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I've started backstroke swimming around 3 times a week and want to add just a little strength training to it. The problem with swimming is, that it seems to use so many muscle groups that it seems you shouldn't even work out anymore otherwise not to hinder recovery.. What is the usual strategy to deal with this? Or should I just ignore it and still do biceps curls or pushups whatever in between the swimming days? Which exercises/muscles could I best train while only minimally disturbing their recovery from the swimming?

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  • Just started - Are you a beginner swimmer? Experienced? How much distance and intensity per swimming session? Do you do only backstroke? Those will help formulate a better answer.
    – JohnP
    Dec 13, 2021 at 16:27

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Almost all competitive swimmers incorporate some form of dryland/weight training in their program. I competed at the D1 college level and can say it was 9 swims, 3 lifts, and 1 dryland session a week. If you have a competitive event approaching that matters, the lifting gets cut out 2-4 weeks prior to competition so the athlete can fully recover.

Our weight program was obviously the secondary focus of training, so load and volume were kept on the lower side. We did a lot of front and back squats, lat pulls from various angles, tricep work, and dumbbell work.

Without knowing much about the OP and their goals or physical statistics, I would recommend adding in a weight session or two for 45-60 minutes and see how it goes. Don't be afraid to try a movement, and if it doesn't work, change it up.

Remember that some soreness is a good thing when exercising. The first time you do something new will be rough, but your body will adapt quickly to the new stimuli. Give movements a couple weeks before you determine they don't work for your body. Pain caused from a movement should be treated differently than soreness.

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If you're swimming for exercise purposes and not, say, national or international level competition, then I don't think you should worry about it at all, and just do your swimming and strength training on whatever schedule is most convenient for you. The reasons for this are twofold:

  1. If you're only swimming three days per week, there shouldn't be much difficulty in scheduling strength workouts to be on different days to your swimming. (Whereas a competitive athlete doing 6-8 swim sessions per week would not be able to always schedule strength training on non-swimming days.) With any sensible strength training program, you shouldn't be so sore or fatigued that it would significantly affect your swimming workouts a day later.
  2. Even if a strength workout does adverse affect your swimming ability, what's the consequence of that? Having a swim session where you're 2% slower than your usual speed might cost you a gold medal if you're competing in the Olympics, but if you're just exercising for fitness then it's inconsequential.

I'll also note that further exercise "hindering" recovery isn't really a thing. Lack of sleep or nutrition can hinder recovery, but it's not like your body needs to fully recover in between bouts of exercise. The second bout of exercise (as in another exercise session when not fully recovered) will add an additional training stimulus and additional fatigue, but it doesn't stop the body recovering from the fatigue of the first session, nor does it interrupt the training stimulus that the first session provided.

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Swimming is so versatile as an exercise that it can really be whatever you choose. You can use it as high intensity training, as an off day recovery activity, or you can target muscle groups with different drills. If your pool has anyone giving lessons (beyond just how-to-swim type stuff) they could show you different approaches to swimming workouts, so that if you want to push it on upper body weights one day and try to target core and legs in the pool the next, you absolutely can.

This may sounds like a pretty generic answer, but the question is fairly vague so it’s hard for me to be more specific. Because of course some folks are doing extremely high volume, high intensity swimming and cross train with weightlifting and such. Without knowing you, your limits, your goals etc it’s hard to give advice like this.

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