10-£15 you can buy a set of hand paddles to add a few extra strength laps to your next swim session. Use them at the end of the main set, when you’re thoroughly warmed up but not so fatigued that you lose your technique. The paddles add resistance, building swim-specific strength, but only when used correctly – if you feel a pull on your shoulders, stop straight away, as delicate shoulder muscles are easily damaged by incorrect use. You can also lower the risk of problems by using a smaller paddle. When you get it right, you’ll feel the burn in your arms and lats (down the sides of your back). Start by adding a few 50m sprints at the end of your main set and build up to longer intervals as your strength improves.


It’s tricky to get right, but butterfly can help improve your front crawl by building on your explosive power in the pool. Make sure someone shows you how to do the stroke if you’re new to it, otherwise you’ll just be throwing water out of the pool and irritating everyone. When you’re ready, add intervals of butterfly mixed in with your usual front crawl speed sessions.


Your lats and triceps have to work hard in a powerful swim stroke, so any exercise you can do to build them up is useful. After the push-up, the pull-up is the next best move for building swim strength at home or in the gym. Again, you don’t need to do many – and newbies often find one or two is their best effort at first. To do them at home you’ll need a pull-up bar, which you can buy to fit into door frames, or if you have free weights, you could substitute this for a standing row – not quite as effective unless you can lift your body weight, but still a good workout for the lats.


As with any training, it’s important not to overload your muscles with strength work. All of these exercises can be done by adding a few minutes to your swim sets or using up a few spare minutes at home, but if you’ve just done a hard session in the pool, save them for another day. Tiring out your muscles is also best avoided if you’re about to do a drills session, as you’ll find it hard to maintain your form, so you’ll just defeat the point.

Check out our latest swimming-focussed triathlon training plan here.