Article image

by Matt Donovan

February 15, 2019

Training your core in a swim-specific manner is important

There are two things that you’ll hear on almost any pool deck: a coach telling a swimmer he or she needs a stronger core and the swimmer saying he or she doesn’t like doing sit-ups.

There are a few misconceptions with both of those statements. First, most swimmers have very good core strength. They just need to learn how to engage their core in a swim-specific manner. Second, swimmers, by nature, can perform most fitness activities better in the water (and if you were an age-group swimmer in the 1990s or earlier, you probably have nightmares about doing hundreds of sit-ups on a kickboard).

Here are three ways to work your core in the pool to strengthen and, more importantly, train your core in a swim-specific manner.

Vertical Kick in the Deep End

A classic, but don’t be afraid to spice it up. The best way to do this is with a partner and alternating set periods of time. One swimmer can do vertical kick for 10, 20, or 30 seconds while the other is resting (treading water, not holding onto the wall or lane line).

Be certain that you’re standing tall in the water. Don’t hunch your back or tuck your knees. Proper vertical kick trains your core in a swim-specific manner.

Your partner should be watching your form and reminding you to be tall in the water. When you’re confident with your form, you and your partner can alternate swimming 50s in lieu of rest.

When doing vertical kick, your wrists should be out of the water at a minimum. If that’s too easy, get your elbows out of the water or test yourself and see how long you can do vertical kick while holding a perfect streamlined position with your head and shoulders out of the water.

You can also make a game out of this by doing all of the kicks in an individual medley by round.

Breaststroke Pull With Flutter Kick

One of the most difficult in-water core workouts to do is high-tempo flutter kick with a breaststroke pull. The swim is exactly what it says with two caveats. First is hand speed. This is not a breaststroke drill. Don’t concern yourself with your head position or how much water you catch. You still want a high elbow on your in-sweep to help get the hips up and have better undulation, which will work your core, but the point is to turn over your hands as quickly as possible. The higher the stroke count a length, the better.

Your flutter kick should never stop. Again, this is not a breaststroke set. This is a core workout. Don’t think about your breaststroke timing or tempo. Just flutter kick as fast as you can.

Do a few 25s to get the idea, then make a set of it, perhaps this one:

  • 1 x 25 flutter breast
  • 1 x 50 (25 flutter breast, 25 kick on back smooth)
  • 1 x 75 (50 flutter breast, 25 kick on back smooth)
  • 1 x 100 (25 kick on back smooth, 75 flutter breast)
  • 1 x 100 swim smooth

This set works your core along the short axis, which is great for breaststrokers and butterfliers, but all swimmers will receive a workout.

Body Dolphin on Your Side With Fins

This is the best of both of the above sets. It reinforces being tall in the water, from your fingertips to your toes, while being in a more traditional swimming position.

Focus on engaging your whole body in this exercise, which is done on either side with one arm extended in front of you. The undulation should start at your rib cage and go all the way down to your toes. Make sure that you have a good head position in the water and that your lead hand is fairly straight. Using fins will help you get a better feel for the water.

This is a great set in a long course pool because the walls won’t disrupt you as often. Feel free to add in flutter kick as desired. When you need to take a breath, take three freestyle strokes so that you can switch to the other side and work the other half of your body.

Final Thought

Swimmers work their core every time they get in the water, but it’s those swimmers who engage their core in a swim-specific manner that see the most results come race day. Try these sets a few times a week and get ready to leave the competition in your wake!


  • Technique and Training


  • Core
  • Training