Here’s the best cross-training for swimming you’re missing out on

By Ham Williams-Tracy

MS Staff Writer

For as much time as I have stared at an endless black line, I do not feel obligated to do it every day. When I don’t have mandatory practice but still want to work out in a manner which will make me a better swimmer, I hit the rowing machine. 

It’s okay to be dry! Weightlifting, running, rowing or any other exercise has benefits to overall athleticism and mental health. Rowing specifically has many applications to swimming – from timing, cardio, general strength, and mental confidence. 


Rowing requires an equal understanding of proper technique and timing in order to be effective. When rowers compete, they have a coxswain, a person who keeps tempo for the rowers, to make sure the team operates in sync. But even on a machine, keeping proper timing mirrors the pool. Think about stroke rate. 

Keeping a steady pace is critical, especially in open water swimming. Without an adequate measure or understanding of pace, it can be extremely easy to overwork too early in a race, especially where there are no clocks or lines on the bottom on the water to measure distance. 

Rowing at a specific cadence is another way to train your muscles to fire at steady intervals, which is just as important as being in good enough shape to have a dynamic stroke.

Overall Fitness

Using the proper muscle groups in swimming is critical to getting the most out of each stroke. This is why pull-ups are so great for swimmers – they promote fitness gains in the lats and triceps. This in turn equates to a more powerful freestyle pull. 

Rowing promotes the development of these groups in tandem with strengthening leg muscles. For competitive swimmers, this can make a start and push-offs much more powerful, allowing you to capitalize on the parts of each race where you will be the fastest without having to work any harder. 

Rowing additionally is a great way to keep cardiovascular fitness up. Spending half an hour rowing can burn just as many calories as swimming can.

Mental Toughness

Rowing and swimming require maintaining the same taxing motions for long periods of time. Having the commitment to endure high intensity aerobic activity promotes mental toughness and confidence. 

“Practice like you want to play,” the saying goes. This effect is no different for swimming or rowing where working out at your peak performance is required to have the confidence going into a race.

Swimming may always be your primary form of exercise, but for me, keeping myself committed to the sport also requires finding new ways to push myself. Give rowing a try!

About Ham Williams-Tracy

Ham has been active in the swimming world since he was eight years old. Currently, he is a sophomore at Swarthmore College studying English Literature and Economics. He specializes in 400 IM, 500 free, and 200 butterfly. Ham swam for the Aquatic Team of Mecklenburg and Myers Park High School prior to enrolling at Swarthmore. 

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