5 Exercises Swimmers Must Avoid

Man with hurt shoulder
Photo Courtesy: (c) Stockbyte

By Dr. G. John Mullen, Swimming World Contributor

The best workout exercises for swimmers are those that target performance, strength, and power. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, which means swimmers must be cautious when choosing a dryland workout regimen and a trainer. The truth is many personal trainers are not swimmers and the exercises recommended will do more harm than good. Choosing to swim to get a workout is dramatically different than choosing a workout because you swim. If you are a competitive swimmer of any age, you must avoid dryland mistakes that will leave you prone to injury.

1. Deep Shoulder Stretches

While it may sound productive to do a deep shoulder stretch to “loosen up the muscles,” it can cause injury. Deep shoulder stretches present themselves in a number of stretching methods. Remember this when working the shoulders: DO NOT EXTEND BEYOND NORMAL RANGE OF MOTION. If your shoulders are pulled behind you or above your head, don’t do it!

What to do instead: When you stretch your shoulders, try a door frame stretch.

  • Stand in a doorway or near the corner of a wall.
  • Bend your elbow 90 degrees and press your forearm into the frame or against the wall.
  • Step forward with your inside foot to feel the stretch.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Explore different angles of the elbow to stretch different muscles.
  • Replace stretching with self-myofascial releases (SMR).

2. Bench Dips

Bench dips kill the shoulders. The position of the bench dip is dangerous for swimmers. To complete a bench dip, you put the bench directly behind your back and grab the bench with your hands. Then, you put your feet either on the floor or on another bench. As you dip down, you bend at the elbows and engage your triceps to bring you back up. What’s wrong with this move? Bench dips put unnecessary strain on the front of the shoulders when you dip down and when you thrust back up.

What to do instead: Instead of exposing the rotator cuff to improve triceps strength, try the shoulder extension with the band.

  • Wrap the band around a post. It should be thigh high.
  • Grab each handle and leave a little tension in the band.
  • Pull back without lifting your shoulders. Keep your elbows straight.
  • Drive your shoulder blades back to activate the scapula. You will feel it in the middle of your scapulae.

3. Leg Lifts

What is the problem with leg lifts? Well, leg lifts do not activate the core as many swimmers hope. Legs lifts are often performed improperly, and  two things can happen: poor core activation and increased risk of injury. When the leg lift is done poorly, the hip flexors activate instead of the core. If you are going to do leg lifts, you must do them properly.

What to do instead: Try the anti-rotation with band and manual resistance:

  • Single arm plank with resistance band
  • Anti-rotation with band and partner shoulder elevation
  • Bi-lateral band anti-rotation
  • Plank and single-arm plank

4. V-Ups

You want to build a strong core and define your abs, so why not do V-ups?. Everyone from swimming coaches to fitness video gurus recommend V-ups, but I don’t. V-ups can go wrong in many ways. If a swimmer does too many V-ups, the form drags and control becomes difficult. Both lead to chronic mistakes and a lack of direction.

What to do instead: Try the TRX Fallout as a great alternative for building core strength and reducing low back pain stress:

5. Band Bent Over Row

The band bent-over row is a shoulder killer. It leads to shoulder injuries, poor body mechanics, excessive rotations, and increased risk for lower back pain or injury.

What to do instead: Replace upright rows with inverted rows, but do them the right way.

  • Get under the bar and stabilize the body by tightening your abdominals and squeezing your glutes.
  • Pull your body weight up and keep your back straight.
  • Row until your chest hits the bar.
  • Maintain control when you go down so you do not lose integrity in the back.
  • Do not round your back at the end of the row.
  • Do not use your body to thrust up and down toward and away from the bar.

In Conclusion

Remember, there are few truly bad exercises, just poor execution. If doing an exercise, have a purpose and reason. Also, make sure your technique is flawless to reduce your injury potential. 

Don’t jump into just any workout routine. As a swimmer, you need individualized attention and a systematic dryland training approach to improve your fitness and performance. This may require you hire a professional who is experienced with dryland techniques. 


    • Vanessa Pirillo

      The leg one and v ups breyton makes us do

  1. David Ulloa

    Giampiero Aguilar

  2. Bec Glover


  3. avatar

    so, 4 out of 5 we do Jordan Fox Tuana Unal Amy Le

  4. Noël Scott

    Kelsey i knew there was a reason i hated v ups so much?

  5. Gigi Flower

    Regios Igcraa take a look sweet

  6. Jan Stevens

    Geoff Wood might be useful

  7. Magnus Mikkelsen

    Nikoline Dalby Østerberg nr. 4!!!!

  8. Eoin Foster

    Cara Mulcahy Deirdre Morris Perth

  9. Alyce Bradac

    Alecia Anderson Jake Miller

  10. Tove Sparrman

    Rebecca Alexandersson

  11. Paul Wilkes

    Laura Cranshaw

  12. Zouhair Lotfi

    Anass Ouguir on modifie les entraînements dude

  13. Luciano Finotti

    Henrique Ribeiro Alan Souza Coutinho

  14. Luciano Finotti

    Luciano Arantes olha essa matéria, dos cinco exercícios três destroem os ombros.

  15. Nekdoodle

    Great advice! Thanks.

  16. Luciano Arantes

    Vixe… já fiz todos, muito, principalmente bench dips na piscina de casa. Está explicado agora. Valeu!

  17. Lily Gilroy

    Breana Gilroy Brooke Gilroy this may be useful

  18. Ashley Slayton

    Chesleigh Murray Lee notice that V ups are on this list?

  19. Jeffrey Johnson

    Was I the only one who clicked on the link and hoped “Running” was on the list?