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Pilates Exercises for Swimmers

sports teaching Sep 09, 2019

For a competitive swimmer, mere seconds can make all the difference in a race. For the casual swimmer, proper body mechanics is needed to keep your neck, shoulder and spine muscles from tightening or cramping up during a swim across the lake. 

Whichever category you fall into, Pilates can help align the body and build symmetrical strength to help your next swim be faster, straighter, and more fun.

Pilates will help develop the core and stabilizing muscles of your body in a balanced way. This ensures that one side of the body isn't working harder than the other which means each stroke will be more efficient and strain in the body is reduced. 

Depending on which stroke you use while swimming the recommendations vary slightly, but most of the time your face down in the water, so all prone exercises will mimic the athletic environment.


Focus on these areas:

  • Improve spine extension.
  • Improve core control in a prone (face down) position.
  • Improve range of motion into hip extension
  • Strengthen abdominals especially obliques
  • Improve range of motion shoulder flexion (overhead movement)
  • Strengthen pectorals and rotator cuff for strength and stabilty in the shoulder girdle
  • Improve shoulder joint congruency to prevent injury


Here are a few Pilates exercises that will help improve your swim: 


Trapeze Table/Cadillac
  • Supine Scaps: Overhead
  • Swan
  • Seated Push Through
  • Squats: with one spring (improves core control unilaterally and improves hip extensor strength)


  • Salute (mimics overhead arm movement)
  • Breaststroke
  • Backstroke
  • Swan Facing Back (improves hip extensor strength and spine extensor strength)


Ladder Barrel
  • Standing Back Bend (improves spine extension, and eccentric abdominal control)
  • Side Sit Up (improves trunk stability and core control by strengthening your obliques eccentrically)
  • Horseback with breaststroke arms (teaches moving from the center of the body instead of overusing extremities)
  • Swimming (improves spine extension and hip extension)
  • Scarecrow (improves external rotation of the shoulder)
  • Prone Snow Angels (strengthens the posterior shoulder girdle)
  • Single Leg Kicks (improves hip extension with core control)


  • Swan From Floor (improves spine extension, and shoulder stability)
  • Swan From Floor: Swimming with Split pedal (improves upper torso and head rotation)
  • Standing Leg Pump from the side (mimics the leg kick movement in a breaststroke)
  • Side Lunges (mimics the leg kick movement in a breaststroke)


Spine Corrector
  • Swimming (improves spine extension and hip extension)
  • Grasshopper (improves spine extension, hip extensor strength for kicking)
  • Hundred (improves core control by strengthening abdominals)
  • Stomach Series (improves core control by strengthening abdominals as well as coordination)


To learn each of these exercises and to see even more exercises that improve swimming technique and form, check out the Programming & Sequencing chapter of the Pilates Encyclopedia. You'll get videos and detailed instructions for each exercise!

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