6 Awesome dry-land exercises for swimmers to develop powerful starts and turns

All content provided by Benjamin Strydom

Do you want to develop powerful starts and turns in the pool? Well, then you’ve come to the right place, because in today’s article we will be taking a look at 6 awesome exercises that you can do to dominate your swimming starts and turns.

Dry-land training has become a valuable part of many swimmers’ training schedule. It holds many benefits such as increased strength, power and injury prevention when performed correctly.

A meta-analysis published (1) in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise by the University Of Alicante in Spain looked at a large overview of studies to determine the effect of dry-land strength training on swimming performance.

The study concluded that dry-land strength training can have the effect of improving a swimmers ability to produce propulsive force while swimming, ultimately enhancing performance. This was noticed largely in shorter sprinting events, but may also apply to longer distance swim events.

When deciding which exercises are best for improving your swimming starts and dives you want to consider the muscle groups that are primarily involved in producing the power required to complete this action.

This is dominantly going to be the quadriceps, calves, and abdominal muscles, but other muscles groups such as the glutes, hamstrings and triceps also play an important role.

Starts and push offs involve a simultaneous triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips to produce maximum force and power. Therefore it is also important for us as swimmers to include some triple- extension exercises to improve this movement pattern.

Box Jumps

Box jumps are an excellent exercise to develop stronger and more powerful starts and turns. The Box Jump involves a lot of the primary muscle groups used during the start and turn

such as the quadriceps, calves, glutes, and hamstrings.

The box jump is also a triple extension exercise, meaning it requires you to extend the hips, knees and ankles at the same time as you jump up onto the plyometric box.

Additionally this dry-land exercise is also great for developing explosive power found in both the dive and turn, as well as a lot of the other swimming strokes. For example the powerful snapback in the breaststroke kick.

How to perform the box jump with correct technique-

  • Start by standing in a comfortable stance with feet shoulder width apart in front of the plyometric box.
  • After that slightly bend your knees and lift the arms as you prepare to jump. Remember to brace your core muscles.
  • Then jump with all of your force and power to reach maximum height and land on the plyometric box.
  • Your body will naturally create a triple extension during this jumping mechanic.
  • Ensure that you know how to land properly in order to avoid injury.


Squats are one of the best exercises for building powerful legs. The squat primarily targets the quadriceps and gluteal muscles, but is also great at developing strong

hamstrings and calves.

The squat has many different variations such as weighted back squats, front squats, box squats, bodyweight jumping squats, and pistol squats. I recommend starting with the basic bodyweight squat and then moving onto some simple resisted variation using a medicine ball or a single weight plate.

The squat will develop critical muscle groups required for a strong start and turn. It’s also a power exercise that can assist swimmers in developing that explosiveness required to shoot off the blocks or walls.

How to perform the bodyweight squat with correct technique-

  • Start by standing in a stable position with feet shoulder width apart, make sure that your toes are slightly pointed out.
  • Then place your arms out straight in front of you or cross them over your chest.
  • Brace your core and lower yourself into the squat position.
  • Make sure that you are going deep enough, your butt should be just below your hips.
  • Then explode back up into the starting position and repeat.


The plank is one of my favorite abdominal exercises for developing overall core strength. It is great at targeting the entire abdominal area and will help swimmers to

develop stability and power in their strokes, dives, and turns.

The core muscles play a critical role in linking the upper and lower body muscles together. They are also important if you want to be able to produce a lot of power as a swimmer. For example, in

freestyle swimming they keep you stable in the water while allowing you to kick as fast as possible and rotate the arms with a lot of force.

Just like that they are needed for the dive and turns. If you push off from a wall or block the core will need to be strong in order to allow the other muscles to produce maximum power exertion.

Medicine ball slams

The medicine ball slam is another great exercise for developing explosive power and force required in dives, turns, and swimming in general. The medicine ball slam primarily targets the upper body muscles including the triceps, biceps, shoulders, abdominals, and other large back muscles.

It is also a triple extension exercise which is always great when we are looking to develop that power output produced by the lower body muscle groups.

You might not think so, but the upper body also plays a critical role in developing good starts and turns. The arms and back are required when shooting your arms back off the blocks to produce some extra force to propel you over and through the surface of the water.

How to perform the medicine ball slam correctly-

  • Stand in a comfortable and stable position while holding your medicine ball.
  • Then brace your core as you lift it overhead.
  • Lift the medicine ball until you feel a stretch in your abdominal muscles and then slam it down into the floor as hard as you can.
  • Avoid leaning back when you lift the ball overhead.
  • Then squat down and catch the ball as it comes back up and repeat.

Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is another good and challenging exercise that will help you to build stronger starts and turns.

The kettlebell swing is a full body exercise involving a large number of muscle groups. It is also a triple extension exercise aimed at producing a lot of lower body power.

The kettlebell swing is also great for getting your heart rate up and creating a bit of a burn in the muscles.

How to perform the kettlebell swing with correct technique-

  • Start by standing with the kettlebell held in front of you and between your feet which should be placed shoulder-width or just outside shoulder-width apart.
  • Slightly bend the knees, while hinging at primarily at the hips.
  • Then pull the kettlebell back between your legs to create momentum as you swing it up until about chest height.
  • Allow it to fall back down between your legs in a controlled manner as you prepare to repeat the movement.

Back extensions

The back extension is a great way to develop strong lower back muscles. This is going to be required when shooting your back foot up during the start, as well as to create adequate power when pushing off the walls.

The back extension is quite simple and easy to do, but will provide you with a lot of benefits in the long term, especially since a lot of swimmers lack lower back strength due to the upper-body dominant nature of the sport.

How to perform the back extension with correct technique-

  • Lay flat on the floor with arms extended out in front of you and your head facing down to the floor.
  • Then lift your legs and arms up into the air at the same time.
  • Pause for a brief moment and then lower them back down to the floor and repeat.

Sets, reps and frequency.

Performing the right sets and reps is another important aspect of your dry-land training.

A meta-analysis (2) published in the Journal of Sports Medicine by researchers Emmet Crowly, Andrew J. Harrison and Mark Lyons found that low volume, high force resistance training programs were most optimal for improving swimming performance and overall stroke length.

I recommend swimmers to do 3 to 4 sets of roughly 5-8 repetitions of each exercise. Some exercises such as kettlebell swings would be better to perform with higher repetitions though, for them I recommend 15 to 20 repetitions.

For beginners I recommend training 3 days a week, say Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or whatever pattern you like, just make sure to get 1 day recovery in between sessions.


Dry-land training can help us to improve many aspects of our swimming, for example like discussed today- our starts and turns. The starts and turns are smaller details in our swim races, but they can have a big impact.

If you have a slow and weak turn or start it could cost you 2-3 seconds on a 100m race. Not even to mention longer distance races. That’s why it is important to ensure that they are strong, powerful and quick.

About the Author

Hey, I’m Benjamin, a competitive swimmer with many years of experience in the sport of swimming. I am very passionate about competitive swimming and love sharing my knowledge of the sport. I run my own swimming website, SwimCompetitive.com, if you would like to check out more of my articles you can visit my blog, or you can check out my about page to learn more about me.

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