Does Swimming Build Muscle?

swimmer with muscle

Whilst swimming a few laps in the local pool will not give you an Olympian’s body, it can significantly help you to build muscle and stay fit.

One of the most common questions we get asked here at Swim Now is if swimming can build up muscle.

And our answer is always the same, Yes it can.

Not only does swimming increase endurance levels and is great for our mental health, it can keep the body on track by promoting muscle strength, as well as look after our cardiovascular system. 

In this article we shall look at what swimming can do to the body’s muscles, and why it is a beneficial form of exercise for everyone.

Great Way to Exercise

Before we get started on the real reason you are here (to learn about building muscle), let us just take a moment to discuss why swimming is a great form of exercise. 

Swimming is an ideal way to improve your strength, flexibility and length of a variety of different muscles, all whilst not putting any strain on your joints. This makes it highly suitable for most people.

Whilst we can dream about achieving that “swimmer’s body” we see from some of the best athletes in the country, it does show that learning to swim and sticking to it can give you a great workout with results. 

Think about this the next time you are “umming” and “arring” about whether to take up swimming – and if you already are, then let us up that game!

Developing Muscle Through Techniques

The great thing about this type of exercise is that no matter your ability or fitness level, you can use the resistance from the water to build up muscle. The different styles of swimming and repetition of movements all play a part in increasing muscle mass. 

Obviously, some of us create muscle strength bigger and faster than others, but the overall health gains you will receive outweighs how long it will take to see the impact on the body.

Before you can really understand the importance of how this sport can help with fitness, we need to look at the type of muscles that do all the work and will see the most benefit. Whilst different techniques will help individual areas of the body, as well as improve swimming ability, taking up this activity can generally develop these muscles:

  • Deltoid and shoulder – the strengthening of these muscles will help you to reach out further, giving you the confidence to enter the water properly.
  • Upper back – stability of the shoulder area will improve swimming strokes.
  • Core abdominal and lower back – these major muscles keep the body streamlined which reduces drag in the water. 
  • Forearms – the movement of pushing forward and back in the water heavily works the muscles helping to strengthen this key area.
  • Hamstring and glutes – aids propulsion and helps to keep the body balanced as you move along.

Training Exercises to Build Strength

Here are a few familiar techniques to try when you are next in the swimming pool:


If you are a novice at swimming, then the breaststroke will be might be something that you have tried once or twice. However, if you are a seasoned swimmer, then you are likely to do practice this stroke regularly.

It not only allows you to be able to swim for a longer length of time, but it is also a fun way to enjoy being out in the pool. 

  • Once in the water, your legs, hips and shoulders need to be horizontal, however, you will want to be slightly sloped to allow your legs to kick whilst under the water. 
  • To take advantage of this technique, make sure your hips do not fall under the water, and keep those legs behind you rather than below.
  • To reduce upper body strain, keep the neck and shoulders as relaxed as possible, whilst looking forward whilst you swim. 


The backstroke is known for being both relaxing as well as a solid workout, but we will leave that up to you to decide. It simultaneously works a number of muscles, so is a great option for gaining strength. 

  • Whilst lying in the water, keep your body as flat as possible. The smaller you can make your body, the less resistance will be felt whilst swimming. It will also make it easier to swim faster.  
  • Remember to rotate the hips and shoulders to generate the momentum you will need. It is also best to make sure that you keep the legs closed and kick from the hips, rather than the knees. 
  • Keep your neck as relaxed as you can, and the head still. If you were to pull up your head too far, you may strain your muscle. So to put it simply, keep your ears under the water and your eyes above it. 
  • Lastly, whilst difficult to do at first, your hips will work best floating on the surface of the water. Obviously, they will end up slightly lower than this, but keeping this in mind will make sure the hips stick where they need to be.

Front Crawl

Regularly referred to as the freestyle, this movement works out the core areas of the body: abdomen, torso, back, lower body, arms and shoulders. 

  • Start by floating the frontside of your body upon the water and stretch your full body out. Whilst pointing those toes and keeping the ankles ‘floppy’, kick the legs up and down.
  • When you begin this technique, your arms need to be stretched out away from your head. Then one arm will be pulled under your body, around the thigh, out of the water, over your head and back into the water. Repeat with the other arm, alternating as you go along.
  • To be able to breathe, once the arm nears the thigh, turn your head at a 90 degree angle towards the side and breathe in. 

Adding Equipment to Enhance Muscle

It is no secret that professional swimmers use equipment within the pool to enhance their workouts. Whilst it helps training become varied and less repetitive, it is also a surefire way to effectively increase muscle. 

Kickboards can be used in a session to help with lower body and leg strength. The direct focus of the lower body region means you can concentrate on leg movements, as well as build up stability for when you swim.

Training fins are another good example of working out the leg and foot muscles. 

Just like with the lower body, you can also direct your attention to the upper end such as arms, shoulders and abdomen. Using a leg float placed around the thighs or ankles allows you to swim without the use of your legs. This means you have to rely solely on your arms and muscles of the upper body. 

You can also use a pull buoy to do a similar thing as the above, but also include paddles for extra oomph. This will make it a much more demanding workout, which will in turn bulk up those muscles. 

Nutrition to Boost Support Workouts

Most of us swim for the fun of it, and that is absolutely fine – but did you know that nutrition is a valuable part in helping to increase muscle mass?

Whether you want to take after the swimming pros, or just become healthier than you already are, eating a balanced diet is always going to be a generally good thing to do.

Eating the correct fuel is paramount if swimming is your go-to form of exercise and it can help to keep the body in good shape. Whilst you do not have to be really strict about what you cook at dinner time, just think about eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, complex carbohydrates and consuming lean protein.

Recovery Matters

As we have covered, swimming is a great way to build muscle and strength, but you will need to give yourself time to recover between each session.

If you have spent the time working hard in the pool, it is beneficial to get yourself fit and ready for when you next swim. This is because every time you exercise, muscle breaks down. When you rest and eat well, this muscle gets rebuilt again.

If you want to swim every day, think about either alternating it to every other day, or doing light exercise in between heavier swimming sessions. 

The recovery will ultimately help build the muscle, so do not over do it!

Our Final Thoughts

Swimming is a great form of exercise, not only because it releases tension on areas of the body whilst exercising (unlike running, for example), but it is also a good way to build muscle for a stronger and healthier looking physique.

Whilst it may not produce the same results as Adam Peaty, unless you train like an athlete, you will still find that your body becomes fitter –  not only physically, but also the lungs and cardiovascular system.

Whilst nutrition, a good swimming session, and recovery routine are all key factors to enhancing muscle, the most important thing is to have fun!

by dale

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