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What to Do When Swimming Isn’t an Option

Sometimes getting in the water just isn’t possible, so we tapped open-water swim expert and former pro triathlete Sara McLarty to ask her for the best alternative swimming options.

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The odds are not in your favor to maintain your swimming fitness through the winter. Pools are closed. You are traveling. The family is visiting. While you might not be able to swim laps on a regular basis, you don’t have to lose all the swim-specific fitness that you built up during the season (and that you’ll need come summertime). Try these alternative workouts to swimming when you can’t get to a pool. Use free weights and resistance bands at home, weight machines in the gym, or just simple body weight exercises in the kitchen while cooking. This series is designed to replicate all the key swimming power moves, get your heart-rate up, give you a good sweat, and get you ready for the tri season: 

Start with 5-10 minutes of light cardio to get warmed up. Try something different like a rowing machine or an elliptical machine.

Alternative Workouts to Swimming

Set 1

Repeat the following set twice, with no rest between exercises:

  1. Single-arm strokes with resistance bands
    20-30 seconds
    Bend at the waist and replicate the freestyle underwater pull with light resistance.
  2. Streamline jumps with body weight
    20 quick jumps
    Arms overhead, bend knees into a half squat, and explode upwards like you are pushing off the wall.
  3. Chest fly with resistance bands or 5-15 pounds
    8-12 reps
    Engage the pectorals and biceps—can be done standing or lying on a bench.
  4. Flutter & scissor kicks
    30 seconds
    Lying on your back, lift legs off the ground four inches, and do quick kicks with toes pointed and knees locked, legs straight to engage hip flexors.
  5. Plank hold
    30 seconds
    Complete a plank on your hands and forearms, keeping your back flat, butt down, and core engaged. Increase the challenge and engage hamstrings and glutes by lifting alternating feet off the ground for three seconds.

Rest 2-3 minutes and then repeat 5-10 minutes of any cardio exercise. Next, repeat the following set twice, with no rest between exercises.

Set 2

  1. Front & side shoulder raises with resistance band
    10 reps on each side, each direction
    These are great prehab and rehab exercises for shoulders. Keep arms straight, and don’t lift past shoulder level.
  2. Walking lunge with overhead press with 10 pound weight or medicine ball
    20 reps total
    Be sure to lunge forward far enough so that your front knee does not go in front of your front toe. Lift the weight or med ball as you put your front foot down. This exercise will engage your balance, flexibility, upper and lower body all at the same time.
  3. Pull ups, with or without assistance
    10 reps
    Use a front or reverse grip that is comfortable for your body and assistance to complete 10 reps without stopping.
  4. Russian medicine ball twists holding 10-15 pounds
    20 reps each side
    Sitting on the ground, twist from your core like body rotation while swimming, with the ball held out. Hold your feet off the ground for an additional challenge.
  5. Supermans with flutter kicks
    5 x 10 seconds
    On your stomach in streamline position, lift your legs with lower back and hamstrings while kicking, just like in the water.

Finish the these alternative workouts to swimming with 5 minutes of your favorite core exercise and 5 minutes of stretching. Have a great winter season and don’t panic that you missed a swim or two!