Does Swimming Build Muscle? Learn What Muscles Are Used
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Does Swimming Build Muscle

Victoria Pitcher
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Does Swimming Build Muscle? Yes. But swimming is an endurance exercise, so when compared to lifting heavy weights, it is not in the same league for developing muscle bulk.

However, like other endurance sports, it builds endurance strength in the muscles, often resulting in a lean but toned body with strong muscles.

Swimming is a sport that works most of the muscles in the body. It is an effective exercise to strengthen the upper body and core muscles.

Does Swimming Change Your Body Shape?

If you look at elite swimmers, they often have a similar body shape. Broad shoulders, muscular backs, narrow hips, long arms, and large hands and feet. But are these pre-existing body shapes making them great swimmers, or are these shapes developed through swimming?

Maybe a bit of both. Feet and hands will not change with training, arm length or hip width. The musculature of the back, shoulder and arms, and therefore how broad their shoulders look, will be influenced by the thousands of lengths of the pool that they swim.

Swimming is a non-weight-bearing exercise; it is often used during recovery from injury or for cross-training from other more impactful exercises such as running. The core strength gained from swimming is also effective in aiding many other sports.

What Muscles Does Swimming Work?


Picture of a person doing Breaststroke

The leg muscles account for greater propulsion with breaststroke than all the other strokes. In particular, the abductor and adductor muscles of the hips.

These muscles move the hips and legs out and in together, respectively. The arms create a circular movement, so they use many muscles, with the most powerful movement working the pectoral muscles of the chest.

Related article: Swimmers Knee

Front crawl

Picture of a person doing Front Crawl

Front crawl is a more balanced stroke using muscles of the whole body. Depending on the swimming style, this is usually a more upper-body dominant stroke for forward propulsion.

The powerful propulsion comes from the latissimus dorsi and internal rotator muscles, such as the pectoral muscles, subscapularis, and serratus anterior. The deltoids, trapezius and external rotator muscles work when the arm recovers over the water.

The kick is from the hip and predominantly uses the gluteal muscles and hamstrings. The core muscles are essential to keep the body straight and resist the forces generated by the limbs to keep the swimmer moving efficiently and straight in the water.


Picture of a person doing the Butterfly stroke swimming

The butterfly is a challenging stroke with the arms generating most of the forward propulsion from the latissimus dorsi, pectorals, subscapularis, and serrated anterior.

This stroke also requires a lot of strength for arm recovery over the water. Both arms simultaneously move overhead, using the deltoids and upper trapezius muscles.

To maintain forward propulsion as the arms recover over water, the legs kick powerfully together using the hip flexors, quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.


Picture of a person doing a Back Stroke swimming

Backstroke, like most other strokes, uses the powerful latissimus dorsi muscles for propulsion, along with the deltoids and triceps.

The lower legs are less powerful in the backstroke, and we primarily use the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors and quads for the backstroke. The core muscles are also necessary to keep the body in alignment, as this is a unilateral stroke.

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