Does swimming build muscle? | Live Science


If you’re wondering: does swimming build muscle, then the short answer is yes, but you may need to include other types of training if you’re looking to get ‘ripped’.

Swimming is essentially a type of resistance training, with the water providing “resistance” as you try to propel yourself forward. As with all resistance exercises, doing it repeatedly will eventually lead to positive muscle adaptations (read: you will get stronger.) But if you want to get bigger muscles, you may need to add more forms of resistance. important.

We spoke with a physical therapist to find out exactly how swimming builds muscle, which muscles target different strokes, and how you can increase the intensity for faster gains.

Neighborhood Tracy

Tracy Ward is a qualified physiotherapist, who has years of experience working with clinical patients and athletic groups. She is also a Pilates teacher and founder of Freshly centered (opens in a new tab).

Does swimming build muscle?

As stated above, swimming will have positive effects on the muscles if done for a long enough period.

Physiotherapist Tracy Ward, of Freshly centered (opens in a new tab)says, “Swimming is exercise against water resistance, and any form of exercise against external resistance will build muscle.”

“Muscle is built with swimming through the resistance of water and the effort required to generate propulsion through the water. However, swimming alone would only build muscle in a finite way.

This means that it is possible to stabilize your muscle growth if swimming is your primary form of exercise. To combat this, Ward suggests increasing the amount of your workout, which would mean swimming more frequently or for longer periods of time.

Alternatively, you can grab a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells (opens in a new tab) and start doing dedicated weight lifting sessions alongside your swimming routine.

What muscles does swimming target?

Underwater shot of a man swimming in water

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As a full body workout, swimming works almost every muscle in the body and can give you a more balanced and athletic figure than weight training.

It is also low impact which reduces pressure on joints and bones.

Ward says, “The major muscle groups involved in swimming are the glutes (glutes), which are responsible for the actions of the legs in all strokes. The gluteus maximus – the largest of the gluteal muscles – is the primary driver of hip extension and power propulsion. The latissimus dorsi (back) muscle drives upper arm movements and most pull-ups.

“The deltoids (shoulders), biceps (front of the arms), triceps (back of the arms) help all upper body movements. Pectorals (chest), quadriceps (front of the thigh), hamstrings (back of the thigh) work in all leg movements, while the calves (lower leg) point to the ankles.

Do different punches target different muscles?

All swimming strokes give the major muscle groups of the body a good workout, abs, back, forearms, shoulders, hamstrings and glutes. But mixing up your shots will target specific muscle groups more, Tracy says.

“The latissimus dorsi (a muscle in the back of the body) directs the pulling and leading actions of the upper limbs, and assists the pectorals and deltoids. The glutes are heavily involved in all punches, as are the quads and hamstrings.

Breaststroke: “The most dominant muscles are those in the hip and leg, especially the hip abductors, which pull the legs away from the body and the hip adductors bring them together. The chest muscles help the swimmer initiate the stroke.

Woman doing a butterfly stroke in the water

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Butterfly: “This shot puts more emphasis on the upper body, so the latissimus dorsi, deltoids and upper trapezius (around the neck and top of the shoulder) as the arms extend overhead in such a wide range of motion. The pectorals are dominant by bringing the arms towards the body from above. The hip flexors and quadriceps perform the movement of flexing (flexing) the hip, while the glutes and hamstrings counteract this with extending (opening) the hip.

Backstroke: “This shot again relies heavily on the latissimus dorsi, as well as the deltoids and triceps (back of the arms), which assist the upper body. The quadriceps (front thigh) and pectorals (chest) work especially hard to keep the swimmer afloat.

Crawl: “A mixture of all muscles is used in the front crawl, but the body relies more on the long levers of the arms and legs to generate power. A strong core is essential for this stroke, and as with most swimming strokes, the latissimus dorsi, pectorals, glutes and hamstrings are heavily involved.

How long should you swim to build muscle?

It depends on your base fitness level, says Ward.

“If you’re new to swimming or exercising, this activity will build muscle faster because the body is overloaded with more resistance than it’s used to,” says Ward.

“Regardless of fitness level, the high number of swim reps means muscles are exposed to resistance quickly and will build muscle.

“But regular swimmers should keep training regularly or add some form of additional strength training to keep building more muscle.

“This is because strength gains occur when the body is under ‘progressive overload’. (opens in a new tab)‘, so if you want to see an improvement in muscle mass (or hypertrophy (opens in a new tab)) you need to train regularly – about three times a week for eight to 12 weeks.

“This allows time for the muscles to experience micro-trauma – tiny tears in the muscle fiber – from exercise. These tears in the muscle repair and grow accordingly. The more this happens, the stronger the muscle becomes. .

What other exercise besides swimming should you do to build muscle?

Woman weight lifting on exercise mat

(Image credit: Getty)

A mix of aerobics (cardio) and strength training with regular swimming will help build muscle.

« Bodybuilding or bodybuilding (opens in a new tab) is by far the best way to supplement swimming for muscle building,” says Ward. “It allows you to gauge the amount of weight lifted and gradually increase the weight, then increase the muscle.

“Strength training also increases bone density (opens in a new tab) and builds stronger bones, which can then help muscles as they pull on bone to function. Swimming is a non-impact, anti-gravitational sport, while bone strength, and in turn muscle strength, is built through impact and gravity. So, for maximum performance, swimmers must train for strength.

Swimming when combined with strength work (known as simultaneous training) resulted in better athletic performance than without, a study published in the peer-reviewed journal found. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (opens in a new tab).

Ward says, “It underscores that to improve performance and build muscle, swimmers need to do strength training.”

“Core exercises, such as Pilates, should also be incorporated to ensure a strong core and a stable center point from which the upper and lower limbs move,” says Ward.

“The stronger the core, the more the limbs can move and generate power through the arms and legs. Increased power translates to increased speed and performance.


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