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Competitive Swimming: Dryland Exercises with Resistance Bands

Competitive swimmers are required to keep themselves healthy and strong. They cannot afford being couch potatoes if they want to stay in the team. Jelly muscles convert to a bad stroke rate, and a bad stroke rate means poor swimming speed.

On the other end of the spectrum, being overworked can also yield the same results—stress eats up the swimmer. The demand to stay healthy and strong can be difficult, especially for students who juggle time for school, homework, training, leisure, other extracurricular activities, family, friends, and sleeping. Indeed, there is a need for a convenient way to ensure an athletic body at any kind of circumstance and day.

Resistance bands are one of the most convenient exercise tools for athletes. It is made up of a long surgical tubing of 8 to 10 feet and padded handles on each end. It is often used as an alternative to dumbbells and other traditional weight training equipment. Among many benefits, athletes and coaches use resistance bands because it is much easier to store and bring around. It is a “no excuse fitness tool” that swimmers should take advantage of especially during the off seasons.

Furthermore, resistance band exercises engage more muscle groups (like the stabilizer muscles) due to the constant tension it creates. This is relevant because swimming tends to isolate smaller muscle groups in the body, thus causing imbalances that the athlete needs to address. Alex Clarke, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, explains:

“Swimmers often develop muscle imbalances where the adductors and internal rotators of the arm overdevelop, due to the repetitive nature of swimming. The average high school swimmer performs 1 to 2 million strokes annually with each arm! Unfortunately, this leaves a relative weakness of the external rotators and scapular stabilizers – simply because they don’t get used as much.”

Swimming exercises with resistance bands

Resistance bands can be used to simulate swimming motions to improve stroke efficiency without having to get in the water. The following exercises from Coach Ruthy Vesler will require a sturdy pole for the bands to be looped around (see photos for reference).

Vesler is a professional triathlete, a certified personal trainer at the American Council on Exercise, and a coach at USA Triathlon, as well as for the Escondido (Calif.) Swim Club.

Butterfly (double-arm pull-back):

  1. Hold the cords in front of you and step far enough from the pole to create tension with the bands

  2. Bend over at the waist and lower your head

  3. Mimic a butterfly stroke by starting the movement with arms straight and outstretched in front of you, then pull your arms down to your sides with your hands past your hips Remember to start the pull phase with your palms and forearms. Make sure to keep your elbows pointed out and at your shoulder line.

Single arm (freestyle pull-back):

Same as the butterfly, but alternate one arm at a time.

Tricep pull-back:

  1. Use the same starting position as the butterfly but keep your elbows tucked into your sides

  2. Press your arms behind you and squeeze the muscles at the back of your arms at the end of each stroke

Breaststroke pull:

  1. Use the same bent-over starting position as above

  2. Keep your elbows high – do not drop your elbows below a line parallel to your shoulders.

  3. Mimic breaststroke motions with your arms by executing the motion with your palms and forearms

Chest fly:

  1. Stand upright while keeping your arms outstretched at chest height in front of you

  2. Pull each arm to the side and back until your hands are in line with your shoulders

Reverse fly:

  1. Stand upright and position your hands next to your shoulders with elbows at shoulder level

  2. Keeping your arms parallel to your shoulders, push out until you can press your hands together in front of your chest

These dryland swimming exercises can be performed 2-3 times a week, following an interval format wherein the number of strokes per 30-45 seconds/set are increased. Vesler suggests performing 3 sets per exercise. The entire workout would only take about 15 minutes in a day.

Summing it up…

Competitive swimming is not easy – it demands discipline and efficient use of time. It is the athlete’s responsibility to keep himself in check, making sure that his body and health is in good condition regardless of external circumstances. It is, therefore, suggestable to invest in tools and practices that complement such a lifestyle.

Competitive Swimming with The Noodies

The Noodies Swim School helps kickstart children for a competitive track in swimming. We offer a holistic approach that encompasses technical and developmental learning. We teach children how to swim independently and correctly whilst mastering the strokes. Check out our rate and packages here.



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