One of the most important things we can do to keep ourselves healthy is to stay in shape. This involves more than just going for walks and eating a salad every now and then. Studies have shown that people who work to maintain muscle mass tend to have stronger bones, better overall health, and longer lives.
The thing is, not everyone wants to build muscle by going to a gym and lifting weights. For those who prefer a primarily cardio-based exercise like swimming, intense anaerobic activities like pumping iron might not be ideal.
So can one build muscle by swimming alone? Read on to find out all the facts you need to know about swimming as a primary form of exercise, and how swimming actually can contribute to muscle growth.
How Does Swimming Contribute to Our Overall Health?
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that swimming is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do to keep your cardiovascular systems in check and keep energy levels up. Swimming has a myriad of benefits, including:
- Provides a low impact workout that almost anyone can do
- Better aerobic fitness
- Builds endurance and stamina
- An effective way to burn calories
- Helps contribute to weight loss and keeping weight off
Exercise, in general, can also boost endorphins, which quite literally makes us happier! And yes, swimming also has the potential to build muscle.
What Is Muscle Growth?
What exactly happens to us physiologically when our muscles are growing? Well, the expression “no pain, no gain” is a little bit true in this case. Resistance is what causes us to actually gain muscle growth.
When we build muscle, our muscles are tearing. Doing activities that strain the muscles cause the fibers of the muscles to actually tear, and when those fibers repair themselves, they grow bigger.
These little micro-tears are the reason for soreness after a tough workout. It’s also the reason why it can be a good thing to add variety to your workout routines, to ensure that you aren’t always working out the same muscle groups.
With swimming, it’s possible to hit smaller, often ignored muscle groups that can be overlooked by traditional strength training. You can also hit multiple muscle groups at the same time, making this a very efficient workout.
How Does Swimming Build Muscle?
Is swimming primarily a cardiovascular exercise? Yes. Is it effective at building muscle and maintaining muscle gains? Also yes!
When swimming, you are constantly pushing and pulling against the resistance of the water, and anyone who has ever done swimming for exercise before knows that water carries a lot of resistance. This environment is ideal for building lean muscle.
Water at sea level is approximately 784 times denser than air, which is one of the main reasons why it’s possible to build muscle through swimming. It provides a significant amount of resistance that your muscle groups have to work against.
Is Swimming the Most Effective Way To Build Muscle?
The short answer is no. The science behind muscle growth tells us that in order to keep building and toning muscle, you need to change it up.
Our muscles adapt to the resistance and activities that they do regularly. This is why weight lifters use a progressive overload method, wherein they are constantly adding weight and varying the types of exercises they are doing.
This type of variation is difficult to do when it comes to swimming. Of course, it’s possible to do different strokes and to put focus on different muscles in that way, but increasing resistance isn’t easy.
Still, if you have ever seen the backs and shoulders of professional swimmers, you know that the muscle-building potential of swimming is real. Let’s delve a bit into which muscles are getting the most out of a swimming workout.
What Muscles Does Swimming Work?
Swimming is an incredible exercise that truly does work just about every muscle in the body. Different strokes allow the swimmer to put a focus on specific muscle groups, which is a great benefit.
Some of the most well-worked muscles include the core, lats, shoulders, pecs, and triceps in the upper body. In the lower body, the most used muscles are the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Though not every muscle group is worked equally with every type of stroke, there truly isn’t a single muscle that gets some sort of workout during a swimming session. This means that swimming is not only effective but also productive.
How To Get the Most Muscle Growth Out of a Swimming Workout
- Make sure you are getting at least two to three swimming workouts each week.
- Isolate specific muscles and muscles groups while swimming
- Mix up your swimming workouts to ensure that you are working different muscles
- Build intensity in your workouts so that you don’t plateau.
- Incorporate dryland strength training into your schedule
- Use special equipment such as paddles, gloves, or drag suits
- Make sure you have comfortable swimwear that allows you a full range of comfortable movements.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes a lot of protein
Benefits of Swimming Beyond the Physical
It’s well established that there are physical health benefits to swimming, but there are other benefits that you may not be aware of.
Swimming can improve your mental health: Swimming is one of the few activities you can do that truly demands you leave all of your outside problems behind. You can’t exactly check your phone or email in the pool, so you really focus on only yourself. Swimming is calming and relaxing and has the benefit of being an activity one can do in beautiful locations if you choose to swim outdoors.
Getting in your laps can also help you get in your ZZZs: Aerobic activity has been linked to better overall sleep and healthier sleep routines. In addition, the relaxing nature of swimming can help you get to a mental place that ensures a faster trip to dreamland!
Swimming can make you smarter: An Australian study found a correlation in young children between swimming and mastering age-appropriate skills. Those children who swam regularly were more likely to achieve skills sooner than their non-swimming peers. Even when it came to skills like language, reading, and mathematics, the children who swam showed stronger skills than those who didn’t.
Can swimming build muscle? Absolutely! However, that’s just one of the many reasons to incorporate swimming into your exercise routine. If muscle growth is a major goal of your workout routine, it will benefit you to incorporate some dry land training into your fitness routine, but some muscle building can still occur through swimming alone.