Why Every Swimmer Should Do Pull-Ups

If you’re a competitive swimmer looking to improve your time in the swimming pool, learning how to do a pull-up could be your best option.

Why Every Swimmer Should Do Pull-Ups

It’s an exercise that is common and simple to perform once you’ve got enough practice in and yet it’s still one of the best and most challenging exercises you can do. It promises to strengthen your back to improve your pull in the water.

We’ve written this article to tell you a little more about the exercise and why you as a swimmer should consider mastering the pull-up to become a faster swimmer.

The Pull-Up

A pull-up is an exercise performed to gain strength in your back muscles, lats, and your shoulder muscles.

As these are muscles which are used most in swimming, strengthening them and developing them as much as you can, inevitably makes you swim faster.

The back muscles and the lats play an integral part in developing your pull in a stroke. The pull is your main driver of speed when swimming and thus, strengthening those lats as much as possible will improve this pull.

The pull-up works on developing the lats and by performing wide grip pull-ups, you can target them even further.

Pull-ups not only improve your back muscles however but also help strengthen your core. To do this, make a few adjustments such as adding strict pull-ups after you can perform at least 10 basic pull-ups.

You will need to work on performing a controlled pull-up with your legs pointed out in order to activate core muscles when you are performing strict pull-ups.

To sum up the exercise, the pull-up is a great exercise for all kinds of swimmers, especially those who compete, and adding them to your training schedule is great if you want to develop and strengthen those key muscle groups used in the sport.

How To Perform The Pull-Up

Before we move on to the benefits of performing pull-ups for swimmers, we’re going to go through the technique you will need to perfect to master the pull-up first.

Proper technique is vital to avoid injury and though it is easier than a lot of other exercises, it will also enable you to get the most out of your exercise so it worth incorporating time into your schedule to ensure you get it right.

How to perform the pull-up:

  • Grab the pull-up bar and keep your palms facing downwards and away from you
  • Arms should be shoulder-width apart or fall just outside of this
  • Pull yourself up by pulling your elbows to the floor and focus on keeping your shoulders back down as you pull up towards the bar
  • Pull yourself up until your chin passes the pull-up bar
  • In a controlled manner, lower yourself back down until your arms are straight again

Benefits Of Pull-Ups For Swimmers

Pull-Ups Allow For Faster Swimming Times

As the pull-up can significantly strengthen your shoulder muscles, your lat and back muscles, this will allow for you to increase these times as they are so critical in performing the sport to the best of your ability.

If you continue to perform pull-ups over a long period of time such as 3-6 months, you will be able to significantly improve these muscles groups and keep aiming for those speed records.

The muscles play an important role in the pulling motion of your stroke and therefore building a stronger pull will assist you in reaching those faster times.

You will eventually develop a much stronger pull and this will allow you both to swim faster and swim for longer.

The pull-up can also be adjusted to target the abdominal muscles in your body and these core muscles are key to staying stable and strong in the water. They also perfect your technique and good technique plays a large role in being able to swim fast. 

By combining pull-ups and core exercises, you can create a simple dry-land training routine that you can perform a few times a week in around 30-45 minutes and promises to be extremely effective.

Pull-Ups Can Improve Posture

Swimmers often have bad posture from training and bad posture is one way of increasing the risk of injury, whilst also being super uncomfortable.

Pull-ups work the scapular retractors and these will help open up your chest and shoulders to improve overall posture. 

With better posture, you can swim more efficiently, lower the risk of injury, and feel more comfortable throughout the day.

Pull-Ups Are Easy To Learn

Pull-Ups Are Easy To Learn

Exercises such as the overhead press, deadlifts, and back squats can take years to perfect proper form and technique. If you perform these exercises incorrectly, it could cause serious damage.

The pull up however is a lot easier to learn as the technique is basic and there are only a few cues on which you need to focus on. 

Simple technique means you can perform the exercise safely, without the risk of getting injured like in the other exercises listed above. It also means you can save time and money as you won’t have to hire a personal trainer.

Simply warm up, learn it yourself or ask a teammate for assistance if you are new to the exercise. 

Pull-Ups Are Time-Effective

Back day at the gym can involve a variety of exercises from dumbbell lateral raises, to lat pulldowns, to dumbbell rows to barbell rows.

As swimmers are athletes and not bodybuilders, doing a different exercise for each different muscle group is not an efficient way of using up training time.

Instead, one exercise which will increase swimming endurance, speed, and technique is much more effective.

Sticking to a training program with only a few core exercises to strengthen the important muscles is preferred as this will not overload swimmers with too much volume, whilst still allowing them to train hard in the water.

Pull-ups are a great exercise that will strengthen the back muscles collectively, and these are some of the most important muscles used for swimming.

They target critical lat and upper-body strength whilst engaging the shoulders and core for improved technique. 

Reduces Risk Of Back Or Shoulder Injuries

As pull-ups target such a wide variety of different muscle groups with the shoulders, lats, and back being the main ones, it means these muscles can build up strength to ensure higher resistance and stress than weaker muscles.

By performing pull-ups regularly, you are also able to train stabilizer muscles located in the shoulder which could become injured when not strengthened enough.

As swimming tends to overuse these muscles, it can create a condition called the swimmer’s shoulder. If you, therefore, strengthen the shoulders through pull-ups, you are able to reduce the risk of injury.

Shoulder and back injuries are very common in swimming and by incorporating pull-ups into your training schedule you can swim faster and lower the chances of you getting injured. 

Pull-Up Progressions

Although we have gone through basic pull-up techniques at the start of this article, if you are a complete beginner to the exercise, there are variations and progressions which you can apply to make you stronger and able to perform proper pull-ups.

These can also be used if you are only able to perform 1 or 2 reps at a time and want to increase these. 

Progression One

These are known as Australian pull-ups and are similar to normal pull-ups, despite the fact you are lying at a 45-degree angle with your feet planted on the ground.

You maintain an overhand grip at shoulder width, your arms are locked out and you bring your chest to the bar. Your neck should be kept in line with the spine.

Progression Two

Once you have mastered the Australian pull-up, you can move on to the next progression. This is called a negative pull-up and is highly effective at improving strength and learning the proper pull-up technique.

To perform this, grip an overhead bar and get to the topmost preposition. Use a partner or bench to do this. Slowly lower yourself down to the dead hang position so your arms are left fully extended. Then get back to the starting position and repeat.

This progression should be performed in a slow and controlled manner and it should allow you to engage the upper body muscles to create tension throughout the exercise.

Progression Three

Progression three involves using resistance bands. This is as simple as taking your resistance bands and putting them over the bar.

Place your feet in the bands and do as many pull-ups as you can manage. Repeat this process until you feel confident enough to remove the bands and do a pull-up unassisted. 

Assisted Pull-Up Machine

The standing assisted pull-up machine makes it easier to perfect the pull-up technique without the added support of another teammate or trainer. It comes with a different set amount of weights and the process is completely automated.

It’s a good idea to get a trainer to show you how to use it the first time but after that, you can keep practicing and adjusting the weight until you can perform a pull-up without any support at all.

How To Improve Your Strength Behind The Pull-Up

When performing a pull-up, you’ll need to focus on slow and controlled movements. This will help you slowly but surely increase your strength behind the exercise and allow you to increase your reps.

It’s important to continue progressing so that you are constantly becoming a stronger swimmer and not plateau with your pull-ups.

Progressing is going to require physical effort and determination. Increase your reps, then try increasing your sets. For example, if you are currently doing 3 sets of 10 reps, In a few weeks time you could be doing 4 sets of 12 reps.

You can also try adding weight to your pull-up when you are performing your sets without struggle, or want an extra challenge. Unless you are extra confident and super strong at your pull-ups, however, I would not recommend trying this progression.

Only attempt if you can perform multiple sets with proper technique. You might want to wait until you can perform at least 4 sets of 15 reps in a row before adding weight.

Once you have added weight, you can then continue to work on form and increase the reps again.

You could even add in advanced variations of the pull-up such as L-Sit pull-ups which will activate the core muscles and still provide you with the benefits of a standard pull-up.

Importance Of Proper Pull-Up Technique

Importance Of Proper Pull-Up Technique

Bad technique can equal injury. This is the same with any exercise but failing to work on pull-up technique as a swimmer won’t benefit you in the long run.

Swinging around on a bar until you can finally manage to do a pull-up will not improve your strength and is completely useless to add to your training routine.

If using this technique, you are limiting yourself to only using momentum to swing yourself on top of the bar and it won’t benefit you as a swimmer.

You need to instead focus on performing controlled pull-ups without using any momentum or keeping this momentum only at the beginning.

The stronger you get, and the more confident you get at performing a controlled pull-up, the less you should be using momentum.

You must also focus on retracting your scapula at the bottom of the movement and this should be stretched out. Avoid half-reps as this can reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.


Most gyms will have a pull-up bar or assisted pull-up machine you can use, however, if you have a home gym or prefer to practice at home, it’s about time you invested in a pull-up bar.

Finding the pull-up bar that works for you is key to increasing those reps, and eventually increasing that strength as a swimmer.

Home Wall-Mounted Pull-up Bar

Purchasing a mounted pull-up bar for your home is the most convenient and reliable way of practicing pull-ups as you have the equipment right at home where you need it.

It means you do not have to drive to a gym or a bar park every time you want to train, and this is especially helpful for people on busy schedules. 

Wall-mounted pull-up bars are secure and won’t fall off when weight is added. This means you can also perform straight leg raises and other popular exercises to increase your strength as a swimmer.

A pull-up bar we recommend is the  Yes4All Wall Mount Chin Up Bar from Amazon. It is made of one-piece solid steel construction for durability with multi-grip position padded grips for comfort and can support up to 300 pounds of weight.

Doorway Pull-up Bar

A doorway pull-up bar is simple and easy to use and since you can slip them on or off your doorway when you need to, they can be put into storage and hidden when not in use.

The downside of this method is that they are not as secure as wall-mounted pull-up bars and can be limiting for taller swimmers. They will however help you train at the convenience of your own home and ultimately increase your strength.

We recommend the Iron Age Pull Up Bar For Doorway With Shortened Upper Bar and Bonus Suspension Straps from Amazon. This pull-up bar is ergonomic angled to protect your wrists and offers a wide range of different grip options.

It also comes with premium silicone door protectors which can prevent damage to your door frame and the foldable design means you can easily pop it into storage when not needed. It can hold up to 400 pounds and fits most doorways.

The Gym Or Outdoor Bar park

Though the most convenient option is to buy your own pull-up bar, this is not possible for everyone and some might even prefer going to the gym to train.

Gyms will come equipped with a pull-up bar and an assisted pull-up machine and you may also have access to a personal trainer to help with proper technique. 

An outdoor bar park is also another option with great pull-up bars and dip bars and if you live near one you can visit daily, this could be the way forward for you.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a swimmer looking to increase strength and improve those shoulder, back, and lat muscles, the pull-up is a great option and can be easily incorporated into your training routine.

It’s common in most training programs and is simple to perform when you have learned proper technique, yet remains challenging enough that it will increase strength, time, speed, pull, and distance in the water.

Though it can be simple to perform, proper technique is vital to learn to avoid injury and get the most out of your exercise.

We hope this article has convinced you to start including pull-ups into your routine, whether that at home, in the gym, or at a bar park, and you are ready to slowly increase those reps and that weight to become the strongest, fastest, and most confident swimmer in the pool. 

Matt Williams