5 dryland exercises that will improve your strokes

No matter what your skill level is in the pool, there is always room to improve your strength. I'm not talking about massive amounts of weight lifting or bulking up. I'm talking about improving your core strength. When we swim, we are constantly engaging our cores into every movement. For example, the combined coordination between your core and arm muscles allows you to generate more force to your swimming stroke. 

Many novice and intermediate swimmers have trouble with this concept initially. They think that if they move their arms and legs are fast as they can or as big as they can that will get them from the start to finish in record time. As we've discussed in the past, this is never the case. Our limbs are just extensions to our true power generator -- the core. Having a strong core is truly the greatest secret into how to swim faster.

When we engage our abs, chest muscles, laterals, and lower back, we become much more powerful in the water. The problem though is that as humans, we've constructed our lives to be seated frequently throughout the day. We walk around with terrible posture and we focus on strength in other places. Today we're going to introduce you to five exercises that will help improve your overall core strength and increase your power in the water without getting wet.

For each of these exercises, you want to try and do them for about 30 - 45 seconds each, then repeat the circuit three times. 

Air Kicks

One of my ultimate favorites and the first on our list is air kicks. This is a simple exercise that can be done just about anywhere and at any time. It helps improve your ab and lower back strength while also helping you improve your straight leg kicking.

For this exercise to work properly, you must lay down on your back. If you are new to the exercise, place your hands under your butt or beside your hips. For a greater challenge, try placing your hands behind your head in a streamline. While in this position, lift your legs up and lower them until your lower back feels like it's about to come off the floor. You don't want your lower back to actually leave the ground so find that position where it feels like it needs to arch and come off.

Once you've found that position, begin to kick with straight legs. Just like in the water, you don't want to make large kicks. Small fast kicks are the goal, but make sure that you are using your whole leg without any bend in your knees.


The next exercise focuses a little more on the lower back. To perform the superman movement, lie facedown with your arms extended forward, palms facing down, legs straight back and together. Raise your arms and legs a few inches off the floor, then simultaneously lift your left arm and right leg six to eight inches. Keeping your head and chest lifted, switch arms and legs, lifting your right arm and left leg. Hold this position for 1 - 2 seconds then lower arms and legs back down. That's one rep. 

When you lift back sure that you tighten your glute muscles. Make sure that your upper thighs and chest are coming off the ground. Then lower down and go directly into the next one. This exercise is particularly good for building up your lower back strength in Butterfly. Find a nice rhythm without taking a break.  

Russian Twists

The first two exercises were used to strengthen your front and back muscle groups, but we can't neglect the side abs or obliques. Having strong obliques is a crucial part of swimming Freestyle or Backstroke as we are constantly shifting our position from one side of our body to the other as we pull. 

For the motion, you want to sit up straight with your legs bent at about 90 degrees. Then twist your body slowly to the left and then back, repeat to the other side. Make sure when you do this exercise you also turn your head with the body so that everything in your upper body stays in align. For more advanced swimmers, you can lift your feet off the ground or include a medicine ball. 


Planks are a great way to simulate the proper body position that is needed for swimming. On either your elbows or with your arms straight, keep your back flat and stay up on your toes. Pull your belly button in and hold the position. Make sure that you keep your shoulders over your hands or elbows. If you find you are leaning back this will put stress on our shoulders and can cause injury. Keep everything forward. 

Make sure when you are doing this exercise keep your back flat. You never want to have your hips shift back and up. Keep everything aligned and flat.

To make this exercise more challenging, try lifting your opposite arm and leg off the ground and hold it for 10 seconds, then bring them down and repeat with the other arm and leg. This helps engage some of the smaller muscle groups and increases your stability.  


Our final exercise is the pushup. This helps increase your chest and triceps strength. Most people don't think about their triceps in swimming, but there are lots of instances where using them can make a huge difference in your stroke. Particularly at the end of your Freestyle pull as you extend your arm back past your hips. That final flick of water is all triceps.

The pushup also helps build shoulder muscles as well and can help prevent shoulder injuries as well.

Once you've mastered the basic pushup, you can add variations like the T-pushup where you do a full pushup and then rotate your body to a position where your arm is pointed directly up to the sky. Then rotate back down and repeat on the other side.

Another variation includes doing pike pushups on a stability ball. For exercise, put your feet on the stability ball and then do a pushup then bring your legs and the stability ball into your chest in either a crunch or pike position.

Wrapping Up

We've presented you with a small portion of the core exercises you can do to help strengthen your swimming. The truth is there are tons of different exercises that you can incorporate into your workout as either part of your dynamic warmups or dryland training after that will help you build a solid core. Not only will this core strength improve your swimming but it will also help you in other parts of your life away from the pool.

Want a more detailed dynamic warmup plan to incorporate into your swimming training? Join our Swimmer Insider program for access to our full exercise list, workouts, videos and more. Try risk-free for 7 days. Finally, if you found this post interesting and informative, we would really appreciate you sharing it with your friends and loved ones.