Encouraging More Adults to Swim
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Technique and Training

Vertical Core Progressions

Develop a solid foundation for stronger swimming

Chris Ritter | January 15, 2016

Although swimming is done in a horizontal position, it’s valuable to engage muscles in different orientations. Many people don’t realize that you can do core work in a vertical position. Remember, your core is primarily meant to stabilize your body as well as transfer energy from one part of the body to another. Although gravity is less of a factor in swimming, it’s vital to be strong in a standing position.

Developing more core strength specifically in a vertical position can translate into being more braced and tight when you swim through the water. When your core is engaged in the water, you’ll be able to transfer more power into your catch and increase distance per stroke.


If you’re unfamiliar with the different categories that your strength program should cover be sure to review, “Strength Training: A Balanced Approach.”

Here are the categories that you should train consistently for a balanced program with a focus on injury reduction and performance enhancement:

In this article, we’ll be reviewing that last bullet point: core progressions done in a vertical or standing position.

Important: Before you begin, review the videos of the exercises and progressions for a clearer understanding of all of the movements and variations.


To help identify at which level you should start, see if you can perform a front bridge for 1 minute, as well as a side bridge, for 1 minute on each side. If you cannot perform all three tests successfully, start at Level 1. If you successfully held a 1-minute bridge in all three positions, start at Level 2 (but you can always do Level 1 exercises for a lower intensity or for refining your technique).

Level 1

Part of being strong in your core is learning to recruit and fire your hip muscles as well as staying in a braced or tight position throughout your core. These introductory exercises will develop this athletic attribute.

  • Farmer Carry + Dumbbell: Standing tall with shoulders back and with good posture, slowly walk forward with dumbbells in both hands, at your sides. The weight should be fairly challenging and you should walk about 20 yards. Keep your form with tall posture while walking.
  • Core Push + Cable: While standing tall with feet planted a little wider you’re your shoulder width, grab a handle from a cable machine and bring it to your chest. While creating tension in your midsection and through your feet into the ground, slowly push the handle forward with both arms until at full extension and then return to your chest. The weight should be challenging for eight to 12 reps on each side.

Level 2

This level is appropriate if you’ve passed all three bridge tests or become technically proficient at the exercises in Level 1.

  • Suitcase Carry + Dumbbell: Standing tall with shoulders back and good posture, slowly walk forward with a dumbbell in one hand at your side. The weight should be fairly challenging and you should walk about 20 yards. Keep your form with tall posture throughout walking and resist leaning towards the side with the dumbbell.
  • Waiter Carry + Dumbbell: Standing tall with shoulders back and good posture, take a dumbbell in one hand and slowly raise it directly over head. Make sure that your shoulder is “sunk in” and not actively being raised up. Thank about it more as balancing the weight overhead rather than pressing the weight overhead. Once you’re in position, walk about 20 yards. Keep your form with tall posture and resist leaning one way or the other. As you get comfortable with the exercise, increase the weight until it’s challenging.

Remember to watch all the videos of these exercises before you begin.

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About the Author—Chris Ritter

Chris Ritter is the founder of RITTER Sports Performance online training programs and the author of the e-book, SURGE STRENGTH, which details how to strength train specifically for swimming performance. Ritter, a swimmer himself, has a degree in kinesiology and exercise science and he specializes in training athletes of diverse abilities, ranging from beginners to Olympians. Follow him on Twitter @RITTERSP or like his Facebook page for updates and training tips.

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