IronMan Strength Training for the Swim

IronMan Strength Training for the Swim

When I signed up for this IronMan race, I knew things would be different. I had just had a baby, we own a business and my husband’s favorite activity is golf. All of those equal time. That means I had to get creative with my training, especially with the swim.

Plain and simple between access and schedule getting into a pool has been very difficult. Thankfully. I have found 1 day a week to get out for an open water swim.

And that was a huge challenge. I needed someone to swim with – buddy system and our week-by-week schedules had to work. Which wasn’t easy when my training partner has 4 kids and a business herself.  Luckily, I have a few other friends that love to swim.

I knew that swimming once a week wasn’t going to be enough. I wouldn’t be able to be confident and comfortable during the race or with my results. I knew I would be left with the feeling of what if I had swum more?

So, I got creative.

I focused on strength training in high reps and focusing on the main muscles in swimming. I combined those with running intervals. And I crushed as many rounds as I could within an hour.

Then because I wasn’t loving my feeling in the water, I did more. I started to add more strength training and this time combined it with biking.

Let me break this down more.


2 workouts a week I focus on sprint intervals for either the bike or run. And instead of just walking/resting between intervals I strength train specifically swimming.

How long are your workouts?

1 hour.

Babies, family, and a marriage take time. Running, growing, and supporting a business takes time. Training for an IronMan and playing golf take time.

When I could be at the gym for an undefined amount of time I would have to guess my workouts were never shorter than 2 hours. And looking back on that, it was a mistake.

In retrospect, could call much of that wasted time, or over training. Or just busy work that didn’t mean anything.

What movements do I use?

I follow the same progression for all of my training – range of motion first, stability second, and strength third. Depending where I am in terms of physical shape and in my training cycle I am focusing on one or all three of those steps.

Since I am nearing the end of a training cycle I am starting to feel the build up of all my workouts. I start to really value my mobility work as a way to protect the progress I have made.

Muscularly, I work to maintain stability at my shoulders and core. I heavily target back and triceps and do as much single sided movements as possible. Either within a workout or alternating workouts I would vary the muscle contraction.

There isn’t a strength workout that I do that doesn’t include core. For swimming specifically, I love exercises that focus on stability with limb movement in a variety of body positions and planes of movement.

A few of my most used swim strength training exercises:
  • Side Plank Variations: rotations, forward presses, leg raises, etc.
  • Deadbug variations: varying loads and angles.
  • Rollout Variations: ab wheel, single arm TRX, plank walk outs.


In my opinion, when you are training for an endurance event like an IronMan your strength program should prioritize offsetting the impact of sport-based training.

In the simplest way, that means doing the opposite of what you do most.

Swimming is a huge frontal load on the body. Training my back and entire posterior chain is what helps keep my body balanced. I follow the same approach as I strength train to offset the miles of biking and running.

Thankfully, an argument can be made that training the entire posterior chain should be the number one priority for triathletes. From the perspective of maintaining balance in the body and improving performance.

You can read more about Injury Prevention While Training For An IronMan In 2021 in my recent blog. I chatted with my friend, training partner and physical therapist about the balance between training and health.


Absolutely not. If I could get into the pool 1-2 days a week I would. But my life, right now, doesn’t allow it.

In my workouts I am looking to challenge my lactate threshold. You can read more about that in this article How to Use Interval Training for A Successful IronMan Run.

The biggest thing I am missing is the breathing. I’m serious. Running, biking, lifting I can breathe whenever I want. The air is always accessible. Swimming is different.

Swimming demands that you work to condition your body to become as efficient as possible on a specific amount of air. I may be getting stronger and improving my fitness, but that does not mean I will be conditioned my best for swimming.

I know my results would be best if these strength workouts were combined with increased swimming. But I can feel things starting to fall into place.


Here is my most recent strength workout:

  • Seated Cable Row 15
  • Hand on top of Hand Pull Down 10/10
  • Side Plank Rotations 15/15
  • ½ mile up tempo run

Repeat 6-8 times

It might look redundant, but what is endurance racing if not redundant?

If you are struggling with your swim training I hope this helps. And remember to take time and recover. I reviewed my 5 Best Exercise Recovery Tools in this blog. Take look at Easy Green Smoothie With Protein To Keep You Full for my go to smoothie recipe. I drink this any time of the day!

Cheers to another week closer to IronMan Indiana!


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