5 Best Dryland Workouts For Backstroke Swimming

Backstroke is the third fastest stroke, after Butterfly and Freestyle, and is also one of the most complex due to the obvious fact that it’s swum on your back. In today’s article, we’ll look at how you can improve in this stroke without actually swimming more of it. Instead, we’ll look at something you have probably heard of before: Dryland Training.

Dryland training involves using a range of different exercises to strengthen important muscle groups and develop functional and explosive strength that can help you swim faster. It can also sometimes refer to different flexibility and mobility enhancement activities such as yoga, stretching, foam rolling, or even breathing exercises.

The point is that it’s meant to make you a better swimmer in some way, shape, or form without actually spending more time in the water. Today, we’ll look at how you can enhance your strength and power to improve your backstroke swimming.

The main muscle groups involved in Backstroke are the lats and core in the upper body and the glutes, hamstrings, and quads in the lower body. Sure, other muscle groups will still definitely get used, but these are the most important ones to train.

So with that said, let’s get straight to the backstroke workouts and take a look at the purpose of each to give you a better understanding.

5 Dryland Exercises for Backstroke Swimming:

Coach Abbie Fish training young swimmers during a swim camp.

Developing a strong core is one of the most beneficial things you can do for swimming. A strong core plays many different functions in the water. Some of these include linking your upper and lower body for increased power output, improving your stability and body position for lower drag, and ensuring a killer underwater dolphin kick.

When training your core as a swimmer, it is always important to focus on all the different elements and do well-balanced core workouts that target all the major and minor core muscles.

Some swimmers may get confused by the popular workout trend of looking as big as possible—this is wrong. Swimmers want to be functional and effective in the water, and looking as strong as possible shouldn’t be their priority.

So, here is a very well-rounded backstroke core workout with exercises that will target all of the important muscles and functions of a strong core for swimming:

Backstroke Workout #1: Core

  1. Deadbug 
  2. Russian Twist
  3. Toe Touches
  4. Leg Raises
  5. Plank
  6. Mountain Climbers

Sets, reps, and rest: You can perform separate sets and reps (3-4 sets of 10-15 reps are recommended) with a minute or two rest in between, or you can perform the workout as circuit-style training, where you do one exercise, rest a few seconds, and move onto the next. For that, I recommend doing 3-4 rounds and taking 2 to 3 minutes rest between rounds.

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Dryland exercises for backstroke swimming from Swim Like A Fish

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Backstroke Workout #2: Full Body

Young swimmers being coached by Abbie Fish.

Full-body workouts are very popular among swimmers and are mainly used in strength and weight training. They are a time-effective way to target and strengthen all of the big muscle groups in your body, allowing for adequate rest between workouts and not overloading you with volume.

This training style can be a good option if you have access to weight training equipment, but younger swimmers can also perform it using bodyweight variations. You should perform full-body workouts two to three times a week with at least a day’s rest between workouts.

Here are 2 full body workouts great for backstroke swimmers — one with and one without weights!

Backstroke Workout #2 with Weights:

  • Pull Ups, 3 sets of 6-12 reps.
  • Back Squats, 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
  • Bench Press/ Dumbbell Press, 3 sets of 6-12 reps.
  • Deadlift, 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
  • Hanging Leg Raises (or other core exercise), 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

        Rest: 3-5 minutes rest between sets and exercises.

Backstroke Workout #2 without Weights:

  • Pull Ups, 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Bodyweight Squat Variation, 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
  • Push Up variation/ Dips, 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Glute Bridge, 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
  • Hanging Leg Raises (or other core exercise), 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

       Rest: 2-3 minutes between exercises and sets

Backstroke Workout #3: Lower Body

Young swimmers doing dryland exercises and warmup before swimming.

Believe it or not, the leg kick is more powerful than the upper body pull when generating speed and propulsion in the water. Thus, developing strong legs is only a good idea.

The idea of separate lower body workouts is to apply more volume to your legs when training them. This allows for more strength and muscle growth in those particular muscles and isolates specific muscle groups.

For this section, I’ll give you another two workouts that you can try out—one with and one without weights!

Backstroke Workout #3 with Weights:

  • Back Squats, 3 sets of 6-10 reps.
  • Romanian Deadlifts, 3 sets of 6-10 reps.
  • Walking dumbbell lunges, 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Weighted calve raise variation, 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

Backstroke Workout #3 without Weights:

  • Bodyweight squats, 4 sets of 20 (use pistol squats if too easy).
  • Bodyweight single leg Romanian deadlift, 3 sets of 8-12 reps each leg.
  • Jumping lunges, 4 sets of 20. (Do the last set to failure).
  • Single leg calve raises, 4 sets of 20.

Backstroke Workout #4: Upper Body

Coach Abbie Fish doing dryland exercises for swimmers.

Similarly to a separate lower body workout, we can complete separate upper body workouts with the same idea—getting more volume in on those upper body muscles and isolating certain important muscle groups that may need more attention or lack strength.

The upper body plays an important role in developing a strong Backstroke pull and giving you a stable stroke in the water

Here are another 2 workouts you can try — one with and without weights!

Workout #4 with Weights:

  • Lat pull-downs, 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Overhead Press, 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
  • Dumbbell Bench Press, 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
  • Chest supported barbell Rows, 3 sets of 6-10 reps.
  • Deadbug (or other core exercise), 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Workout #4 without Weights:

  • Pull Ups, 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Push Ups, 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
  • Inverted rows, 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
  • Dips, 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Deadbug (or other core exercise), 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Backstroke Workout #5: Explosive Power

A trainer doing explosive power dryland exercises for swimmers.

So far, we’ve covered many strength development workouts and exercises. In this section, I want to focus on a very important aspect that swimmers should also take the time to develop and train: explosive power.

Explosive power is utilized in things like your backstroke start, underwater dolphin kick, push-offs, and anywhere else where a fast and rapid burst of power may be required for some additional speed and propulsion. 

Here is a great overall workout to develop explosive power in your upper and lower body:

  • Box Jumps, 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Clap Push Ups, 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Burpees, 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Jump Squats, 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Jump rope, 5 minutes as many reps as possible.

You can also complete this workout as a circuit if you’d like to.

3 Things to Remember when Dryland Training:

Warmup: It is important to warm up properly before starting your dryland workouts. I recommend doing a minute of foam rolling on all of the muscle groups you will train and doing some basic resistance band warmup exercises like band pull-aparts, overhead flaps, and external shoulder rotations.

Nutrition: Fueling your body with the proper nutrients at the right times is important for performance during your workout and recovery afterward. Make sure to consume enough carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You can check out this informative swimming nutrition article for more information about some good meals.

Mobility: Flexibility and mobility will always be important to being a good swimmer. To maximize your flexibility, you should do dynamic stretching before your workouts (as part of your warmup) and static stretching afterward once the muscles are warm.

Do not do static stretching before your workout, as it will negatively impact performance.

Read the final part of our mini-series for Dryland Workouts for Freestylers Here!

Check out our 12 Days to a Better Backstroke – a course to improve your Backstroke with our focused swim and dryland program. Each day targets essential Backstroke techniques through precise pool drills, aiming to enhance stroke efficiency and propulsion effectively.

About the Author:

A swimmer athlete in a swimming pool.

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 also run my own swimming website called SwimCompetitive.Com and love writing articles covering various swimming-related topics, including Dryland!

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