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by Chris Ritter

December 2, 2015

Fight to keep good posture and produce power in the water

The postural muscles of the mid- and upper-back provide a foundation from which to produce power while swimming. Strengthening these muscles with the following exercises might improve your speed in the water. These exercises may not be very fancy or exciting, but they’re essential for you as a swimmer—they’ll offer you a fighting chance of keeping good posture throughout a lifetime in this sport.

Throughout this article series, I’m breaking down some simple exercise progressions from the categories I use when writing strength-training programs. If you’re unfamiliar with the different categories that your strength program should cover, be sure to review one of my earlier articles, “Strength Training: A Balanced Approach.”

For a quick review here are the categories that you should train consistently if you want a balanced program with a focus on injury reduction and performance enhancement:

In this article, we’re focusing on the second bullet point, pulling exercises, on the horizontal plane.

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


The assessment for this movement is the same for vertical pulling (the pull-up test). You start from a hanging position on a pull-up bar and try and pull yourself up until your chin reaches over the bar. Remember, a pull-up means that your palms are facing away from your face while a chin-up is with your palms facing you. If you can do at least five or more reps, you can progress to Level 2 exercises. (Although you can still gain from doing Level 1 exercises even if you did five).

If you can’t do one pull-up, perform a Flexed Arm Hang assessment. Your starting position is at the top of a pull-up movement, so your chin starts above the bar. Then, time how long you can hold that position until you have to drop down. The results of this assessment will help you know where to begin within the Level 1 exercises.

Level 1

These are basic exercises that build the foundation of your back’s strength and ability to hold good posture. Even if you tested above this level, it’s always wise to come back and visit these exercises every so often.

  • Batwing + Dumbbell: Lie on your stomach on a bench with your arms hanging toward to the floor. With dumbbells in each hand, pinch your shoulder blades together and squeeze your elbows up as high and as hard as you can. After holding in the top position for 3 to 5 seconds, lower the dumbbells to the floor and rest a few seconds before performing the next rep. Perform four to eight reps with a weight that is challenging.
  • Row + TRX: Holding a TRX or other suspension system, walk to the angle that will be difficult for 10 reps. This will probably require some trial and error, but the more directly underneath your feet are to the anchor of the TRX, the harder it will be for you to complete the exercise. Stay tall and don’t throw your head forward as you row. Perform 10 reps at the appropriate angle.
  • Single-arm Row + Dumbbell: Stand facing the long side of a weight bench, and bend over. Align your head, back, and hips in a horizontal line, and place one hand on a bench. Hold a dumbbell in the other hand. With the arm that’s holding the dumbbell, pinch your shoulder blade back and pull your elbow up as high as you can. Slowly lower back down. Perform six to 12 reps with a challenging weight.

Level 2

Once you’re proficient at Level 1 exercises, you can move on to the exercises below. Remember, it’s always good to revisit the basics from time to time.

  • Row + Barbell: Holding a barbell with an underhand grip, lean your torso as close to horizontal as you can while keeping an engaged back. Pinch your shoulder blades together and pull the barbell towards your belly button. Lower back down in a controlled manner while keeping your back muscles engaged. Perform four to 10 reps with a challenging weight.
  • Bent Knee Row + TRX: Holding a TRX or other suspension system, place your feet flat on the ground directly under the TRX and bend at the knees so your torso is horizontal to the floor. Pinch your shoulder blades together and pull your elbows back as far as you can. Be sure to lead with your chest, not your head. Perform at least six reps and up to 20 with good form.

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


  • Technique and Training


  • Drylands
  • Weight Training