Lift before swim, or swim before lift?

by Evan Morrison. 16 November 2010.

I do my dryland training at the University of Chicago’s pool. So, for efficiency’s sake I usually combine my weightlifting sessions with a swim.

A question thus arises: Lift first, or swim first?

I’ve heard different theories on this. Those who endorse lifting first say you’re more likely to injure yourself when you’re tired, and thus lifting after a tiring swim session can be dangerous. Some also say a post-lift swim session allows them to “stretch out” their muscles and reduce later soreness. The most interesting argument I’ve heard is that even a brief lifting session can produce muscle fatigue equivalent to (or greater than) a full swim session. So, if you want to practice “swimming tired” to simulate the feeling at the end of a race, a pre-swim lifting session can provide more bang for your buck. That’s probably true.

On the other hand, research seems to suggest that a proper _warm-up_ is actually more important than warm-down, in preventing both muscle soreness and injuries. And there are few better low-impact, full-body warm-ups than swimming.

While there’s a time and place for “swimming tired” - especially maintaining good technique while swimming tired - my own experience is that lifting directly before swimming can overly compromise my performance during the swim session. I’ve also never noticed any difference in soreness between lifting first and swimming first. The more important variable is consistency in lifting. If you go too long without lifting (more than a week or two), you’ll be sore no matter what.

So, I usually swim before I lift. If I lift first, though, I always warm up properly. 10 minutes on a rowing machine or full-body elliptical should do the trick.

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Posted in: training Tags: strength


On 2010-11-16 19:04:22, Sully said:
Just out curiosity, are you more or less following the same routine you described earlier? After a full OW season are you pretty sold on the lifting?

On 2010-11-16 19:22:43, IronMike said:
All I can say is don't lift right before you do a postal. Did that last year and didn't swim well (enough).

On 2010-11-16 19:31:50, Evan said:
I've adjusted it a bit, and I'll elaborate in the near future. In brief, I now aim for one long lifting session per week instead of three short ones. The purpose of the lifting session is general strength and I try not to beat myself up too badly 'cause it screws up my swim workouts. I've also increased the relative importance of core & resistance band work. I aim for 2 sessions each of those, and I do them at home. For reference, the original routine is described here.

On 2010-11-16 19:33:57, Evan said:
I've never tried that, but it's not hard to believe!

On 2010-11-16 21:47:43, IronMike said:
The wife and I have gone to once a week. We lift heavy and have seen improvements. And I think it is helping my swimming.