How to Split a Workout With Swimming and Weightlifting

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Swimmers can split a swimming and weight-training workout in a few ways, but it's typically best to separate the workout into two distinct parts, with swimming in one and weight training in the other. The key question involves which part should come first. The answer depends on your specific workout goals. Whichever route you select, there's little doubt that dryland training -- exercises performed out of the swimming pool -- should be a key component of a competitive swim team's fitness program, as well as for those that swim for fitness.

Swimmers on the starting block
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Conventional wisdom states that you shouldn’t perform weight training when you’re tired, so you should typically hold a weight session before any type of cardio exercise, including swimming. Additionally, by swimming after weight training, you may reduce muscle soreness the following day. Doing your weight training first, before you’re tired out by swimming, lets you lift heavier weights, leading to greater strength gains. There’s also a greater risk of injury if you lift weights when you’re fatigued.

Young man doing quad exercises in gym
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Certified strength and conditioning specialist Deniz Hekmati understands the benefits of lifting weights before swimming, but he also sees some merit in swimming first and then hitting the weights. Performing swimming drills when you’re fresh leads to better technique and lets you swim with greater energy. Also, swimming when you’re tired from lifting weights can lead to an injury. Hekmati believes that it’s better to separate the workouts on different days. If you can’t, then begin with the most important session -- if your prime workout goal is to gain strength, lift weights and then swim. If you’re mainly interested in your swimming technique, then leave the weights for the second part of the workout.

Swimmers doing laps
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Jumping out of the pool and going straight onto a piece of fitness equipment is rarely practicable. But if you don’t mind a more limited strength-training session, you can alternate pool and dryland exercises. Bring dumbbells to the pool deck to perform a workout circuit similar to one created by military trainer Stew Smith. Begin by swimming at a moderate pace -- about 50 to 60 percent of your maximum effort -- for 100 to 200 meters. Hop out of the pool and do 10 to 20 dumbbell bench or floor presses, 20 to 30 crunches while holding a weight against your chest, 10 to 20 biceps curls and 10 military presses. Jump back in the pool and repeat the circuit four more times or try to work up to that level. If you don't have weights, substitute pushups for the dumbbell floor presses and do the crunches without holding a weight.

Row of dumbbells
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Do your most intense weight training in the swimming off-season; do this during the aerobic phase of your swimming program that focuses on endurance. During this training phase, you can do weight training before swimming. When your swimming workouts begin to focus on speed work and race preparation, lift lighter weights and perform fewer strength-training exercises. In this phase, start your workouts with swim training.

Man bench pressing weights in a gym
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