Article image

by Terry Heggy

December 12, 2019

Effective exercise when time and equipment are limited

When you hear the term “cross-training,” you probably think of trips to the gym where success is measured by tonnage lifted and the size of the sweat puddle you sop up when you finish. But while serious weight lifting is part of an optimal training program, you can benefit from cross-training without needing expensive equipment or huge amounts of time.

Begin by adopting the “I am an athlete” mindset.

  • Look for opportunities to incorporate health and fitness activities into your daily routine. Move more, stretch more, eat better, and embrace “fitness multi-tasking” by adding exercise to otherwise sedentary activities (e.g., stand on one leg during boring meetings, squeeze a stress ball during phone calls, etc.)
  • Adopt a courageous attitude toward deviating from expected behaviors. Just because most people read magazines at the doctor’s office, there’s no reason you can’t stand, stretch, or walk while waiting for your appointment. While others are sitting, you can be improving.
  • Look for specific brief time slots that can be converted into intentional training sessions. Get out of bed 10 minutes earlier, take a shorter shower, set your gear out the night before, etc.

Here are some suggestions for putting 10 minutes to good use.


Cardiovascular fitness (i.e., workload capacity of the heart and lungs) comes from the longer workouts you get with regular Masters swim practices. The short opportunity sessions discussed here should instead work each leg of the anaerobic tripod:

  • Flexibility—Flexibility enhances your ability to achieve proper form in the water and reduces energy wasted in overcoming resistance from tightness.
  • Stabilizers—Strong core and stabilizer muscles translate stroke energy into propulsion by efficiently keeping the body aligned as power is applied.
  • Prime movers—Extra strength in the big muscles that handle the bulk of propulsion workload (triceps, lats, quads, calves, etc.) results in more available power.

You may focus on one element for the entire 10 minutes, or you can briefly hit all three. As long as your long-term program includes a variety of work in all three categories, you’ll translate these short sessions into swimming success.

Start with six repeats of one minute of exercise with 30 seconds rest/transition. Be creative. Surprise your muscles with variations (different angles and orientations, added resistance, longer durations, etc.) If you can confirm that it’s safe, consider using anything you find in your environment (stretch bands, chairs, hand weights, water jugs, etc.). As you advance, combine movements (lunges with towel stretches or bicep curls, chin-ups with leg lifts, etc.) to challenge multiple systems at once.


Here are a few suggestions for movements to perform (or positions to hold) to stimulate your body to develop better support for faster swimming. If you’re unsure of your ability to safely perform any of these elements, check with a doctor before making the attempt. Start out easy; increase the range of motion and level of difficulty gradually as you adapt. Progression, variation, and recovery are the keys to growth, so avoid repeating the exact same routine without change. Don’t overdo it, but feel free to add more 10-minute sessions when you identify other schedule gaps. Soon, all your previously idle time will become your opportunity for excellence.


  • Pectoral stretch—Loosen your chest by placing your hands on a doorframe and leaning forward to increase the range of motion in your shoulders. Alternates include using a towel or having a friend gently help with the stretch.
  • Towel stretch—Hold a towel behind your back with one elbow pointing upward while the other arm pulls down to loosen the lats.
  • Ankle stretch—Sit on the top of your feet on a padded surface to gently stretch the tendon in front of the ankle. Stretch the same area from a standing position by pulling up on the toes with your leg bent behind you.
  • Iliotibial band stretch—Cross one ankle over the opposite thigh to stretch the outside of the large upper leg area (also called the Figure-4 stretch).
  • Shoulder stretch—Place your hands on a wall and bend forward to create gentle stretching pressure similar to holding a streamline position.
  • Myofascial release—Also known as “rolling it out”, loosen knotted muscles with massage or other direct pressure, using fist/knuckles, a ball, rolling pin, or foam roller when available.

Core Stabilizers

  • Plank—Work the abdominal muscles by holding a rigid push-up pose. Variations include one arm, side plank, face-up, and plank with arm-lifts.
  • V-position leg lift—Sit on a pad and keep your torso straight as you lift both legs off the floor into a V. Add difficulty by holding a ball, lifting dumbbells, or touching the floor on alternating sides.
  • Lunge—Place one foot forward and one back, shoulder-width apart. The front tibia should be vertical while the front thigh is horizontal. Variants include moving forward by alternating the forward leg, and holding the pose while moving the arms (bicep curls, triceps extensions, etc.)
  • Levitation—Hold the legs up while supporting yourself with arms only on a pool ladder or parallel bar/dip bar. Tighten the core and add leg lifts or rotational body twists for extra difficulty.
  • Base challenge—Activate your core by standing on one leg or standing on a safe but unstable surface (BOSU, foam pad, etc.). Challenge yourself by moving your arms with or without weights, bending over or side-to-side, or hopping.

Prime Movers

  • Push-ups—Work the arms and chest with standard or modified push-ups. Place hands on an elevated surface for less resistance. For additional challenge, place hands below your feet or push up hard enough to clap between reps.
  • Pull ups—Work the lats by lifting your body up using any secure rail or beam. (Hint: A shower curtain rod is NOT secure.) The movement does not have to be completely vertical; you can pull up from a supine position using chairs or a ladder, etc.
  • Dips—Use a chair or desk to work triceps by lowering yourself and extending the triceps to rise back up.
  • Squats—Keeping knees parallel and back straight, lower yourself to engage the thighs, then rise back up. Protect the knees by dropping no further when your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Invisible chair—Place your back against the wall and slide down until you’re in a sitting position with no chair. Add difficulty by shifting your foot position to change the pressure on each leg.

This list merely scratches the surface. Find other equipment-free exercises online or invent your own. The point is to develop workout habits require only small chunks of time to make you a better swimmer.


  • Technique and Training


  • Drylands
  • Cross Training