What muscle groups does swimming develop and its benefits (2023)

What muscle groups does swimming develop and its benefits (1)
File Photo Credit: Wong Chek Poh/SportSG

By Malcolm Baey

Swimming is a low-impact sport that incorporates a wide range of muscle groups and most muscles in the body are worked in different ways. Because of this, risk of injury is very low and the benefits are numerous. When stroke techniques are executed properly, the muscles lengthen and increase in flexibility. This is why most competitive swimmers have broader shoulders and extremely toned physiques.

Muscles developed by swimming

Although each stroke uses different muscle groups to execute different techniques, all swimming strokes will develop the following muscles:

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  • Core abdominal and lower back muscles that keep the body steady in streamlined positions in the water to reduce drag.
  • Deltoid and shoulder muscles to help the hands have proper entry in the water and to reach out far.
  • Forearm muscles that are worked when pulling in the water for more propulsion.
  • Upper back muscles that stabilise the shoulders throughout the swimming strokes.
  • Glutes and hamstring muscles to keep the body in a balanced position and to aid in propulsion.

What muscle groups does swimming develop and its benefits (2)
Photo credit: swimtoslim.com

Muscle groups engaged by Freestyle and Backstroke

  • Core abdominal and obliques are important in rotating the torso for a longer stroke.
  • Hip flexors are used to maintain a compact and steady kick.

Arm:Thenars (hand muscle), brachioradialis (forearm flex muscle), flexor digitorum profundus (forearm extend muscle), biceps, triceps, deltoids (shoulder muscle)

Neck:sternocleidomastoid (neck muscle)

Trunk:pectoralis, serratus anterior (side muscles), external oblique (outer ab muscles), rectus abdominus (abs), latissimus dorsi (back muscle), trapezius, spinus erectus (muscles that support your spine), teres major, teres minor, rhomboid major, rhomboid minor (all of these "major and minor" muscles help make up the shoulder muscles), gluteus maximus (rear-end muscles), abductor magnus (groin)

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Leg:quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius (calf muscle), tibialis anterior (shin muscle), flexor digitorum brevis (foot muscles)

Muscle groups engaged byButterfly stroke

  • Core abdominal and lower back muscles lift the body out of the water when breathing.
  • Glutes ensure the legs move as one like a dolphin or mermaid.
  • Pecs, lasts, quads, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, biceps, and triceps are all in play during this powerful stroke

Muscle groups engaged byBreaststroke

  • Pectoral and Latissimus dorsi muscles are used to sweep the arms inwards against the water.
  • Glutes and Quadriceps muscles power the breaststroke kick.

    Benefits of swimming:

    Swimming improves your posture

    Many of us spend a lot of time in front of the computer and this causes us to have a slouched posture with hunched shoulders. As swimming strengthens the level of core stability with regards to the back and shoulder region, a great side effect of that is helping you obtain a better posture.Posture is important for a few reasons:

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    • Having good posture keeps you straighter in the water in a streamline position. This means you will use less energy for the same distance.
    • Better posture gives you a stronger upper body stroke which makes your technique more powerful.

    It improves your breathing

    The nature of breathing in swimming is timed and precise. Additionally, taking in air is limited in volume and frequency. This promotes greater lung capacity and a consistent intake of oxygen.

    Improves muscle endurance and strength

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    Constant repetition of strokes improve muscle endurance and because water is much denser than air, the higher resistance against the body's movements cause the muscles to be strengthened and toned. Swimming gives your body a work out akin to training in the gym. But instead of having artificial weights, you are using the natural density of water for resistance training.

    Keeps heart rate up minus the impact stress

    Swimming is a great cardiovascular exercise that keeps the heart pumping but without the impact stress as it is carried out in water, as opposed to running, where your knees will take quite a pounding due to the hard surface.

    Full body workout

    Swimming is one of the few sports that gives you a full body workout as it engages nearly all of your muscle groups. Couple that with the low impact and high heart rate and you have a almost flawless exercise that reaps lots of benefits.

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    Alleviates stress

    That's right. Swimming helps to alleviate stress as it is a peaceful and and relaxing form of exercise. An hour or so at the pool after a hectic day at work will leave you feeling refreshed and energised. So what are you waiting for?

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    What muscle groups does swimming help? ›

    All swimming strokes give the body's main muscle groups a good workout, from the abs, back, forearms, shoulders, hamstrings and glutes.

    Which muscles are strengthened the most by swimming? ›

    Swimming is a sport that uses most of the bodies muscles, but there are five main muscles that make the largest difference in a swimmer performance.
    • Latissimus Dorsi. ...
    • Tricep Muscles. ...
    • Pectoral Muscles. ...
    • Core Muscles. ...
    • Quadriceps Muscles. ...
    • Get Swimmo to help you out!

    What muscles get toned from swimming? ›

    Unsurprisingly, your arm and shoulder muscles benefit the most from swimming – just look at Michael Phelps, a human inverted triangle! All swimming strokes work to target your upper arms, forearms and shoulders thanks to the resistance against the water as you pull through.

    Can you build muscle just by swimming? ›

    If you're looking for a workout to help you build muscles without putting any unnecessary strain on your joints, swimming is the answer. Moving through the water is the ideal way to strengthen and improve the length and flexibility of a whole range of different muscles.

    Is swimming more cardio or muscle? ›

    Short answer: cardio.

    How long should you swim for a workout? ›

    Just 30 minutes of swimming three times per week can boost your energy levels through increased metabolic rate. Exercising without the sweat. If sweating puts you off other forms of exercise, fear not!

    Can swimming give you a good physique? ›

    Yes, swimming definitely changes your body shape. The more you swim the more will your body become unrecognizable, even to yourself. Swimming creates a slightly elongated, broad-shouldered, thin, and fit body shape, which many of us covet.

    How often should you swim to build muscle? ›

    Consistency is key, says Gilson. He suggests swimming for 30 minutes, three to five times a week. “This will increase your muscle mass and your cardiovascular fitness”. If you want to see results sooner, increase the intensity of your swimming with sprint sets and try to do exercises outside the pool between sets.

    Will I gain muscle if I swim everyday? ›

    If you're asking yourself does swimming build muscle, then the simple answer is yes, it's a great full-body way to build muscle.

    How many times a week should I swim to tone up? ›

    The frequency of swimming for weight loss is the same as other cardiovascular exercises, so aim for four to five days a week for the best results, according to Jamie Hickey, a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with Truism Fitness.

    How many times a week should I swim? ›

    Swim Frequency by Level

    Swimmers at the beginner level may swim two to three times per week. Pure competitive swimmers train more in the range of five to nine times per week. Most adults are not professional swimmers who can get to the pool every day, and sometimes twice a day.

    How many laps in swimming is a good workout? ›

    Doing Laps to Get in a Good Workout

    For beginners, 20 to 30 laps within 30 minutes is often an achievable and effective goal. If you're at a more intermediate level, strive for 40 to 50 laps during the same time period, and shoot for 60 laps or more if you're an advanced swimmer.

    Is it better to swim or go to the gym? ›

    Swimming is a great way to tone muscles all over your body every time you go, but lifting weights at the gym is the best way to focus on building muscle if this is part of your weight loss goal.

    Can swimming reduce belly fat? ›

    Since swimming is a full-body workout, it can definitely help you lose belly fat.

    Do I need to lift weights if I swim? ›

    While you can tone your muscles by swimming, you'll be hard pressed to build increased strength and power at the same time. Instead, this is one of the benefits of weightlifting for swimmers. Weight lifting helps strengthen the muscles that you can't otherwise do in the water.

    Will swimming give me abs? ›

    Regardless of which swimming stroke you favor the most, you can rest assured that not only are you getting a great workout that builds total body strength and increases endurance, but you're also getting one of the best, most effective abdominal exercises possible.

    Are swimmers good in bed? ›

    It requires agility, endurance, flexibility, and finesse. And athletes—in theory—can implement all of those skills in the bedroom; they have an innate understanding of how the human body works. And some believe that swimmers in particular seem to have an edge.

    Is just swimming enough exercise? ›

    Swimming is a great workout because you need to move your whole body against the resistance of the water. Swimming is a good all-round activity because it: keeps your heart rate up but takes some of the impact stress off your body. builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness.

    How many laps should a beginner swim for exercise? ›

    Lepinski said a good beginner or intermediate workout is 1,000 to 1,500 yards, or 20 to 30 laps, which should take about half an hour. Begin with a short warm-up — maybe a 4x50 at an easy pace — to get your heart rate up.

    What is a good distance to swim daily? ›

    Beginner: 20-30 laps (500-750 yards/meters) Intermediate: 35-50 laps (875 – 1250 yards/meters) Advanced: 60 laps (1500 yards/meters) Elite: 75 laps or more (1875 yards/meters)

    What happens if you swim everyday? ›

    Your heart also strengthens bringing a rich blood flow to your extremities and you'll notice the strokes taking less effort! This can help to lower your blood pressure and control your blood sugar! 3. It's a lower impact exercise for people with physical issues such as Arthritis, MS, Fibromyalgia, and more.

    Can swimming replace gym? ›

    Swimming is a great way to stay toned, but it shouldn't completely replace traditional strength training. At least twice a week, incorporate some form of weightlifting into your workouts. If you like, you can reduce the impact on your body and bring strength training into the pool.

    What to eat after swimming? ›

    Often, after swim class or practice, glycogen in our muscles gets depleted. Consequently, it needs to be refilled to regain energy fast enough. As such, we should consume foods like mixed fruit cereal, yogurt, fruit, and toast among others. These carbohydrates have a high glycogen content.

    Which swimming stroke is best for muscle building? ›

    1st place: Butterfly

    It's most effective all round stroke for toning and building muscles. It helps with upper body strength, toning your chest, stomach, arms (particularly your triceps) and your back muscles.

    Is swimming better in the morning or evening? ›

    Most people simply perform better and are stronger during the evening which is due to the fact that they are more hydrated and fueled with energy during the evening, and most importantly your core temperature is at its peak.

    Why are swimmers so ripped? ›

    Almost all swimmers have massive triceps from repetitive stroke motions. A thin waist with defined abdominals. The caloric burn and fast metabolism results from an intense cardio exercise such as swimming. The core muscles are continuously used during swimming, resulting in a stronger core.

    How will swimming change my body? ›

    According to the NHS, adding a weekly swim workout to your training plan can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and strokes. You can also expect full-body toning and improved stamina, which translates nicely into improved overall fitness levels and capabilities.

    Should you swim or lift weights first? ›

    To Improve Swimming Performance

    If your goal is to improve your swimming performance, swim before strength training. To produce an effective training stimulus, your muscles should be rested before long or intense swimming workouts.

    What body shape does swimming give you? ›

    Does swimming change your body shape? Yes, swimming definitely changes your body shape. The more you swim the more will your body become unrecognizable, even to yourself. Swimming creates a slightly elongated, broad-shouldered, thin, and fit body shape, which many of us covet.

    How many laps should I swim to gain muscle? ›

    To begin, commit yourself to three times a week, 30 minutes per workout. Try swimming for as much of that time as you can, and count your laps. You should be able to cover anywhere from 20 to 30 laps, at least.

    What will happen to my body if I swim everyday? ›

    Swimming makes your heart and lungs strong. Swimming is so good for you that researchers share it may even reduce your risk of death. Compared with inactive people, swimmers have about half the risk of death . Some other studies have shown that swimming may help lower blood pressure and control blood sugar .

    How many days a week should you swim? ›

    Swim Frequency by Level

    Swimmers at the beginner level may swim two to three times per week. Pure competitive swimmers train more in the range of five to nine times per week. Most adults are not professional swimmers who can get to the pool every day, and sometimes twice a day.


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