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Dryland Strength Moves for Swimmers

BY Tatjana Bill

No Pool? No problem. You can perfect your stroke and get stronger almost anywhere with these key strength moves.

Pool closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have left swimmers scrambling to maintain their hard-earned fitness. Washing your hands frequently is no substitute for a “water feeling,” and the standard bathtub is, at best, only suited for practicing your kick in a semi-extended position (Daniela Ryf tried it!) For the majority of us pool-less water rats, times are tough. But do not despair! You can actually use this time at home to perfect your stroke and build your strength. 

For dryland swim training, a Vasa swim trainer is the number one choice. It is basically a moving bench with resistance bands attached, to recreate the position and feeling of swimming in a pool. Unfortunately, the Vermont-based company is temporarily closed due to the pandemic—so you may be facing a long wait time to go this route.

A cheaper, more easily available and effective option is a set of simple stretch cords. Frequently used for warm-up and pre-race activation purposes, stretch cords can be used to replace swim training, too. Their big advantage is that by placing yourself in front of the mirror, you can control your “underwater” movement. And by choosing the strength of the cord, you can increase the difficulty of your stroke. A 20-minute stretch cord session can actually replace a 60-minute swim session  in terms of loading on your muscles.  

Two main drills are the freestyle and butterfly underwater moves. By adding several S&C drills in between you can design a really hard workout to train both technique and swim-specific muscles. Here is a suggestion for the Iron-swim-power circuit.

Freestyle pullback 

Attach your cord to a vertical surface at sternum level, using a door or hook. Grab the handles, raise your arms above your head (mimicking the full extension of your swim stroke) and back up until your desired resistance is reached. Bend slightly at the waist and pull one arm back to your thigh, as you would in a freestyle stroke. Repeat with your left arm as your right returns to the starting position. Repeat in intervals as desired. 

Butterfly Two-Arm Pullback

Stand in the same starting position, and pull both arms back at the same time, keeping your core engaged. 

Dumbbell Kickback

Stand next to a weight bench or couch, and bend at the hips so your nearest hand and knee are resting on the surface—similar to the setup for a bent row. With an engaged core, lift a light weight to chest height, then extend back towards your hip, using your tricep. 

Blackburn drill 

Lay on your stomach on a mat or exercise ball, and raise your arms, chest, and legs off the ground, “superman” style. Extend both arms in front of you, then pull them back towards your hips. Repeat as desired.

Elevated push-up.

To increase the difficulty of a standard push up, try elevating your feet on a couch or exercise ball.   

When showering afterward, close your eyes and visualize yourself swimming with the power and perfect stoke you have just been practicing. Technique training coupled with visualization will not only keep you afloat in pool-less times, but may actually help you come back faster and mentally stronger than ever. 

In addition to the moves above, there are plenty of highly-effective workouts you can do with limited space and gear! To give your days some structure and freshen up your routine (including bike and run), try one of my “anti-virus no pool & home gym” training plans for beginner, intermediate, and advanced level triathletes.

Check them out, stay healthy, and get motivated! We are training for the better things to come!

Strength Training Plans For Triathletes

Strength Training for Triathletes

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About Tatjana Bill

Tatjana Bill (Ivanova) has coached endurance athletes for more than 20 years. Her qualifications include Elite Coach A by the German Triathlon Union, Level 2 TrainingPeaks, IRONMAN and Trisutto. She is a 20x IRONMAN finisher (2xKona), trail runner and cross-country skier. All her athletes, from first-time marathoners to IRONMAN World Championship qualifiers, have achieved their personal goals and finished their races with a smile. Learn more at

“Joy in the effort” is Tatjana´s mantra for training and racing.

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