The density of water means you get more resistance from every pull or kick than you would on land, and these drills really make that work for you. Swimming laps already does a lot to build your upper body and legs, and if you know what exercises to do, you can help tone the rest of your body to get a little more ripped, too.
To use the pool to build muscle mass and strength, you’ll want to do more than your regular swim sets. “You must do short, high-intensity work, which requires an entirely different approach than people usually take in lap swimming,” says Terry Heggy, a Level 3 USMS coach, NASM-certified personal trainer, and head coach of Team Sopris Masters in Glenwood Springs, CO. “It’s about choosing the right motion, the right resistance, and the right number of repetitions.” We asked Heggy, along with Beth Jones, a swim coach and personal trainer with PlayTri in Dallas, to explain how to get the biggest muscle-building benefits from each exercise in the pool.
1) Shred Your Legs: Tombstone Drill
Make kicking more challenging by turning the kickboard vertically in the water (so the flat part is facing the wall in front of you). Now, kick. Hard.
The board creates extra resistance so you have to engage your hip flexors, quads and hamstrings more than you would in a standard kick set, explains Jones. If you don’t feel it in these areas, you may be kicking from your knees. “Instead, think of kicking with a straight leg, but a soft knee,” she says.
For extra strength: Do the tombstone drill for one to two lengths of the pool. Then leave the kickboard on deck and do one to two more lengths of sprint kicking. “You’ll feel like you’re flying now that the resistance is off,” she says. And it asks your legs to perform under fatigue, which helps build strength and power.
2) Build Your Back and Shoulders: Kickboard Press and Pull
Stand in shallow water and hold the kickboard like you would for the tombstone drill—grab the top and bottom in each hand and have the flat part facing the wall. Start with it close to your chest, then push it away from you and pull it back as fast as you can, explains Heggy, “which will probably annoy everyone else in the lane with you.” (So maybe best to save this for non-lap-swimming pool hours.) Do this as fast as you can to fatigue, then repeat it about three times. “You have to approach it as an explosive motion if you want to entice your muscles to grow,” he says. “You don’t need to do it for a minute each time—you should be able to get yourself cranking within 10 to 15 seconds.” This works the pecs, shoulders, and upper back, and trains both the pushing and pulling motions in the same exercise. To make it harder, dunk the kickboard deeper underwater.
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3) Work Your Core: The “Gutbuster”
You won't get too far down the pool before recognizing why Heggy calls this core-training drill the Gutbuster. “It gets really hard really fast,” he says. To do it: Hold a kickboard in your “lap.” Keep your torso vertical and bring your legs parallel to the surface of the water, so your body is in an “L” shape. With your back to the other end of the pool, start doing a flutter kick and moving yourself down the pool.
If you’re like most people who try this, you’ll start leaning back partway down the pool to straighten your abs to make it easier. Resist the urge! When you get down the lane, take a little break. Swim a 50, grab your board and do it again. This exercise gets all your core muscles, from your rib cage to your hips, involved, and the inherent instability of flutter kicking in water helps all the stabilizer muscles “understand they need to participate,” says Heggy, similar to what working on a Bosu or other unstable surface does on land. (Check out the smart way to use a Bosu on land, too.)
4) Build Your Lats: Swim with Paddles
If your stroke is already pretty efficient, do a segment of your swim workout with swim paddles, says Jones. These add even more resistance so you build your lats. Paddles should be only a little larger than your hand, and should have enough holes in them to take away some of the stress on your shoulders. Start with a short set—even as little as 200 yards or meters—and gradually work up to using them for longer ones.
If you’re a beginning swimmer, wait a while before using paddles, since stroke errors—like the very common one of letting your elbow drop to the bottom of the pool—can put huge, unhelpful, injury-producing stress on your shoulders when you add paddles to the equation. That builds pain, not muscle.
5) Work Everything Even Harder: The Parachute Pull
Everything gets tougher and more muscle-building when you try to swim against resistance. With regular swimming, you’re trying to take as much drag out of your stroke as possible. But to do the muscle-building job, you want to add some, and there are a number of ways to do it.
One is with a “parachute” that you clip around your waist (about $16 to $30) that does exactly what you’d expect—it holds you back in the water, explains Heggy. “You get enough resistance that you’re going to fail pretty quickly, and that’s what stimulates muscle growth,” he says. On deck, it looks tiny, but in the water, will feel like you have a whole BASE jumping rig behind you. You can also wear a swimming drag suit—these have little “pockets” in them that trap water flow and make swimming harder—or just wear a pair of baggy shorts in the water. But “the commercial gear provides a better range of added resistance while helping you keep good form during the exercise,” Heggy says.
6) Strengthen Your Arms: Dry Shoulder Treading Water
At the deep end of the pool, tread water. Instead of just keeping your head out, use your arms in to get your shoulders out, too. What to do: Facing a wall, start treading. Keep your hands at about armpit level and sweep your arms and hands outward (so palms are facing the sides of the pool), then sweep them back toward each other (palms facing each other). Move them out and in as quickly as possible. “If you do these really hard and fast, and you’re really strong, you can get your sternum out of the water,” Heggy says. This works the rear deltoids and forearms.
7) Train Biceps, Triceps, and Lats: Starting Block Pull-Ups/Curls
Use the bar on the starting blocks to your advantage. Use a palms-up grip, extend your arms and place your feet on the wall and do biceps curls, or go palms-down, let your feet hang, and do pull-ups. “These aren’t fancy, nor is there only one way to do them. You’re basically just using your body weight for resistance,” Heggy says. And the water’s buoyancy can be helpful if you’re an athlete who’s just starting to work on pull-ups. Vary the resistance based on where you put your feet on the wall. “Mixing up the hand grip, hand width, and elbow angle enables you to target different muscle groups.”
8) Tighten Your Core: Kicks with Rotation
This is pretty much nobody’s favorite drill the first time they do it, but it’s great for your core and for your swim technique. Basically, you’re going to kick down the pool with your hands at your sides. Leading with your head. No arms to help you out.
To do it: Push off the wall face down, hands at your sides. Turn your body to face the right side of the pool—your navel will be facing the right-hand wall of the pool. Keep a steady flutter kick going and use your hips to turn your navel to the left wall (no arms, no hands). Do a few kicks that way and turn back to the right, and so on until you’re at the other end. Switch to the other side when you lose stability on the one you’re working.
This is seriously not easy. But it’s worth it. Do it better by keeping your kicks nice and small, “as if your legs are in a circular garbage can and you can’t kick outside that circle,” Jones says. “I’m a big fan of using a swim snorkel,” she says, so you don’t have to worry about breathing and can just think about how to engage your core. If you don’t have one, you can sneak in a breath when you need it. Either way, this seemingly simple drill requires you to recruit your core, which makes you swim better (and look great on deck, too).
Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men's Health, has been a health editor at properties including Marie Claire, Prevention, Shape and RealAge. She's also certified as a swim and triathlon coach.
How do swimmers get so ripped? ›
Swim training volume and intensity, along with dryland training and nutrition play a role in a swimmer's physique. Simply put, swimmers put in hours and hours of work — sometimes 20-30 hours per week at an elite level! Some swimmers have really cut bodies thanks to their genetics, too.Can you get ripped by just swimming? ›
The answer is no. Swimming alone will not get you ripped. A combination of strict dieting, running, weight training and an intense swimming regimen can get you ripped and looking like an Olympic swimmer if that is what you are seeking.What is the best swimming stroke to get ripped? ›
- Average calorie burn: around 450 calories for 30 minutes swimming.
- 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.
If you think you've tried everything to get rock-hard abs with no results, consider hitting the pool for regular swimming workouts that strengthen the whole body, target the abs, and increase endurance.What happens if you swim 3 times a week? ›
Just 30 minutes of swimming 3 times a week can increase your energy levels by increasing your metabolic rate. This means that it trains your body so that it can digest food quicker and use the calories faster, meaning you will feel less sluggish.Why do swimmers look so good? ›
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. Logging hours in the pool equates to low body fat and defined abs. Powerful legs.Do swimmers lift weights? ›
Top swimmers have lots of muscle. They are powerful, and they lift weights or do dryland regularly. Some elite swimmers spend as much as 6 hours per week in the weight room alone.Is 500m swim a good workout? ›
Distance swimming workouts will help you increase your endurance, enhance recovery times and help with your stroke efficiency. The best way to do this is with 500-meter intervals.Should swimmers bulk or cut? ›
Looks aside, increasing muscle mass is an important goal for all swimmers as it confers a performance advantage.What swim stroke burns the most fat? ›
According to Swimming.org, butterfly is the top of the calorie-burn list, burning around 450 calories per 30 minutes of swimming. Although the hardest to learn, butterfly works all muscles in your body, providing a intense workout. Coming in second is freestyle, which is the fastest of all the strokes.
Which swimming stroke burns the most belly fat? ›
“The butterfly stroke is the most demanding, working the entire body and will burn the most calories,” says Hickey. “The breaststroke would come in second, and the backstroke third.”How do swimmers get big shoulders? ›
Swimmers are notorious for having broad shoulders and a rounded posture. The muscles in the shoulder and upper back are hypertrophied from repetitive motion. This additional muscle mass contributes to excessive curvature in the spine and a weak core exposes the lower back to more strain.Where do swimmers gain muscle? ›
All swimming strokes do give a workout for the body's main muscles, including abdominal, back, forearm, shoulder and gluteal muscles, as well as hamstrings.How do swimmers get fast? ›
Resistance training is an effective way to gain strength that will go hand-in-hand with swimming faster. Compound movements like squats and pullups are a fantastic way to engage the entire body and support everything you do in the water. It's not necessary to gain a ton of mass to see the impact on your swimming.What sport is best for abs? ›
Running. One of the best sports to tone your abs, thighs and get rid of cellulite! Running is a endurance sport that will help your burn fat, especially around your abdomen and thighs. Try and keep your back straight and tighten your abs when running to make your workout even more efficient.Do swimmers bulk up? ›
Building Muscle Through Resistance
Swimming will build muscle much faster and more effectively than traditional cardio exercises like running or biking. The constant pushing and pulling against the water, which has a much higher resistance level than air, builds muscle capacity and endurance.
With the full-body workout that swimming provides, many muscle groups can be worked. Swimming surpasses most other sports in this regard by providing an ideal stimulus for muscle growth right across the body. In particular, the shoulders, abs, back, legs and triceps get consistently worked while swimming.Is it OK to swim laps every day? ›
Can You Swim Every Day? Absolutely! You can swim seven days a week, 365 days a year – many people do this! The key is moderating your intensity and duration so your body is fresh for each workout.Will I get fit if I swim everyday? ›
While swimming does burn a lot of calories, you may be overestimating the amount of calories you burn during each workout. As a result, you may overeat and put your body in a calorie surplus! This can cause you to gain weight if maintained for a long period of time.How often should I swim to see results? ›
Just 30 minutes of swimming three times a week alongside a balanced, healthy diet and lifestyle is one of the best ways to stay fit and healthy and maintain a positive mental outlook.
Do swimmers skin age faster? ›
Exposure to chlorine can cause skin aging in swimmers, as pores are opened up and the effects of chlorine on the skin are intensified. Swimmers often have more exposed skin due to their aquatic activities and may be at a greater risk for developing chlorosis or premature aging of their skin due to this exposure.Are skinnier swimmers faster? ›
“Based on casual observation at Masters meets, I'd say that you can't predict a swimmer's performance based on body weight (especially in upper age groups),” Heggy says.Do swimmers do pull ups? ›
The pull-up has long been a part of the swimmer's dryland.
Swimmers, with their strong lats and shoulders are basically made to dominate the pull up bar.
Swimmers may not burn as many calories or build as much muscle in their conditioning as other athletes, so their body fat is sometimes higher than other athletes. A male athlete will likely have a body fat percentage between 9% and 12%, while a female athlete can be between 14% and 24%.Do swimmers have toned arms? ›
Plus, another benefit of swimming is that it can help build muscle too. Morrissey explains: 'It offers the potential to tone up pretty much everywhere. Someone who starts working hard in the pool could expect to see more definition in their arms, upper body and thighs in particular.Why is freestyle so tiring? ›
Holding your breath means it's harder to fully exhale all of the air in your lungs. This means you'll have to gasp for air at each breath which can create a panicked feeling and you'll also have a higher Co2 concentration in your blood, which can make you feel exhausted.What is the 15 meter rule in swimming? ›
A 15-meter violation occurs when, after the start and each turn, a swimmer fails to break the surface of the water by the 15-meter mark. Before events, meet committees will decide when video reviews will be conducted, and all participants will be informed before the competition.Is 30 minutes of swimming equivalent to running? ›
Studies by NutriStrategy have shown that running and swimming are comparable in the amount of calories spent. Swimming the freestyle stroke for 30 minutes burns just about as many calories as running on a treadmill at six and a half miles per hour for thirty minutes.Should I swim or lift weights? ›
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.Which swimmer has the best physique? ›
That having been said, Michael Phelps' body is closer to perfection than any other swimmer's body in history. Phelps has many anthropometric advantages. He is very tall, standing at 6 foot 4 inches, and he also has a 6-foot-7-inch wingspan and short powerful legs which are the size of someone who is 6 feet tall.
Which muscles swimmers use the most? ›
- The triceps. Your triceps are the muscles at the back of your upper arms. ...
- The lats. Your lats are the big muscles on the sides of your middle back. ...
- The deltoids. ...
- The quads. ...
- The core.
As long as you maintain a healthy diet alongside your swimming regime, spending just 30 minutes 3 times a week in the pool will help you stay fit. For the best results, it's important to stay consistent with your swimming routine. With a consistent water workout, you should begin seeing weight loss within 30 days.Are fatter swimmers better? ›
Increasing body fat in swimmers increases buoyancy (aiding performance) but also increases form drag and buoyancy (a hindrance).What should I eat after swimming to lose weight? ›
Good food to eat after training includes chicken, turkey, oily fish, Quorn, peanut butter, brown rice, low-fat milk and cheese. To restore vital nutrients, it's important to pair those lean proteins with a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.What happens if you swim everyday for a month? ›
During these 30 days, my vital lung capacity improved, my average resting heart rate dropped and I also got faster! My average swimming pace dropped about 10% by the end of the month. I was able to swim faster with less energy just by improving my feel of the water and my aerobic capacity.How often should you swim to build muscle? ›
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.How many laps should I swim? ›
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.Why are swimmers so bulky? ›
Swimmers are notorious for having broad shoulders and a rounded posture. The muscles in the shoulder and upper back are hypertrophied from repetitive motion. This additional muscle mass contributes to excessive curvature in the spine and a weak core exposes the lower back to more strain.Do swimmers get muscular? ›
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', and learn about your muscle fiber types (opens in new tab), too.Why are swimmers chubby? ›
For any given body weight, the higher the body fat %, the more buoyant the swimmer will be. This in turn means that less of the body will be under the waterline, which will in turn mean less drag to overcome – ie more of the propulsive force can be turned into forward motion.
What muscle is known as the swimmers muscle? ›
The latissimus dorsi muscle is a large sweeping muscle that connects the lower half of the body (pelvis) to the arm itself. Because of its many actions associated with movements of swimming, it's known as the swimmer's muscle.At what age do swimmers peak? ›
As internationally successful swimmers reach peak performance between 21 and 26 years of age and peak performance duration is limited (2.6 ± 1.5 years) , swimmers may have to start early to reach top-elite performance on time and not to miss their window of opportunity.Do swimmers live longer? ›
On average, swimmers live longer than non-swimmers, even compared to people who partake in other physical activities.What muscles are weak in swimmers? ›
Swimming develops strong muscles of the chest, back, arms, and shoulders but not the deep postural muscles of the hips and torso. Because swimmers don't support their body weight against gravity while swimming the postural muscles and stability muscles get weaker over time.What is the best swim to build muscle? ›
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.What body type do swimmers usually have? ›
Although swimmers with a wide variety of body types have found success in the sport, most at the international level tend to look similar, sporting tall and muscular bodies – typically with long torsos, long arms and short legs.Will I lose muscle if I swim everyday? ›
Because it's done against resistance (water), swimming challenges the muscles and thereby preserves (and sometimes increases) muscle mass. At the same time, swimming raises the heart rate and burns a lot of calories, facilitating fat-loss.”Is it better to swim or run? ›
Swimming is better than running for cardiovascular exercise because there is greater resistance in water than in the air. Both are forms of aerobic exercise (increasing your heart rate and promoting better cardiovascular health), but it takes more effort to kick in water than to take a step while running.Why do swimmers look younger? ›
In terms of age markers like muscle mass and lung function swimming really does help you stay younger for longer. A long-term study at Indiana University Center for the Science of Swimming found that swimmers aged over 35 swimming roughly 3,200 to 4,500 metres three to five times a week, postponed the ageing process.Is swimming a full body workout? ›
Unlike many exercises that target a specific muscle group, swimming tackles a variety of muscles, all at the same time, providing a full-body workout. Depending on the stroke you choose, you can work everything from your arms to your core to your legs.
Are dips good for swimmers? ›
Dips are one of the most essential arm exercises for swimmers. Your triceps are one of the most important muscles you use when swimming. It's fortunate that there's an exercise that targets your triceps that you can perform even in the most sparsely furnished apartment.