BeginnerTriathlon TrainingTriathlon/Ironman

Make your time in the gym more worthwhile for the pool

Explosive swimming exercises for the gym hacks that will make a monster in water

Explosive swimming trainingTime in the pool isn't the only way to nail your race in the water.

Doing length after length is obviously one of the main ways to better your swimming. If you’re training for open water, then nothing beats training in it too. Explosive swimming training and endurance is key to powering yourself through torrid tides.

Key muscles used in swimming

Swimmers best friends are their lats, pecs and quads. So to increase our overall efficiency in the water we work to work these to the max in the gym. Work them to hypertrophy.

The Latissimus dorsi or lats are the muscles that give athletes that desired V-shape taper. It runs from inside our armpit to our lower backs down the side of the body. Our pecs, or more specifically pectoralis major, is the largest muscles of the chest. And our quadriceps muscles, yes there more than one, are found at the top and front of our legs.

Training to increase our strength in the pool is not about simulating the work we do in the water but to increase the strength and power. When we then get back into the water it will make a significant improvement in our performance.

How to train to swim?

Chin ups – they’re a great way to get activation of the lats and is an exercise you can progressively make harder by adjusting grip.

  • Hang from a bar with your hands in a neutral position (this means your palms facing each other if possible). If you have a perpendicular bar as pictured below, an underhand grip is best for the lats.
  • Make sure your arms are fully extended and you’re in the lowest position you can lower yourself to.
  • Pull yourself up with your arms keeping your back tight.
    • TIP: to get full engagement of the lats. Before you proceed to pull yourself up, try to get your chest as close to the bar as possible. Weird right? Whilst you’re in a dead hang, keeping your arms straight, try to engage your Scapula and Terres Minor. You can do this by simply slightly leaning your shoulders back and trying to push your chest up to the bar.
  • Make sure your chin reaches or passes the bar.
  • Then lower yourself to the start position and repeat.
Explosive swimming training
Trying out new grips on the pull-up bar!

Try switching up the grip? Maybe beast out and try a wider grip. Work the lats and other parts of the back even more to feel the full benefit of our explosive swimming training methods.


Bench press – a great compound movement that works the chest and parts of the shoulder. The downward phase of a chest press can also work your lats.

  • Lie on a bench flat on your back with the bar roughly above your eyes.
  • To bench press properly and get maximum engagement from your chest, push your shoulders back into the bench and stick your chest out in a similar way we did on the chin up bar.
  • Before grabbing the bar, perform the exercise without it. Put your hands on what would be the top of your press at a comfortable distance. Then bend your arms bringing your hand either side of your chest. Once you’re low enough, reach up and grab the bar. This will make the lowering phase of your work more comfortable.
  • Grab the bar, move it off the stack and position it over your chest. You almost want to bring it down till it touches your chest but don’t let it because this can make the exercise easier. Lower the bar down towards your nipples, don’t let it touch and push back up for one successful rep.
    • TIP: A slow contraction on the downwards phase can work the lats. This technique is something called rep negatives which can be applied to most exercises. You could slow down the downwards phase of your chin-up to really blow out your lats.
Explosive swimming training
Benching his way to success in the water!

The chest press is a fundamental of chest strength and should not be ignored. It’s also one of the best explosive swimming training techniques if you want to be more power in the pool.


Now to slightly generalise it, I’m going to call this the swimmer’s leg exercise. The Back Squat. This is because it’s another compound lift that works many of the needed leg muscles in swimming like the quadriceps, hamstring and glutes. If this is your first time squatting try this.

Stand feet shoulder width apart with no weights. Put your hands either side of your head as if your holding a bar. Look down at the stop in-between the tops of your feet and stare at it. Bend your knees to lower your body down.

What should happen if you keep looking at that spot is your back will have a slight curve and you’ll push your bum out slightly. This is the position you need to squat in to do it safely. Once you feel comfortable lowering yourself into that position with your head facing forward, not down. Grab some light weights and try it with the bar.

  • If you’re working in a squat rack, step under the bar and place it on your upper back.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  • Lift out the rack, step back and stand with your feet shoulder width apart facing ahead of you.
  • Bend your knees, keep your back tight and lower yourself to the squat position.
  • Drive up with your legs to return to the starting position and give a slight, and please make this subtle, thrust forward to give your glutes an extra whack.
  • Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Explosive swimming training
Back Squat – Get those compound moves in their too!

If you’re not already doing these exercises then incorporating them into your swimming plan will certainly be a benefit. These explosive swimming training exercises will help you take your swims up a gear and get your full prepped for the triathlon season ahead.

Joe Tucker
the authorJoe Tucker
Joe is an aspiring fitness journalist looking to get his foot in the industry at A fair-weather runner and sparring sissy who occasionally enjoys rolling down hills ... on two wheels that is. Any story ideas? Feel free to DM him with any ideas.

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