Cross Training for Swimming

Cross training for swimming is a delicate balance. As any triathlete can tell you, too much running and cycling can decrease ankle flexibility (not great for your kick) and increase muscle mass in the legs to the point of changing body position in the water. The key with cross training is to do enough to reap the benefits without hindering your swimming performance.

Target the purpose of your cross training – what you are trying to gain? Take an honest look at your swimming and decide what, if any, of the following areas need improvement.


Endurance. A smartly placed run or bike in your training program can enhance  aerobic capacity, and these gains translate into swimming endurance. Such transfers are not as specific as a long training swim would be, but sometimes it is nice to switch it up, and other times you just don’t have time or access to get to the water. If the intended benefits are aerobic, make sure you keep the pace aerobic. A good measure is to make sure you can easily hold a conversation throughout the effort. While pushing harder may be a better workout, the gains you’ll be making will be more specific to biking and running, while aerobic gains can more easily translate to swimming. Careful not to bike or run so much that you get lead legs or stiff ankles. Other great activities are rowing, cross-country skiing, and paddling.


Flexibility. If you commonly find your body stiff and tight at the beginning of swim practice, working on your flexibility may be helpful. If you’re stretching before swimming, stick to dynamic stretches like arm circles and swings. Static stretches should be reserved for after workouts when the body is warm, if at all (many swimmers have loose shoulder joints so caution should be taken when performing shoulder stretches). Yoga is a great activity that provides both strengthening and flexibility across a wide variety of muscle groups.


Strength. Strengthening swimming muscles can only help swimming if it is specific to the speed of the movement you’re making in the water. So if you’re performing lat pulldowns, do so at your stroke rate. Bring a Tempo Trainer to keep you on target. If the gym isn’t your thing, grab a Dryland Cord. Since bulkier bodies are more difficult to move through the water, the goal is not to increase muscle mass, but to increase strength and muscular endurance. High reps (12-15) with low weight (or the cord) are useful 2-3 times per week. Keep in mind that all bodies are different – monitor any changes to your body composition and body position in the water when beginning a new weight training program to avoid swimming setbacks and maximize gains.


Stability. Regardless of your dryland goals, every swimmer can benefit from maintaining shoulder health. Even if you’ve never had shoulder problem, a few simple exercises can keep you out of trouble. Swimming involves considerable internal rotation of the shoulder and pulling in the front (a.k.a. rolling the shoulders forward). Counter this with external rotation and back and deltoid exercises. Grab your Dryland Cord for the external rotation, rows, and front, middle, and rear deltoid exercises. If you have a core routine, add in reverse crunches to strengthen your back as well.

Happy cross training!


Jen Schumacher

Marathon Swimmer,

Sport Psychology Consultant,