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by Bo Hickey

September 3, 2020

Improve your range of motion and strength for swimming longevity

Your upper body is critical in swimming. Maintaining a proper range of motion throughout your joints and building strength to act as body armor will help you enjoy the sport of swimming for many years to come.

Good range of motion in your upper body also helps unwind the effects of life. Sitting at a desk, long commutes, and other factors affect your upper body in ways that can negatively impact your swimming and your spine health.

Implement these movements in your dryland training to keep your upper body in tip-top shape.

Range of Motion

Your range of motion plays a role in properly managing the forces your body experiences while swimming. When you experience tension during a movement, it opens the door for compensations to develop. These compensations might do the trick for a short time but eventually pain, injury, and frustration can develop.

For this series, complete three rounds of the following exercises. You can use this as a warm-up for your swim practices or as part of your dryland warm-up. These exercises are a great addition to your daily routine.

Remember to breathe. We tend to hold our breath when tension starts to develop. Use your breath as a tool to work through the tension you might be experiencing.

  • Wall angels x 12—Focus on keeping your low back in contact with the wall. Just holding the starting position might be challenging enough. If it is, take a few deep breaths in this position and then release it
  • Shoulder mobility + TB x 12 each side—This is a great way to break up any tense points that you might have developed over the years. This can lead to a short-term improvement in range of motion. Once you have this increase in range of motion, your goal should be to add in some drill work in the water in which you focus on properly using this increased range of motion.
  • Cat/cow x 12—This is a great way to move through your thoracic spine while also exercising your neck and your shoulders. This is also a great exercise to focus on finding a steady flow with your breathing.

Building Strength

Once you complete the range of motion sequence, the next step is to move on to building strength. Not bulk, like what bodybuilders build, but rather strength as body armor, which will help you manage the stressors and forces of swimming and life.

For this series, complete three rounds of the following exercises. Take your time with these movements and, as you build comfort, you can increase the load or resistance level.

With any row or pulling variations, especially during the shoulder pull-apart, avoid any shoulder shrug toward your ears. It’s easy to slip into a shrugged position if you’re not paying attention to your movement. This focus will help you avoid neck pain and properly engage your muscles for these movements.

With any pressing variations, such as push-ups, think about your head position. Mimic the head position you want to see in the water. This is a great way to unlock additional value from your dryland training.

In terms of progression, start with a light load or resistance when you’re first learning a movement. Take your time with the form and pick a few key points to focus on during the learning stage of a movement. As your comfort builds, gradually increase the resistance or weight over time. Progression comes in many forms, not just an increase in weight or resistance. Expressing more range of motion, stability, or less discomfort in the water are also a valuable measure of progression.

Give these exercises a go to get more out of your upper body in and out of the water.


  • Technique and Training


  • Drylands