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Swim yourself stronger: How to use your swim training to build your strength

Want to use swimming to increase your upper body and leg strength and learn how to add resistance training to your pool workout? Former World Champion swimmer and gold medallist, Karen Pickering MBE, shares the expert tips gleaned during twenty years representing Britain at senior level.

Want to use swimming to increase your upper body and leg strength and learn how to add resistance training to your pool workout? Former World Champion swimmer and gold medallist, Karen Pickering MBE, shares the expert tips gleaned during twenty years representing Britain at senior level.


How to improve leg strength Add a kickboard to your swim session Invest in a kickboard to help you isolate your lower body and allow you to work on your leg strength. The larger the kickboard, the more it holds you up in the water, so stronger swimmers should opt for smaller floats (or hold them by the nearest end only) to get the most out of a kick set.


Vary your pace Changes of pace, from steady to maximum effort, are ideal.


Increase the difficulty rating A ‘power kick’, where you hold a small float upright, instead of flat, and push it through water, makes a kick set tougher and is great for work over shorter distances.


Vary your strokes Mix up the strokes you use during each a kick set in order to work a wider range of muscles.


Add fins to your workout Using fins allows you to move faster, which not only feels good, but can also work the legs harder because of the added resistance. (N.B Avoid using fins when swimming breaststroke).


How to increase arm and upper body strength Add a pullbuoy to your workout Using a pullbuoy, which you hold between your legs as you swim, allows you to swim using only your arms, helping to strengthen and tone your shoulders and arms – great for targeting “bingo wings”. Weaker swimmers can kick their legs slightly while using a pullbuoy, but stronger swimmers should cross their feet to maximise the upper body workout.


Add sets using only your arms Distance or speed sets using arms only work the muscles in different ways for a better overall result.

Create resistance Using paddles will add resistance and work your arms harder. Make sure your technique is good on each arm pull, so that you feel the benefit on every pull through the water.


How to use resistance training to improve your strength Incorporate paddles into your workout Using paddles on any stroke (full stroke), while concentrating on pulling hard, will make a swim set tougher and work your arms and shoulders more intensively. Combining paddles with a pullbuoy will make it a much more demanding upper-body workout.


Combine speed work with paddles Sprinting while wearing paddles creates greater resistance, working the upper body even harder. It’s important to concentrate on technique when using paddles, so that you feel the resistance throughout the arm pull. Now want to swim faster and for longer?


Read more expert tips from Karen Pickering here, as she shares her secrets for improving your endurance.