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Swimming Workout – Sport Specific Circuit Training

This dry-land swimming workout focuses on building both muscular and cardiovascular endurance in addition to strength. The emphasis is on exercising the upper body as strong arms and shoulders play a vital role in improving swimming performance, in terms of both speed and stamina.

The core muscles are also exercised as these muscles are important for maintaining the straight-body water position. It also includes a plyometric exercise for legs to help improve the explosive power needed for push-offs.

Specifics of Swimming Training – Exercises, Repetitions, Sets

To build an all round swimmers physique, do 12-15 reps per set with 30-60 seconds rest in between each set. Sprinters may wish to do fewer reps and use heavier weights to build strength, and long-distance swimmers may wish to do more number of reps, around 15-20.

How much weight should you lift?

The amount of weight should be matched as closely as possibly to the number of reps you are doing. You want to be able to perform all the reps with good form, while at the same time working the muscles to their maximum. Trial and error is really the only way to determine what is right for you.

Keep a training log so that you know exactly how much weight you are lifting when you either fail a set, or complete too easily.

Muscle Group Exercise Sets Reps
Back Straight-arm pull-down 3 12-15
Dumbbell pull-over 3 12-15
Shoulders Bent-over lateral raise 3 12-15
Dumbbell lateral raise 3 12-15
Biceps Barbell curl 2 12-15
Triceps Triceps press-down 2 12-15
Lower back Back extension 2 12-15
Lower body Squat jumps (with or without dumbbells) 2 10-12
Abdominals Reverse crunch 2 15-20
Alternate twisting 2 15-20

Speed of Lifting is Important

When lifting, count two seconds “up”, and three seconds down. By up we mean the first movement, which can be either pushing/lifting in raises and presses, or pulling in curls and pull-downs.

How Many Sets Should a Swimmer Perform?


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It is recommended that you perform three sets of each exercise. Resting between sets is vital, especially if you are looking to build explosive strength for sprinting. Rest for a full 3 minutes if lifting heavier weights.

Frequency of Training

A good guideline is to do this weight training session three times a week with at least a day’s rest in between each session. You should not train to the point that you are too tired to perform your swimming sessions.

Just before and during the competition season reduce weight training sessions to twice a week and increase the time spent on sport-specific training, i.e. exercises that duplicate the movement patterns of each stroke.

Pool training should be your focus during this period. Also start to include plyometric exercises before strength exercises – such as box jumps. Do approximately 10 reps per set with a 3 to 5minute rest between sets.

Professional swimmers are extremely hard workers. Rebecca Adlington and Michael Phelps train throughout the year for 6 days a week. Remember that diet and nutrition should play a large role in your training and also get plenty of sleep.

Web Resources

Military.com provide a good selection of swimming workouts. They emphasise their use during the winter when it is often too cold to run. www.military.com/military-fitness/workouts/popular-swimming-workouts.

Ruthkazez.com has written Fifty Swim Workouts which provides 50 workouts to improve your swimming performance with several beginners workouts. http://ruthkazez.com/50swimworkouts.html

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  33 comments for “Swimming Workout – Sport Specific Circuit Training

  1. James Stuart
    May 15, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    I am looking for build a explosive power for swimming as I am serious swimmer who is keen to improve.

    cheers

    James Stuart

  2. fitbunny43
    October 2, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I think swimming is the same as working out in a gym. People think they burn calories when they eat more. They’re actually only replacing what they lose or perhaps even more calories burned.

  3. Chelsea
    November 24, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Oh, I don’t necessarily agree with that study at all. While it says that “Many people ….” that doesn’t mean we all do. I know for sure that my appetite doesn’t grow after an hour of swimming. All I crave once I’m out is a good dose of water in my system and I’m good to go. To be honest, I think when people get hungry after swimming is also due to their mentality. Of course their body temperature goes down, that’s what a shower in the changing room is for…. it helps warm your body up and is fine afterwards.

  4. Dave
    January 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    This article is a bunch of BS. Look at pro swimmers like Phelps. No body fat. Swimming builds muscle and gives you that toned lean look AND burns fat. If you swim correctly and get your heart rate up you will see great results as long as you diet along with it. Obviously you need to know what you’re doing and and can’t make it a leisure activity. You HAVE to swim hard and for at least 45 minutes with minimal rest.

  5. MotleyHealth
    January 15, 2010 at 12:26 am

    That may well be true. But no not forget, professional swimmers do have a strict diet and spend time in the gym also, and work at a far greater rate than the average person trying to lose a bit of weight.

  6. MotleyHealth
    January 15, 2010 at 12:50 am

    Also, note that it says “in the absence of a controlled diet, swimming has little or no effect on weight loss.” This is the same for many sports and exercise. Research has shown that diet combined with exercise makes you lose weight. The increase in metabolism as a result of exercise is often negligible.

  7. Davey Boy
    January 15, 2010 at 3:21 am

    Hopefully no more people who read this article will be fooled and can actually benefit from swimming, losing weight, and being overall healthy. That is the goal of this website right? Truth and Facts.

    I’d like to think a website dedicated to health and well being would never allow such an article to circulate and if they did, and were given some concrete facts to make them second guess their publication, write up a correction or new article, maybe one that they actually researched and didn’t throw together in a hurry, because that is what this looks like, no, that is what this IS.

  8. Davey Boy
    January 15, 2010 at 3:25 am

    Let me be more specific. I am not a professional swimmer and I only swim 2-3 times a week for about 30 minutes each session. I have lost 15 pounds in 4 months and have lowered my body fat to 10.8%. I am by no means a professional nor do I have a strict diet. I swim as an average person trying to lose a bit of weight. I do not work out at extreme intensity, and anyone (with a little practice) could swim at the same level in the time it took me to do it. And ANY kind of exercise (“in the absence of a controlled diet”) will do squat if you eat whatever you want, so why would you even put that in the article? It is very misleading and only confuses readers who don’t know anything about swimming. Swimming is also great because it builds muscle all over your body AND burns fat. The more muscle you have the higher your metabolism and the more fat you burn. Doesn’t that sound like it is better than say running or cycling? Also, one of the reasons the swimmers weighed more at the end of this study is because the muscle they built weighs more than fat. And the whole part about swimming in cold water has been proven false, it WAS just a theory though. Readers would rather hear the facts. And if you are swimming to the point of getting a good workout, you will raise your body temperature even in cold water. Because of the lower resistance you can’t just float through the water you have to SWIM. People make the mistake of thinking they can barely kick and move their arms and get a good workout. WRONG. But this article is about SWIMMING, there is no magic to losing weight. And YES, Competitive Swimmers are less active outside of their training session because they usually last for 3 hours. Didn’t you say this article was for average people trying to lose a bit of weight? How does that even compare? And finally, swimming builds muscle, but more specifically it tones. You won’t get huge from swimming but you will build muscle. Don’t bother believing anything in this article, if you want to swim make sure you work at it and you will lose weight. Swimming is one of if not the best form of exercise.

  9. MotleyHealth
    January 15, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Davey Boy, this article does not say that swimming will not get you fit, neither does it intend to imply that swimming will not help you lose weight. The article refers to a discussion by Dr. Louise Burke from the Australian Institute of Sport which to explain the empirical evidence that swimmers had higher bodyfat than land based exercisers (reference added above).

    Swimming is an excellent form of exercise, there is no doubt about that. But if you are looking to get very toned, then most people will need to do some land based exercise also – running, cycling etc. Genetics plays a huge role in determining how much fat you hold. You may well have lucky genetics to get down to 10% bodyfat through swimming, but this does not mean that everyone else will respond in the same way.

  10. Davey Boy
    January 15, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    The title should have been, ” Swimming does not work well to help you lose weight or tone and we have a misleading article with a misleading study with a bunch of theories that haven’t been proven to back it up.”

  11. val bobincheck
    January 24, 2010 at 3:45 am

    I have to agree w/ Daveyboy: If I were going to start some kind of exercise program and read this article, I would never swim. I haven’t had a problem w/increase in appetite as I drink water thru my sets and use a nice hot shower afterward-sometimes I can use a sauna depending on where I am swimming. I have lost 23 lbs in 3 months using a healthy diet-lots of fruit and veggies and little white flour or sugar.

  12. MotleyHealth
    January 24, 2010 at 10:34 am

    It seems that this article is a little misleading to say the least. We shall tidy it up and highlight more the benefits for swimming and less the fact that swimming is not the best form of exercise for weight loss.

  13. Pam in Cali
    February 6, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Last summer we went on a vacation to Hawaii for two weeks. We swam in the large hotel pool for about an hour a day, and also swam in the ocean most days. On our two week vacation I lost 12 pounds, from swimming! My pants and shorts that I had packed wouldn’t even stay up on me by the time I left. That’s my personal experience from swimming on a regular basis. I wasn’t even trying to lose weight.I’m a 50 year old woman, by the way.

  14. isabeau
    February 21, 2010 at 1:17 am

    I had a really hard time losing the baby weight after my second child. I was holding on to and extra 10-15lbs for almost a year. I took up swimming and steadily, without changing anything else, I lost that weight. While I do eat healthily, I also did throughout the year that I didn’t lost the baby weight. I try to swim 4-6 times a week and try to do at least 1km each workout. I don’t know about the results of this study, but from my experience swimming is a great weight loss AND toning activity.

  15. MotleyHealth
    February 21, 2010 at 8:18 am

    The study did not say that swimming did not help people to lose weight, just that compared with other forms of exercise, it is not the best way to lose weight. Many professional swimmers do “dry training” to help reduce and burn body fat. But swimming has many advantages over other forms of exercise, mainly concerning the fact that there is less pressure places on joints and it causes less injury.

  16. Swembroek
    May 16, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    I was extremely confused after reading that study, as I have just started swimming for exercise. No exercise has ever left me feeling so stretched and good afterwards, and I even feel as if my back is “elongated”. A good, well exercised feeling. So, do I continue to swim or do I use the boring Orbitreck instead? Yes, I want to lose weight. Yes, I want to become fit. I don’t like exercise, and swimming is the first exercise ever that I really, really enjoy. I’m really unsure as to whether I should continue, or start with something else.

  17. MotleyHealth
    May 17, 2010 at 12:40 am

    IT is a bit misleading. The key point is that swimming is not the best way to lose weight. It is an excellent way to get fit and a healthy form of exercise which will help people lose weight. So keep swimming. The most important factor of any exercise is that you enjoy it, this helps with motivation. If you are looking to cut your body fat to very low levels then you may need to do some dry training like professional swimmers do, but if you just want to be fit and healthy do not worry about the study.

  18. Moosa
    May 18, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    There are research reports and there are research reports. I worked in the sugar industry some time ago and they sponsored one research report that said sugar is not bad for you and it does not cause diabetes. That is partially true but my point is that it all depends on what was the purpose behind the research report.

    Dear Swembroek, if you love swimming and hate other exercises – my recommendation to you is stay with swimming. Weight loss is all about your calorie Bank account. If you are burning (Withdrawing out) more calories than you are eating (Depositing into) then you are going to lose weight. Swimming burns calories – just maintain your diet and you will lose weight.

  19. MotleyHealth
    May 18, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Wise words Moosa. I like the “calorie bank account” idea.

  20. Jeswah
    June 17, 2010 at 7:15 am

    I typically swim pretty frequently, i’m already pretty lean, but was really busy with work, etc. for about 5 months and didnt get to exercise as much as i like, afterwards wanted to trim up a bit. I’m 6’5 and about 215-220, takes a couple weeks to get back into it but after a few weeks i can always tell a difference. The article is right in some ways, you need to mix it up a bit and from my experience, swimming windsprint style at a higher intensity level, like around 80-85% with a couple hard laps in there and short breaks seems to work better than cruising and not really taking breaks, i’ve seen some of the same people going to the pool for a long time, some of them maybe mid thirties, who seem to swim for hours but look the same months down the road. had a pretty big friend who gains weight easily but has a large muscular frame, he can drop a lot of weight with just not ordering the extras in his diet, and swimming around 5 times a week on average. i guess everyone is different, you wont get too cut from swimming: toned shoulders, etc, but like it says, you gotta mix it up.

  21. swimmerkitty
    June 22, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    one thing no one has mentioned is that the body does not lose fat in water. One of the main reasons swimmers have higher body fat % than other sports is that the body saves fat to help keep it afloat.

    That being said all those worried people that want to swim to lose weight. If you are going from being a couch potato to swimming 3-5 times a week of course you are going to lose weight even if you do not change your eating habits because you will be burning more calories than you were sitting on the couch. How much weight you need/intend to lose depends on weather you should incorporate running or something else into your workout regime.

  22. GeekFish
    July 6, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    SwimmerKitty is partially right. Look at the water polo players, they have a great physique but they are not 100% lean due to the fact the they need some fat to float better in the water and make easier their lives. On the other hand, of course and you burn fat with swimming! Try to do interval training swimming for 40 minutes 2-3 times a week and you will see the results, of fat reduce and toning of your muscles.

  23. Lance
    July 27, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    OK, I agree that swimming is best accompanied by other forms of exercise, and I would say the same about any other form as well. What I would like to know, and what was not included in the article is, what was the workout used, if any?
    I’m 39 and was sedentary. I started swimming (yes, for the first time other than putzing around in the pool as a kid) in March 2009. I was 338lbs with a 50 waist size. In May 09, I joined a masters program at the Y, where the real swimming began. By July 09 I was under 300. Nothing changed but swimming. I actually ate *more* food, and did absolutely no other exercise. I burn about 2000 calories, in the water, every 2 hour session that we have. I swim 6 days a week. I am now buying regular size 38 jammers (was 50). That decrease in waist size, is, by the way, exclusively from swimming. I have recently added running, resistance and cycling to the mix, now that my weight is down and my cardio performance is up. Swimming is one of the BEST ways to lose weight IF done correctly. LOTS of interval training and different strokes. Take those same people in that study and give them to a masters coach and your results will be different.

  24. MotleyHealth
    July 31, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Lance. Glad you shared with us. This article is a bit misleading. It is really not aimed at people looking to lose a lot of weight, instead at those looking to trim down the last bit of fat. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise and likewise a great way to lose weight. But, if you are looking to lose the last bit body fat then swimming may not be the best way.

    Well done to you on losing weight and getting fit though, excellent job. Keep up the good work. Maybe soon you will be in the 34 inch jammers again!

  25. SwimmerFan
    August 5, 2010 at 4:46 am

    If you are looking to lose that last bit of body fat then DIET is going to be key, not extra cardio. Running even isn’t going to be the best way to lose the last bit of body fat. People who already have lost weight cannot produce enough energy through cardio to create enough of a deficit. Competing professional athletes usually can and do, but usually us mere mortals cannot. Also, swimmers DO have higher body fat than runners, but fat %s are relative. Competitive swimmers might be 11% where competitive runners are extremely lean at 6%. I’d be the farm that most non-competitive people would take that 11% any day of the week. Also building muscle, ie hypertrophy, comes from weight resistance exercises AND feeding the muscle, you have the eat more.

  26. lucy howard
    October 17, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I hear you James!

    it takes weeks to build to a powerful level – maybe even months! when my brother tried he nearly gave up he felt that it had no impact until I protested for him to carry on. six weeks to 3 mouths later he looked fitter and he was crazy with energy.

    I hope this helps, that’s if that was what you wanted to hear.

  27. Helena
    February 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I am confused after reading this article. After excersizing on land (running, circuits, gym work, skipping and boxing) I have been able to tone up and improve my fitness. BUT my joints are now worn away to the point of having arthritus and I am only early 30’s. I have put on a lot of weight because I can’t work out like I used to. I have just started swimming, this is all I can do now. If it wasn’t for reading the comments, I would be very disheartened by this. Swimming is the only thing that doesn’t leave my knees feeling painful.

  28. MotleyHealth
    February 14, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Hi Helena, swimming is an excellent way to get fit and lose weight. However, it is just not the best way. If it is all you can do, do it. A lot of people stay very fit from swimming. Really the research is talking about cutting off the last of the fat content.

  29. Babu
    March 29, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Hi, due to an extremely hectic work schedule I could do no physical activity for over a year and gained a fair amount of weight, but last summer I started swimming and kept at it since then, today I can do 2km/hour in the pool and I occasionally follow it up with weight training as well, I swim 5-6 days of the week, averaging 2km/day, have trimmed down a lot as a result, am 6’3″, 220 and may take up triathlon training too :)

  30. MotleyHealth
    March 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    That is excellent Babu, well done. We have some cycling workouts and running advice for when you need it!

  31. Mohamad
    April 9, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Thanks for your help
    Your advice was so usefull for my training but I need more exact plan

  32. mahmoud
    January 15, 2012 at 10:53 am

    how many kilos should 11 years old water polo swim ??

  33. MotleyHealth
    January 15, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Sorry Mahmoud, can you re-phrase your question please.

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