I'm looking for exercises which can help me compensate muscle overload generated by swimming (mainly crawl). I crawl about 3 to 4 times a week and I want to focus on that style.

I heard that you should compensate each crawl session with an equally long backstroke session, but I don't want to spend another 3 days per week in the water.

Do I really need to do this or are there better ways - I'd prefer exercising in the gym anywhere else out of the water - to compensate for the overload?

  • I edited your question slightly, judging the difficulty of a question might scare off possible good answers. Feel free to revert the changes or edit it again.
    – Baarn
    Jun 27, 2013 at 11:25
  • 1
    Why do you intend to replace the backstroke sessions? I feel this actually is an XY-Problem, I think you might get better answers if you'd question the claim about backstroke compensation first, eg something in the line of: "I want to focus on my crawling, do I need to compensate with backstroke, at which ratio (crawl to backstroke)? Can I compensate by doing something at the gym ?"
    – Baarn
    Jun 27, 2013 at 11:28
  • Thx both of you guys! Ok, I will try to explain it: When I will be swimming crawl for 3 days I should swimming backstroke for 3 days (in a week) to compensate that crawl load. The thing is that I don't want to swim 3 more days (except crawl workouts). I want to go out of the water and compensate crawl overload in the gym. The mentioning of backstroke here was only informative in sense of: "Yes I know that you probably advice me to swim backstroke as a first option."
    – tsykora
    Jun 27, 2013 at 12:41
  • @Informaficker I've edited question more according to your suggestions. Thx!
    – tsykora
    Jun 27, 2013 at 12:48
  • mmm...it's still not quite right for me. A majority of the muscles involved in the crawl are the same motivators for the backstroke. You don't have to offset a crawl day with a backstroke day to compensate. Most competitive swim programs incorporate all strokes in all workouts, with an emphasis (but not exclusivity to) the stroke/distance at which you are competing.
    – JohnP
    Jun 27, 2013 at 19:46

1 Answer 1


Seems like too many comments and not enough answers!

You need to do backstroke along with freestyle, because:

  1. Backstroke covers certain muscles a lot better than freestyle, and
  2. Gym can't perfectly replicate backstroke swim time.
  3. If you're going to swim as much as you do, you may as well get comfortable with a second stroke.

Doing different swimming strokes prevents RSI. Don't think of backstroke as wasted time - you're still improving your cardiovascular capacity, and many of the muscles cross over. E.g. backstroke will improve your shoulder flexibility and your back muscles, which will probably help with the arms out of water cycle of freestyle. So, don't be afraid to actually sacrifice some freestyle time for backstroke. By the way, I'm a devoted freestyler, but I know the importance of this "cross-training".

Also, you need to be ready for that glory moment when Coach tells the team that the star backstroker is injured and can't swim the medley relay, and you put your hand up and say "Put me on, I got this Coach!"!!!

Getting back on track... some backstroke-esque gym routines are still great to do:

  1. Rows, where you bring your arms out back and wide thereby extending pectoral muscles - this is a nice opposite to the heavy pectoral work that freestyle does, should help build a good range of motion.
  2. Rotator cuffs in the direction opposite to freestyle. Free weights would probably be best, basically just keeping your upper arm steady and rotating as your forearm lifts up.

Honestly I think that's the bulk of it, it's really about the reversed shoulder motion and the back-focused rather than chest-focused work. If your freestyle stroke is good, both your biceps and triceps would be getting worked hard. Kick is fairly equal on both hamstring and quads.

Align the reps and sets to how you swim freestyle - if you mainly sprint, build power, if you mainly do long distance, build endurance.

  • Finally! Thank you for your answer and most importantly for such a great encouragement!!
    – tsykora
    Aug 17, 2013 at 18:34
  • @tsykora No worries! Just realised that you asked the other question as well, glad I could help!
    – andrewb
    Aug 18, 2013 at 2:33

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