Whenever you see a lineup of swimmers at the Olympics, one thing that stands out is how lean, chiseled and toned their bodies are.
It has caused many to ask: is swimming cardio or strength training? After all, these swimmers are both lean and muscular, so it seems like swimming does a little bit of both?
Swimming is indeed capable of being a good cardiovascular exercise and a type of strength training exercise depending on the intensity of the workout. You can use specific equipment such as pull buoys, drag suits, and paddles to increase the water resistance. You can also just swim laps leisurely or at a high intensity. That said, swimming is better for cardio than it is for strength training. Most swimmers workout in the gym if they want to get stronger.
Keep reading on to learn how swimming can improve both your cardiovascular health and your strength.
What is cardiovascular exercise?
Cardiovascular exercise, also known as cardio or aerobic exercise, is any physical activity that raises the heart rate and increases the body’s need for oxygen. Some of the most popular forms of cardio are running, cycling, rowing, and of course swimming.
During cardiovascular exercise, the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, which use it to produce energy for movement. This type of exercise is important for maintaining a healthy heart and lungs and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic conditions.
Cardiovascular activities typically involve continuous, rhythmic movements that increase one’s heart rate and breathing rate. The difficulty of the exercise can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the speed, resistance, or length of the activity.
What is strength training?
Strength training is any exercise that involves using resistance to build and strengthen muscles.
It typically involves lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats. The goal of strength training is to increase muscle mass, improve muscular endurance, and enhance overall physical performance.
Strength training is an important component of any fitness routine, as it can help improve overall health and reduce the risk of injury. It can also help increase bone density, which is especially important for older adults who are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
The resistance that you will be fighting against while swimming is the water resistance. You can increase the water resistance even further by using pull buoys or paddles. Again, most swimmers will go to the gym to strengthen their muscles so that they can generate more power for their strokes and kicks.
As such, strength training can be particularly beneficial for swimmers. According to Swimming World Magazine, strength training can help swimmers improve their technique, increase their power and speed, and reduce their risk of injury.
Some common strength training exercises swimmers do at the gym include pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, and squats. These exercises can help build upper body and lower body strength, which can translate into improved performance in the water.
Swimming as cardiovascular exercise
Swimming is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise that can provide numerous benefits for heart and lung health.
When you swim, you use large muscle groups in your arms, legs, back, and core to move through the water which helps increase your heart rate and breathing rate. This, in turn, can improve the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise.
One of the main cardiovascular benefits of swimming is that it can help improve heart function. Swimming is a low-impact full-body workout that can help strengthen the heart muscle and improve blood flow throughout the body. This can help prevent heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions, as well as improve overall heart health.
According to the American Heart Association, regular aerobic exercise, such as swimming, can help lower blood pressure by reducing the stiffness of the blood vessels and increasing the diameter of the blood vessels. This can help improve blood flow and reduce the workload on the heart, which can help prevent heart disease.
Swimming is a low-impact exercise that is gentle on the joints, making it a great option for people with arthritis or other joint problems. It is also an excellent exercise for people who are recovering from injuries or surgeries because it provides a full-body workout without putting too much stress on any one part of the body.
By regularly swimming at moderate to high intensities, you can help improve your aerobic capacity and increase your endurance over time.
Swimming as strength training
Swimming is not typically considered a strength-building exercise, but it can still provide some benefits for building muscle. Even the water resistance alone can help a completely untrained individual build some muscle, at least initially.
One of the main strength benefits of swimming is that it can help build upper body strength. This is because swimming uses a lot of pulling movements, which can help develop the muscles in your back, shoulders, chest, and arms. At the very least, the constant resistance of the water also helps build muscular endurance, if not muscle, which can help you perform these movements for longer periods of time without getting tired.
Swimming can also be a great way to build core strength. Your core muscles, which include your abs, lower back, and hips, are constantly engaged when you swim to keep your body stable and balanced in the water. By regularly swimming, you can help strengthen these muscles and improve your overall core strength and stability.
You can truly turn swimming into a strength-building exercise by incorporating resistance training into your swim routine. This can be done by using equipment such as pull buoys, paddles, and resistance bands. These tools can help increase the resistance of the water and provide a more challenging workout for your muscles.
Another way to use swimming for strength training is to focus on specific strokes that work different muscle groups. For example, the breaststroke primarily works the chest, triceps, and quads, while the backstroke works the back, shoulders, and biceps.
Incorporating a variety of strokes into your swim routine can help target different muscle groups and provide a more well-rounded workout. It also helps break up the monotony and repetitiousness of swimming laps.
Swimming as both cardio and strength training
Swimming is a unique form of exercise that can provide both cardiovascular and strength training benefits. As a low-impact activity, swimming is gentle on the joints, making it an ideal form of exercise for individuals with injuries or arthritis.
Additionally, swimming is primarily a cardio activity that is not as taxing on the muscles, which means it can be performed nearly every day. Swimming can help improve cardiovascular endurance and increase the oxygen capacity of your lungs which benefits all cardiovascular exercises.
However, swimming can also provide strength training benefits. As the body moves through the water, it encounters resistance, which can help build muscle strength and endurance. You can also occasionally swim vigorously to really put your muscles to work.
Swimming is a full-body workout, engaging muscles in the legs, core, and back. It can also help improve flexibility and balance, as well as provide a low-impact workout that is easy on the joints.
Can you build a gym body by swimming only?
While swimming can certainly help you build muscle and strength, it’s important to understand that it may not be as effective as traditional strength training exercises at the gym.
Swimming involves using resistance from the water to work your muscles, which can help you build and tone muscle over time. However, the resistance provided by water is not as intense as the resistance provided by weights or resistance bands, which means that you may not see the same level of muscle growth as you would from weight lifting.
That being said, swimming is still an excellent form of exercise for building lean muscle mass and improving overall muscle tone. Different swimming strokes work different muscle groups, which means you can target specific areas of your body.
Additionally, swimming can be an effective way to maintain and tone existing muscle mass. Thanks to how low-impact swimming is on the joints, you can perform it regularly without putting too much strain on your muscles. Swimming can also help improve your flexibility, range of motion, and overall mobility, which can be beneficial for overall health and fitness.
For more information on the benefits of swimming, please see the following sources: