Does swimming build muscle?

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. Not only does it tick off both an upper and lower body workout, but it’s also easier on your joints and benefits your heart and lungs in the process, making it a great addition to your fitness routine.

How muscle is built?

Most people think you have to lift weights in the gym to build muscle, but this just isn’t true. According to renowned fitness scientist Brad Schoenfeld, the three things you need to build muscle are muscle tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage.

All of these can be achieved by swimming, especially if you figure out the best frequency and intensity to turn swimming sessions into legit muscle-building workouts. After all, have you ever seen an elite swimmer who wasn’t in great athletic shape?

Why is swimming a good way to build up muscles

Swimming is a fantastic full-body workout for building muscles all over the body. Not only does it tick those three boxes of muscle tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress but it does so in a way that takes all the pressure off your joints.

Swimming is a unique exercise in the way it supports your body but gives you continuous resistance to work against. There is no down-time when you’re in the pool, your body is constantly working to pull its own weight through the density of the water.

Which muscles does swimming work?

Depending on which swimming stroke you do, swimming can give you a really balanced all over workout.

Upper body

Swimming front crawl will develop your back muscles, shoulders, and triceps as you stretch and rotate before pulling through the water. Breast stroke will work more of your chest, arms and shoulders, and backstroke will work your shoulders and back.

Lower body

Front crawl and backstroke are great ways to work your gluteal muscles, hips, quads and hamstrings, whist breaststroke targets your hamstrings, adductors and abductors (the muscles on the inside and outside of your thighs.

Core and abs

All swimming strokes are amazing for your abdominals, waist, and deep core muscles because you will be lying flat in the water whilst stretching, rotating, and twisting around that midline.


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The best swimming stroke for muscle gain

As you can see, all of the swimming strokes are good for building muscle because they all work your upper body, lower body, and core. If you can swim more than one stroke, why not mix them up during every swim session? This is a great way to work antagonistic muscles so you get a well-rounded workout. Just what you’re looking for!

5 benefits of swimming for fitness

Great for your heart and lungs

Swimming is a combination of resistance training and cardio, which means it will develop healthy heart and lungs which is so important for long-term health and wellness.

Low impact on the joints

The nature of swimming means your joints will be under much less pressure than traditional weight training in a gym, which may mean you are at less risk of injury.

Needs less recovery time than weights

Because swimming is lower impact than weights, you should recover faster from swimming sessions which means you can increase your training frequency.

Builds muscle mass and tone

Water adds resistance, making swimming a great muscle building exercise to grow new muscle and maintain your existing muscle mass.

Develops strength

Swimming can get you seriously strong, too, as you power your way through the water pulling your own body weight.

How often should you swim to change your physique?

The best fitness routine is one you can stick to. After all, there’s no point aiming to swim 5 times a week if you can only go twice, you’ll just end up feeling negative about it.

However, we do know that the best training frequency for muscle gain is hitting each muscle group every 72 hours. And since swimming is a full-body workout, this means swimming at least once every 3 days.

If you like to work out on the same days every week, try Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the pool with another resistance training workout at the weekend. This could be the gym, yoga, or functional training.

If you don’t mind switching up your swim sessions, go in a 72-hour rotation. This would end up being Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and so on.

2 best swimming workouts for muscle gain

HIIT swimming for muscles

Mixing up the pace of your swimming workouts is a great way to build muscle. Every time you increase the intensity, you will pull through the water and kick a bit harder which will add the stimulus your muscles need.

Warm up with 200m front crawl.

Sprint 50m, swim easy for 100m

Sprint 100m, swim easy for 100m

Sprint 150m, swim easy for 100m

Sprint 100m, swim easy for 100m

Sprint 50m, swim easy for 100m

Rest for 2 minutes then repeat the pyramid

Isolation exercises in swimming 

If you want to target certain body parts to tone your muscles, try these specific exercises. They’re the pool equivalent of isolation exercises from the gym!

To tone up your glutes

Kick sets are tiring, but they will definitely work your butt! Grab a kickboard and use front crawl kick to do one or two lengths. If you do one length, sprint the other length using front crawl.

To build muscle in your legs

Adding a pair of fins (short flippers) to your front crawl sets puts more work through your quads and hamstrings, you’ll soon feel the burn as you realise you are building more muscle tone in these major muscles.

To shape your shoulders

Hold a pull buoy between your thighs to isolate your upper body. Doing two or more lengths without your legs will focus the work on your arms and shoulders.

To work your abs

There’s one backstroke drill that will really tone your abs – it’s called dolphin kick. This is the kick you’ll see top swimmers doing under the water when they push off from the wall. Do it for half a length or more (on your back, on top of the water) and you will feel your abs working!

So there you have it, swimming is a fantastic way to build muscle and with the 2 workouts mentioned above, you can set yourself on a course for a better physique. 

The Hussle network includes thousands of gyms with pools, so why not search our listings to find the perfect pool to build your muscles.

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