Chrissie Wellington on… Swim training out of the pool

The four-time Ironman champion provides some key drills and gym exercises to keep your swimming on track

Chrissie Wellington preparing to swim

Does your work take you away from the pool regularly? Four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington suggests the following drills and gym exercises that will help keep your swimming on track.


Not being able to train in one of the three disciplines isn’t ideal, but all’s not lost! Focus on what you can do, maximise those opportunities and do the best you can. Even if your swim is relatively slow, your overall performance can improve as a result of increased bike and run ability, supported by targeted gym-based strength work.

To optimise the benefits of land-based training, you must select exercises with mechanical relevance to swimming. For front crawl, forward propulsion comes from the ‘arm pull-down’ and the kick. So I’d focus land-based swim training on developing strength in the relevant muscles.

>>> How to improve your swim in the gym

Even those who swim regularly will benefit from including these strength-building and injury-preventing exercises into their gym sessions. Make sure you warm up first, and then try some of these:


Lie on your stomach with arms stretched over your head. Slowly lift your legs, head and arms, activating your core, lower back, glutes and hamstring muscles. Keep your neck in a neutral position.

Pause about six inches off the ground and slowly lower. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 lifts. Do a child’s pose to stretch your back afterwards.

Flutter kicks

Great for strengthening hip flexors. Lie on your back with your hands underneath your bum. Lift your heels off the floor, keep legs straight and kick from the hips with toes pointed for 20-30secs.


Balance on your toes, upper arms at 90° and forearms on the ground. Keep a strong flat back. Start off at 30secs and gradually increase to 60secs (two sets).

Side planks with rotation are also good. Turn yourself on your side, balance on your elbow, keeping a straight line from head to feet. Gradually rotate around your centre line towards the floor. It doesn’t have to be far, a 5° rotation is enough. Do 3 x 20secs of rotations on each side.


Do regular and rotational sit-ups slowly and deliberately, concentrating on really activating your core.


Hold light weights (between 4-7lbs) at your sides and lift your arms out laterally (90°) to shoulder height, palms down, then lower slowly. Then, keep your arms shoulder width apart, palms facing each other, and lift to shoulder height and lower slowly (two sets of 10-12 reps).

Hold slightly heavier weights (10-15 lbs) next to your head, palms facing a mirror, shoulders and elbows at 90°. Press the weights straight up and extend arms before lowering slowly to the start position.

Trapezius muscles

Do seated rows or replicate the motion using dumbbells and a bench. Pinch your shoulder blades together each time (two sets of 10-12 reps).


A swimmer’s press-up is like a traditional press-up, but harder as you should keep your elbows tucked in tight to your sides at all times. Do them on your knees if necessary.


Arms should be at least shoulder width apart, use an overhand grip (fingers away from you) and pull your chin above the bar. Start with one and build up reps.

Lateral pull-downs

The equivalent to the pulling through the water action in front crawl. Grab the bar with arms extended, slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and keep a flat back. Contract your abs to protect your lower back, then flex your elbows and bring the bar down to chest height. Hold the weight for 2-5secs before slowly returning the bar overhead. Do 2 x 12 reps initially. Keep the weight challenging, but don’t compromise form.

You could also purchase some dryland cords, which are pieces of durable rubber tubing with comfortable handles. Attached to an anchor point, they allow you to simulate swimming by isolating important muscles while building strength and a better range of motion.

Remember that you can use any stroke to get through a tri swim. You can even tread water, roll over and rest on your back, or do breast or backstroke.  So stay positive, focus on what you can do and you’ll be powering past people on the bike and the run in no time.


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