The density of water means you get more resistance from every pull or kick than you would on land, and these drills really make that work for you. Swimming laps already does a lot to build your upper body and legs, but these drills can get you extra jacked. Beth Jones, a swim coach and personal trainer with PlayTri in Dallas, explains how to get the biggest benefits from each exercise.
Shred Your Legs: Tombstone Drill
Make kicking more challenging by turning the kickboard vertically in the water (so the flat part is facing the wall in front of you). Now, kick. Hard.
The board creates extra resistance so you have to engage your hip flexors, quads and hamstrings more than you would in a standard kick set, explains Jones. If you don’t feel it in these areas, you may be kicking from your knees. “Instead, think of kicking with a straight leg, but a soft knee,” she says.
For extra strength: Do the tombstone drill for one to two lengths of the pool. Then leave the kickboard on deck and do one to two more lengths of sprint kicking. “You’ll feel like you’re flying now that the resistance is off,” she says. And it asks your legs to perform under fatigue, which helps build strength and power.
Build Your Lats: Swim with Paddles
If your stroke is already pretty efficient, do a segment of your swim workout with swim paddles. These add even more resistance so you build your lats. Paddles should be only a little larger than your hand, and should have enough holes in them to take away some of the stress on your shoulders. Start with a short set—even as little as 200 yards or meters—and gradually work up to using them for longer ones.
If you’re a beginning swimmer, wait a while before using paddles, since stroke errors—like the very common one of letting your elbow drop to the bottom of the pool—can put huge, unhelpful, injury-producing stress on your shoulders when you add paddles to the equation. That builds pain, not muscle.
Sculpt Your Triceps: Splashback Drill
Focusing on the very back of your stroke can build your triceps—and make you faster in the water in the process. To do that: Think about splashing water up behind you as you finish each stroke. Some coaches call this drill “rooster tail” and have their swimmers try to create that much of a splash behind them after their hands pass their hips underwater.
“Really exaggerate this motion,” says Jones. Create a lot of splash and you’ll feel it in your triceps. In your regular swims, see if you can splash less but still push that water away behind you. “A lot of people miss that last part of their stroke,” she says, and miss out on some of the power they could generate.
Tighten Your Core: Kicks with Rotation
This is pretty much nobody’s favourite drill the first time they do it, but it’s great for your core and for your swim technique. Basically, you’re going to kick down the pool with your hands at your sides. Leading with your head. No arms to help you out.
To do it: Push off the wall face down, hands at your sides. Turn your body to face the right side of the pool—your navel will be facing the right-hand wall of the pool. Keep a steady flutter kick going and use your hips to turn your navel to the left wall (no arms, no hands). Do a few kicks that way and turn back to the right, and so on until you’re at the other end. Switch to the other side when you lose stability on the one you’re working.
This is seriously not easy. But it’s worth it. Do it better by keeping your kicks nice and small, “as if your legs are in a circular garbage can and you can’t kick outside that circle,” Jones says. “I’m a big fan of using a swim snorkel,” she says, so you don’t have to worry about breathing and can just think about how to engage your core. If you don’t have one, you can sneak in a breath when you need it. Either way, this seemingly simple drill requires you to recruit your core, which makes you swim better (and look great on deck, too).
By Marty Munson