Should swimmers lift weights? (5 Simple Answers)

Lifting weights adds power in the water

As a competitive swimmer, my daughter started weight training in high school. I wasn’t sure if weight lifting would help that much, since she was already a fast swimmer. But lifting weights made a huge difference.

Swimmers should lift weights to get faster and protect against injuries. Stroke specific lifting increases your power in the water. Leg and back weight lifting makes you faster off the block and explosive on turns. Lifting makes bones and tendons stronger, helping to prevent injuries.

I’m just a swim parent, not a trainer or coach. Talk to your swimmer’s coach about lifting before they start. But weight lifting has had a big impact on my daughter dropping time in events.

Read on for more details on what I’ve learned.

Stroke Specific Weight Lifting For Swimming Power

Butterfly swimming technique

There’s no substitute for swimming in the pool. You must build your cardio endurance and develop good swimming technique.

If your swimmer is young, just starting out, or only doing summer swim, weight training may not be appropriate.

But stroke specific weight training will make your muscles stronger and give you more power in the water. This can lead to faster times and easier recovery after a meet.

High level swimmers will often lift weights 3 or more times a week. College swimmers, Olympians and professional swimmers definitely lift as part of normal training.

Think about the movements you make when swimming each stroke. By focusing your weight training on those specific muscles and movements, you can improve your results more than just swimming laps in the pool.

Here are some ideas for upper body weight training for swimmers.

StrokeStroke specific weight lifting examples
ButterflyShoulder raises, lat pulldowns, bench press
BreaststrokeShoulder raises, biceps curl, triceps extension
BackstrokeOverhead press, diagonal shoulder pulls
FreestyleLat pulldowns, shoulder raises, weighted pull-ups


You mainly use your shoulders, lats, and chest muscles during the butterfly stroke.

Shoulders as you lift your arms out and pull them forward. Chest muscles as you thrust forward into the water. And lats as you pull through to finish the stroke.

Knowing this, a few lifts make sense to me:

  • front and side shoulder raises
  • overhead press
  • lat pulldowns
  • bench press
  • wide chest fly’s


In the breaststroke it seems like you use the shoulders and lats also. But as you pull through you also use your arms.

So in addition to the lifts above, I’d add:

  • biceps curls
  • triceps press


You obviously use your shoulders a lot in backstroke.

So here again the following makes sense:

  • front shoulder raises
  • overhead press
  • diagonal shoulder pulls
  • triceps extension


Freestyle is not as taxing on your shoulders as backstroke or butterfly.

You should still focus on:

  • shoulder raises
  • lat pulldowns
  • weighted pull-ups

Remember I am not a trainer, so consult with your coach about what’s best for you. I just know these lifts have helped my daughter set new PR’s.

Weight Lifting To Get Faster Off The Blocks And On Turns

Deadlifts add power off the blocks

I heard the fastest a swimmer will move is when they’re leaving the starting block. The second fastest is when pushing off the wall on a turn.

So it makes sense to lift weights that make your starts explosive and your turns powerful.

Weight training that targets the legs, glutes and back makes sense. These are the muscles you use when going from a “take your marks” position to a streamlined entry into the water.

Some examples:

  • squats
  • cleans
  • deadlifts

Please talk to a trainer before starting on these. Learning the right technique and using the appropriate weight is critical.

These are not so intuitive. It took my daughter months to get her clean technique correct.

Swimming Injury Prevention Through Lifting Weights

Lifting helps prevent swimming injuries

Getting injured as a swimmer is rough. Missing just a couple of weeks in the pool can really set you back.

Weight lifting, if done correctly, can help with injury prevention.


Lifting weights makes bones and tendons stronger. You can increase the tension strength of your muscles more than just swimming laps.

Certain lifts can also increase the range of motion in your hips, shoulders, and legs. That can help reduce repetitive motion stress on your joints.

Consult with your coach or trainer to make sure the type of lifting and the weight is appropriate for you. You always want to start with proper technique before adding weight.

The last thing you want to do is CAUSE an injury while lifting weights.

Add A Cardio Workout That’s Not In The Pool

One exercise during a HIIT session

Weight lifting can add a different cardio workout for swimmers. There’s nothing as good as swimming laps for cardio, but it’s good to vary your cardio workouts.

By doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), you raise your heart rate while lifting and work your lungs too.

HIIT is sometimes just referred to as “intervals” or “circuit training”.

You basically have a series of different weight lifting and cardio exercises which you rotate through. By taking only a short break between them, you maintain a higher heart rate.

You can get a serious workout and cardio exercise in a short amount of time.

For example you could start with a set of 15 lat pull downs, then go immediately into 10 box jumps. When you finish that you move into 20 biceps curls. Then repeat the circuit 2 more times.

You work different muscle groups in a short amount of time. This can be quite strenuous and great for your heart.

As with everything, start easy and work your way up.

Spend Time With Friends Not Just Swimming Laps

Lifting weights can be fun and social

My daughter loves her time in the weight room because you can talk with your friends.

When she’s in the water she has ear plugs and a cap on. That makes it almost impossible to chat with people between sets. And she usually has to leave practice quickly to get to school or home for dinner.

Swimming practice can be monotonous. You spend a lot of time with just your thoughts as you go back and forth.

I think it’s important to have a social aspects that weight lifting provides.

Of course there should be no goofing off. But working out to music and catching up with friends can help motivate swimmers to go to that Saturday morning practice.

Weight Lifting Can Be Great For Swimmers

There are lots of benefits of weight lifting for swimmers:

  • stroke specific lifting for power
  • getting faster off the blocks and on turns
  • injury prevention
  • adding a different cardio workout
  • socializing with friends

It can also bring some positive competition between teammates.

Competitive swimmers often thrive on friendly competition. That can accelerate their results in the pool. There’s no reason the weight room can’t be part of that drive to excel.

I think my daughter has become more confident as a person from lifting and getting stronger. I’ve noticed physical changes, and she continues to swim new PR’s.

The benefits of swimmers lifting weights goes beyond just success in the pool.

Remember to talk to your swimmer’s coach or trainer before starting a weight lifting program.

Tommy Sikes

I swam as a kid. But most of my experience is as a swim parent. My kids did summer swim, high school, and club swim. My daughter has committed to swim at UGA in 2024 as a sprint freestyler. I share what I learn about training, swim equipment, and the college recruiting process.

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