Are you looking for the best swim workout for weight loss or the best swimming workouts to remove belly fat? Do you want the best non-weight-bearing exercise? When you think of swimming, you might only envision a tranquil beach oasis and work on those tan lines. However, swimming is an effective, low-impact exercise that is ideal for beginners, intermediate and advanced swimmers. It’s also a great cardio workout that’s ideal for toning and strength training. And, you don’t have to be shy about taking a swim class or workout.
Swimmers come in all shapes and sizes so you can feel comfortable about the skin you’re in when you sign-up for a swim workout. Let’s dive into the best swimming exercises for losing weight, improving your form and building muscles. That way you can get in shape, have fun andlook and feel fabulous!
Tiny bubbles…Nothing like a fast breaststroke, burning eyes and the smell of chlorine in the morning! If you are starting a swim workout for the first time, there are several ways to exercise your entire body and maximize your lung capacity. Consult a physician before starting a swim workout. Avoid pools if you have an asthma flareup, bad cold, heart problem or an open wound.
For most swimmers, you need a strong core so your hips don’t droop too much. Beginner swim workouts in the water might include kickboards, noodles and weights. But exercises out of the water are also important.
To help you build up your core, dryland exercises are recommended. These can give your body the strength you need for the various kicks and strokes. However, these are only necessary if you’re working on improving your swimming form (not standing in shallow water doing side stretches).
Dryland exercises might include:
- Hollow holds
- Side planks
Need a few more? Check out the 10 best dryland swimmer exercises.
Swimming is a total body workout as it’s aerobic by nature and low-impact. Swimming is often prescribed for those with multiple sclerosis or arthritis. Because it requires your full body to resist the water, a swim can increase your muscle mass, mobility and strength. You can also improve your lung capacity as you work on breathing techniques which we will explore.
A great stress reliever, your aquatic adventure gives you quiet time (especially if the pool is empty or you swim with waterproof earplugs in). The water is also very calming and meditative, making it emotionally and mentally healthy. Consider a solo swim workout or sign up for a class with others!
Another way that swimming makes a splash is it raises your heart rate. Because your muscle groups work harder underwater, you’re toning and strengthening your arms and legs (without the heavy impact on your bones and joints). Hence, you burn more calories.
Fresh on the swim scene? You might ask, do I need to know how to swim? Yes and no. You don’t need to know how to swim to do basic stretches and aerobics in shallow water with an instructor. However, once you learn to swim you can do all kinds of fun workouts (in the deep end!). Don’t swim? Watch this video and learn to swim in 5-minutes.
If you already know how to swim, select a workout below after reading the swim terminology. These are not designed to exhaust you but to help you progress in your kicks and strokes. As you build muscle strength, you can advance to the intermediate and more difficult workouts.
Let’s get started with a few tips…
Starting a swim workout doesn’t have to be scary. Make a splash with your swim terms as you also work on advancing your routine.
A few common swim terms include:
- Bubbly: Celebrating with yummy, frozen fruit drinks after a great swim workout.
- Descending Effort: If your trainer or coach adds :05 on for the next rep to help you go faster.
- Distance Per Stroke (DPS): It’s how far you can go with each stroke.
- DQ: Nope. Not Dairy Queen. It stands for disqualification from a race if a swimmer violates the rules. An example is a false start (leaving the starting block early).
- Drill: A test like flutter kicks or butterfly arms to help improve your form.
- Dryland: Workouts outside of the water that might include stretches, weights and yoga.
- Heat: A swim meet with different events. The first heat is usually for slower groups, while faster groups go last. Heat can also indicate that the sun is beating down too much outside and let’s go find a cool indoor pool. Who wants harmful UV rays?
- Interval: The time you have to complete a rep or repetition.
- Kicks: Only using your legs to propel you. Techniques might include vertical kicking, kickboards and streamlines with snorkels.
- Meet: These are your swim competitions (or where you will meet up after your swim class).
- Negative Split: You will swim faster in the second half than in the first.
- On the Red Top, On the Top, On the Bottom: The time your trainer or coach uses with your pace clock (analog with four hands).
- Pace Clock: The clock at the pool that gives your swim time and Uber pick-up time.
- Prune: A fruit and what your hands and feet resemble after swimming.
- Pulls: When you only use your arms to propel you. You might use a pull buoy (leg float) between your legs to stop you from kicking. Don’t confuse this with pool boy, the guy who cleans up after you leave.
- Starting Block: It’s the platform where swimmers take off before a race.
- Stroke Count: How many strokes you can take in a single lap.
- Taper: If your trainer tapers your workouts, they will decrease or slow down before a meet.
- Timers: The people in designated lanes who time individual swimmers with stopwatches.
Learn how to read a set.
Swimming workouts include terminology that is laid out differently. Here’s an example to help you understand sets.
In this example:
- 10 is the reps or repetitions and 50 is the distance to swim.
- Free swim is the type of swimming you will do.
- @1:10 is how much time you have in your interval to complete your reps.
- You might also see @:20 which means you will rest for 20-seconds.
A good swim workout might take 30-60 minutes. Hence, you can consistently build your endurance over time. Always start with light stretches outside of the water, then light stretches in the water. Finish up with a 5-minute cooldown. Remember, immediately stop if you feel pain or start to tire.
There are several types of swim workouts to try. Whether you want a class in shallow water with noodles and buoys or you want to work on advanced swim techniques, there’s a lot to choose from.
Let’s explore a few:
If you’re new to swimming, work on drills to improve your form.
- Dolphin Kicks: It engages your core muscles, opens your lungs and can be done on your back.
- Flutter Kicks: A hip flexor exercise, it also strengthens and tones the glutes and your core abs. You might also want to give vertical flutter kicks a try.
- Pikes: It exercises the arms and abs as you draw your knees to your chest.
- Tic-Toc: It stretches and strengthens the abs and side muscles (obliques).
These are similar to the above swim drills. Ensure you use the correct form for the maximum effect and to avoid injury.
- Band/Buoy Swims: These isolate your upper body and block you from kicking and moving your legs. A great way to increase your upper body strength, keep your core fully engaged.
- Dolphin Kicks: These strengthen your core abs. Kick it up a notch by doing these on your back. You will also find that swimming kicks tone your legs.
- Flutter Kicks: These tighten the glutes, abs and hip flexors. Start with a pool noodle and then remove it as you progress. You can also hold the pool’s edge.
- Kickboard Kicks: Pull your belly button in tightly and keep your arms stretched out as you kick with your legs and feet.
- Pikes: As previously mentioned, these tone your stomach as you draw your knees in and then stretch into a jackknife. To tone your triceps, spin your arms in small circles behind you. For more, try these fat-burning swim exercises.
- Tic-Toc: Included above, it can be done in the shallow end. However, for full effect, tighten your abs as you lean left and right.
Looking for an effective, beginner swim workout? Ease into the water with the examples below. They focus more on comfort, not strokes.
- 8×25 yards kickboard @:15 Using a kickboard, flutter kick 8 reps for 25-yards. Rest for 15-seconds.
- 4×50 yards freestyle @:20 Swim freestyle 50 yards 4 times. Rest 20-seconds after each rep.
- 8×25 yards alternate sprint kicks @:10 Do an easy kicking style for even laps and sprint kicks on the odd laps. Rest 10-seconds between laps.
Feel like you’re a stronger swimmer? Try this one…
- 4×25 yards freestyle @:15 Do freestyle swimming and rest 15-seconds after every lap.
- 8×50 yards fast kicks @:20 Do fast kicks and rest 20-seconds between laps.
- 4×25 yards freestyle @:15 Repeat the first workout and rest for 15-seconds. Then stop.
As you advance your swimming technique, you will swim faster and notice your sprints are quicker. However, don’t skip the rest breaks. Let your body recover to avoid injury.
- 3×100 yards alternating backstroke and freestyle @:30 Do the backstroke on even laps and swim freestyle on the odd. Rest for 30-seconds after each lap.
- 6×50 yards flutter kicks @:20 Use a kickboard and flutter kick before resting 20-seconds.
- 6×50 yards alternating sprint kicks and easy kicks @:15 Do easy kicks with your odd laps and sprint kicks with the even. Rest for 15-seconds after each lap. Then take a 1-minute break.
As you become a better swimmer, you will make longer strides (arm circles) and take fewer strokes to swim across the pool. To avoid shoulder strain, don’t let your hands go too wide.
- Warm-up with a 100-yard kickboard workout, then do 200-yards with a buoy. Follow that up with 300-yards for a freestyle swim.
- 4×50 yards freestyle @:10 Swim freestyle and then rest 10-seconds after each lap.
- 4×50 yards kickboard @:15 Swim with a kickboard and then rest 15-seconds after each lap.
- 8×50 yards alternating freestyle and sprint strokes @:10 Sprint stroke on even laps and sprint freestyle on the odd and rest for 10-seconds. Cool your body down with a 200-yard easy freestyle swim.
The best way to avoid injuries is to stretch before and after your swim workout. Arm and leg swings are common even with advanced swimmers as a way to stretch their limbs and get their blood circulating.
Want to swim without getting tired? To test if you’re ready for a swim workout, try swimming for 20-minutes. If you can’t do this, build-up to it. Swim for 5-minutes, then 10-minutes and so forth. At 20-minutes, you’re ready for a full workout. However, when you swim, don’t break your form.
Breaking form is when your body sags in the middle or you feel like you’re dragging your weight. The goal is to stay streamlined (straight). Here are a few beginner swim tips.
When you start to tire during a workout, feel fatigued, or your form becomes incorrect or inconsistent, stop. That lets you know your magic number. Work on the drills above to help maintain the correct swimming technique.
Sink or swim? If you’re swimming for fitness, it’s going to include quite a bit of flutter kicks to help improve the agility in your ankles and legs. It also requires consistent breathing techniques. Here’s an example of how to breathe when swimming.
Improving your kicks will help you develop a more consistent form and maintain your body’s position in the water. Effective kicking will also let you give your shoulders and arms a well-needed break, so allow some time to adjust.
Proper Breathing Technique:
- Practice with a basic kickboard and work on flutter kicks.
- While you kick, turn your head to one side and breathe in through your nose. Let the breath out while your face is in the water.
- Rotate/angle your body with every stroke so you don’t stay flat. Your whole body should connect and roll with each stroke.
- Keep your head up as you look down at the pool floor.
Ready to make a few waves? Some beginners start with a swimming aerobics workout and mistakenly stop there. But, all kinds of swim workouts can improve your form. There are even different types of strokes to strengthen your shoulders.
Advanced swimmers sometimes include freestyle training with an interval or other type of stroke. Click on the beginner example in the link. Hence, you can use different stroke techniques to become a more efficient swimmer, but don’t overdo it.
A swimmer’s shoulder is a muscle imbalance or impingement that develops if you don’t have good form. It comes from too much rotation in your shoulder joint.
To avoid a swimmer’s shoulder, don’t work strictly on long strokes. Instead, take breaks to maximize your technique. Do shoulder exercises like pec major stretches, external rotator and lat stretches. And, improve mobility in your thoracic spine.
Take rest breaks and don’t stress about the intervals.
As a swimmer, don’t focus so much on intervals and exceeding your expectations. All swimmers can hit a wall at some point. A mistake you don’t want to make is trying to exceed a swim time or getting discouraged because you feel like you’re not improving faster when going the same distance repeatedly.
The workouts we’ve included give specific rest periods. Hence, you might see @:20 rest or @:30 rest after you complete your laps. Take advantage of these breaks and the recovery times. The appropriate amount of rest can improve the proficiency of your intervals over time. Save the speed boats for that next va-cay!
Enjoy your swim workout – and the skin you’re in.
While your workouts might leave your skin shriveled like a prune, you don’t have to feel like one. Have fun and find a swim workout you enjoy to tone and strengthen your body or to lose weight. And, here’s a key takeaway.
Louise Hay once said “You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Geneen Roth said “You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.”
Hence, enjoy your workouts and love your body. Every time you flutter kick, picture kicking the crap out of the negative words anyone ever spoke against you! You’ve got this!
FAQ about Swim Workouts
Ideally, 30-60 minutes. But, work on the proper form so your body doesn’t sag in the water. If you can swim for 20-minutes, you are considered a good swimmer. Take your time and build up to it.
People often ask is swimming a good workout. Yes! Swimming tones and strengthens the muscles because you’re facing resistance from the water. However, stretch before and after each workout and follow up your swims with a cooldown to avoid injury.
As an example, swim 4 x 50 yards and use flutter kicks or freestyle swimming then rest for 15-seconds. Do this 3 or 4 times and use that 15-second rest break after every lap.
Yes, because it’s harder for your muscles to move through the water and you have resistance without the impact. Try this 750-calorie 60-minute swim workout.
Yes! Because you are rotating your body with each stroke, you’re stretching the obliques (side ab muscles). However, it’s hard to keep that midriff area toned, so focus specifically on belly fat swim workouts (and, wave that stubborn belly fat and excess weight buh-bye!).