The Zen8 Swim Trainer aims to improve your dryland swim training. The “swim trainer” is an inflatable cube that allows you to balance horizontally while using the included stretch cords to build swim-specific strength. Zen8 also provides technical videos and workouts to ensure you use proper form and keep you challenged.
Helps with ergonomics of stretch-cord training
Lack of flexibility
Tough to inflate
For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Zen8 Swim Bench: The Basics
The Zen8 Swim Trainer is an inflatable swim bench that can be used with the included resistance bands for dryland swim training. Like any swim bench, Zen8 is designed to keep your body in a horizontal position while using resistance bands to mimic a swim stroke. The inflatable bench is designed to be less stable than a standard gym bench, which encourages balance and core strength when using the system. Beyond the swim trainer itself, Zen8 includes a series of training videos meant to help you improve your swim form and strength with fewer trips to the pool. If you want a more hands on approach, they also offer one-on-one virtual coaching.
The Zen8 Swim Trainer includes the inflatable bench, a set of resistance bands with paddles and door hook, a hand pump, and a swim cap (to really get you in the right mindset). While not difficult, setup is not quick and requires a thoughtfully chosen location to anchor the resistance bands. The included pump is a nice thought, but if you don’t have a larger pump your arms will be wiped out by the time the bench is firm enough to lay on (I gave up after five minutes and used the air compressor in my garage).
The swim trainer does include a high-quality set of resistance bands, but, like all stretch cords, does require them to be anchored someplace sturdy like a door frame or another piece of gym equipment you purchased during the pandemic.
Once assembled, you lay on top of the inflatable bench, essentially a rectangular block, which keeps your torso high enough off the floor to perform a swim stroke motion without hitting the ground. As you progress with your form and balance, you will graduate from keeping both feet on the floor to keeping your full weight on the block and performing a flutter kick while you perform a swim stroke with your arms. The Zen8 workouts guide you through proper stroke technique, drills, and increasingly challenging workouts.
Zen8 Swim Bench: What We Liked
Stretch-cord training is a highly effective way to improve swim strength away from the pool. Many swimmers even use them to warm up for practice. Five-to-ten-minute sessions done regularly can improve swim strength and form. In particular, stretch cords help strengthen and train the muscles that allow you maintain a high elbow catch through longer swims.
The challenge with stretch-cord training is finding a proper place to anchor the resistance bands, and positioning your torso correctly. You can find plenty of stretch cord workouts on YouTube where swimmers bend over at the waist and train standing. This approach is fine but can be hard on your back. A bench helps by allowing you to lay prone and keep your body streamlined.
Unlike a standard bench in the weight room, the inflatable Zen8 block requires you to use your core muscles to balance, mimicking the balance required for good swim form. In my testing, I did notice that my balance improved in the first few sessions until I was able to hold my feet in the air behind me and do flutter kicks for an entire 10-minute session.
Zen8 Swim Bench: What We Didn’t Like
I liked the idea of a swim bench that could be deflated and stored between sessions, or even thrown in a bag for travel. The reality is that inflation and deflation take far too long for this to be a viable option. Inflating with the handpump is a workout on its own. I gave up on the included hand pump after five minutes and instead used an air compressor in my garage.
The setup challenges don’t end there. Zen8 is not a self-contained system and requires you to anchor the resistance bands to a solid object, or wedge one end into a door or window frame, limiting where you can set it up. I had hoped to watch TV while I did the workout, but found myself staring at a door frame instead. Obviously this is a symptom of most stretch-band setups.
Zen8 makes it even harder to get the setup right by only including one set of resistance bands. They are quite stiff and short, which means they have a narrower working range and require you to be closer to the anchor. Stretchier bands, on the other hand, have a wider range of tolerable resistance and allow you to set difficulty by moving the bench closer and farther away. Zen8 opted for only stiff bands, which makes setup up harder and offers no “easy” setting. You can always buy other stretch cords, but it would have been nice for Zen8 to include a softer set.
Once you do get the cords anchored and the bench inflated, Zen8 offers training videos to show you how to use the system and provide workouts to help you progress. The training videos are instructional, but not motivating. Set your expectations for more of a hobbyist YouTube channel than a Peloton class. If you’re buying Zen8 for the coaching, you might try the virtual 1:1 sessions, or maybe check out these tips from Sara McLarty.
Zen8 Swim Bench: Conclusions
The Zen8 Swim Trainer offers a simple system for improving swim strength outside the pool. The benefits of stretch-cord training are clear, but certainly not fun. Zen8 makes that training a little more comfortable, but no less tedious. If you have a weight bench or a yoga ball, order some stretch cords and try them out before you commit to a large inflatable block that will live in your house indefinitely.