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NOV 14, 2023

Swimming for Fitness and Exercise: Your One-Stop Guide

Have you ever seen the lean, toned body of a swimmer and thought, “I want that?” Well let’s talk about the pros and cons of swimming outside of the physique.

Read time: 7 minutes

When you think of the ideal physique for fitness and exercise, the image of a long, lean, and athletic swimmer's body may come to mind. And this means many people out there (perhaps even you, dear reader) aspire to achieve this look, believing that swimming is the key to getting in shape, losing weight, and toning up. And while there’s a lot of merit to that, it's time to dispel the myth of attaining the "swimmer's body." As well as outlining the perfect strokes to stay in the best shape, and covering all the pros and cons of making swimming a big part of your workout routine.

Debunking the Swimmer's Body Myth

Firstly, it's important to recognize that swimmers with long, lean bodies often have a genetic predisposition to this physique. Their body proportions, such as a longer torso and impressive reach, contribute to their success in the sport. As such, trying to achieve this body type through swimming alone may not be realistic for everyone.

“People go ‘Ah, swimmers, they’ve got amazing physiques, I’ll start swimming.’ 3, 4, 5 months in, they realize they don’t look like a swimmer. They’re like ‘What the f&!# is up?’ They then come to realize that swimmers don’t look the way they do because they swim. They swim because of the way they look.” - James Smith

So, knowing people have different body types, it's clear that what works for one person may not work for another. This is why it's essential to set realistic fitness goals based on your unique body and genetics rather than trying to emulate someone else's appearance. Not only so you achieve the results you want, but also to ensure a positive state of mental health on your fitness journey.

Optimum Swimming Strokes

When it comes to choosing the best swimming strokes for exercise, it's essential to consider your fitness goals and individual preferences. Different strokes offer varying levels of intensity and engage different muscle groups. Here are a few popular swimming strokes and their benefits for exercise.

Freestyle (Front Crawl)

Freestyle is one of the most popular and versatile swimming strokes for exercise. It offers a fantastic cardiovascular workout while engaging the muscles of the upper body, including the shoulders, arms, and back. Freestyle also works the core and lower body as you kick and rotate through the water. Its continuous, rhythmic motion makes it an excellent choice for burning calories and improving endurance.


The Butterfly stroke is known for being one of the most demanding swimming strokes, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a high-intensity workout. It engages the chest, shoulders, back, and core muscles, offering a full-body challenge. Butterfly requires coordination and strength, making it an ideal stroke for building muscle and endurance.


Breaststroke is a more leisurely stroke compared to freestyle and butterfly, making it accessible for swimmers of various fitness levels. It primarily targets the chest and inner thigh muscles while engaging the shoulders and arms to a lesser extent. Breaststroke is an excellent choice for those looking to tone their muscles without the high-intensity impact of other strokes.


Backstroke is a great way to work on your posture and engage the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and arms. It also strengthens the core and legs as you kick and maintain a streamlined position. Backstroke is an ideal choice for those who enjoy the sensation of swimming on their backs and want to balance out the muscle engagement from other strokes.

Ultimately, the best swimming stroke for exercise depends on your goals, fitness level, and personal preferences. What’s more, you can also mix and match strokes to create a well-rounded swimming routine that targets different muscle groups and keeps your workouts exciting. Whether you're aiming to burn calories, build strength, or improve your cardiovascular health, swimming strokes offer a versatile and effective means of achieving your fitness objectives.

Benefits of Swimming

Full-Body Workout

Swimming is one of those rare exercises that stands out as an exceptional full-body workout. This is because, rather than targeting specific muscle groups, swimming engages virtually all your major muscle groups simultaneously. So, whether you're performing freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, or butterfly, each stroke requires the coordinated effort of your arms, legs, core, and back muscles. This comprehensive engagement leads to improved strength, endurance, and muscle tone throughout your body.

Efficient Calorie Burner

If you're on a weight loss journey or looking to maintain a healthy body weight, swimming can be your strongest ally. In fact, depending on the intensity and style of your swim session, you can burn a substantial number of calories. On average, an hour of moderate-intensity swimming can torch between 400 to 600 calories. Part of this is because the resistance of the water and the continuous movement add up to make an activity that helps you shed excess pounds and maintain a lean physique.

Relaxing and Destressing

One unique aspect of swimming is its capacity to offer a challenging workout while still being a deeply relaxing experience. The sensation of being in the water, combined with the rhythmic movements, can have a profoundly calming effect on your mind. Additionally, swimming allows you to disconnect from the demands and stresses of everyday life, promoting mental wellbeing and reducing anxiety. It's a holistic approach to exercise that benefits not only your body but also your peace of mind.

Prevention of Chronic Diseases

Swimming isn't just about improving your physical appearance; it's also about safeguarding your long-term health. Regular swimming has been linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. It helps enhance cardiovascular health by increasing your heart rate and improving circulation. Swimming can also help regulate blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. By making swimming a part of your fitness routine, you invest in a healthier future.

Buoyancy Reduces Joint Strain

If you suffer from joint issues, are recovering from injuries, or are plagued by arthritis, swimming is an ideal exercise choice. Why? Because the buoyancy of the water significantly reduces the strain and pressure on your joints, allowing you to build strength and endurance without risking damage. This low-impact nature of swimming makes it accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels. It's particularly valuable for those seeking an effective workout without exacerbating joint problems.

The Downsides to Swimming

Limited Access

One of the primary challenges of incorporating swimming into your fitness routine is accessibility. Not every gym or fitness facility has a pool, and finding a suitable location with a clean, well- maintained pool can be a bit of a nightmare. And if availability wasn’t a problem enough, this may necessitate an additional membership or access fee - which can add to your fitness expenses.

Risk of Infections

While swimming pools are typically treated with chemicals like chlorine to kill harmful bacteria, there is still a risk of picking up various infections. These can include diarrhea, skin rashes, plantar warts, norovirus (stomach flu), and ear infections. To minimize these risks, it's essential to practice good hygiene by showering before entering the pool, avoiding swallowing pool water, and ensuring that the pool you use maintains proper water quality and hygiene standards.

Lack of Music Accompaniment

Unlike many equipment, cardio, and weight-based exercises, where you can enjoy your favorite tunes through headphones or a speaker, swimming often lacks the musical accompaniment that many find motivating and enjoyable during their workouts. Unless you invest in waterproof earbuds or find a pool with a great sound system, the experience may feel somewhat monotonous, especially during longer swims.


Swimming offers a multitude of benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. It provides a complete, full-body workout, efficiently burns calories, promotes relaxation, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Furthermore, its low-impact nature makes it an ideal choice for individuals with joint issues or those recovering from injuries.

However, it's crucial to consider the potential downsides as well. Access to a pool may be limited and come with additional costs, and there's a slight risk of infections associated with swimming. Additionally, the absence of music during your swim can make the experience less stimulating.

In making the decision to include swimming in your fitness routine, you should weigh the pros and cons based on your personal preferences, goals, and circumstances. So don’t set out to achieve a swimmer’s body for the aesthetic, invest in swimming because it’s a healthy and enjoyable way to stay active. And, with the right approach, you can make swimming a fulfilling and rewarding part of your fitness journey that goes the distance.

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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.

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