How to build swim strength and stay injury free

Work on your swim-specific strength through the winter and swim injury-free into the new season


Investing time in functional strength and conditioning will help prevent frustrating injuries, and also lay stronger foundations for efficient stroke mechanics and enhanced performance. 


Common swim injuries of the shoulders, like swimmer’s shoulder, and lower back can be simply prevented by strengthening your shoulder rotator cuff muscles, maintaining a range of movement, particularly in the thoracic spine, shoulders and chest, and by strengthening deep core and rotational trunk muscles. By developing your upper-body functional strength and your leg kick, you’ll also see improvements in holding an efficient body position, swim technique while fatigued, and performance.

Functional strength sets such as this one can be added to your autumn swim plans, or elements of it can be integrated into swim sessions as a warm-up or strength sets for time efficiency. Remember, correct muscle recruitment and form are as key as progressively loading these exercises.


6 x yoga ‘sun salutation’ sequence

2 x 20 press-ups

From 10-20, alternate taking one hand off to tap opposite shoulder

2 x shoulder matrix

Lie face down, arms to side, perform 10 small forward rotations followed by 10 backward. Repeat with arms extended above head, then 10 small arm lifts in both positions

5 x core plank matrix

Front plank, hold with good alignment, transition onto side plank hold, transition to front hold, transition to other side hold. Build from 10sec to 30sec holds

2 x 10 superman back extensions

Lie face down, alternate arms/legs


4 x 100m build

20sec rest between reps


6 x 100m kick

As 25m tombstone kick, 25m easy kick, 50m streamline sidekick with fins

30sec rest between reps

6 x 150m

100m with resistance (drag parachute/shorts, or arms only with pull buoy and band)/50m unresisted

30sec rest between reps


200m mixed stroke including back stroke


Perform strength exercises unloaded initially. Reduce the kick set to 50m repeats or wear fins for the resisted kick, and use limited drag or just a pull buoy for the arm set.



Gradually increase the kick set, repeat distances and totals, and use lighter resistance but swim longer resisted intervals to develop strength endurance rather than power.

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