Does swimming build muscle

Swimming is not only a fun, recreational activity, it’s also a fantastic way to get fit and active, boosting heart health and supporting weight loss.

But how effective is swimming if your primary aim is to build muscle? And which stroke should you be doing to tone and sculpt shoulders, arms and legs? In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the benefits of swimming, focusing on its muscle-building potential.

Does swimming build muscle mass?

Swimming can indeed contribute towards building muscle mass, predominantly strengthening the upper body and core muscles. In many ways, it’s similar to lifting weights, however it doesn’t develop muscle mass to the same extent as weightlifting can. The benefit of swimming is that it is low impact and doesn't place the same level of stress on your joints, making it a great activity for young and old.

Does swimming develop muscles more effectively than other exercises?

Due to the resistance provided by the water, swimming can be more effective for developing muscles than running, walking or cycling. That said, doing this activity alone can’t be considered more effective than, say, weightlifting or more advanced resistance training workouts.

How fast does swimming build muscle?

Building muscle takes time so don’t expect to see quick results, especially if swimming is your only form of exercise. The key is consistency and intensity. Swimming for 30 minutes, three to five times a week will increase your muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness over time, while combining swimming with other resistance-based workouts and a protein-rich diet will help you achieve your goals more rapidly.

What is the best swimming stroke to build muscle?

To coin an old expression – when it comes to building muscle, it’s different strokes for different folks! The best style of swimming depends on which area of the body you want to work on. Here's a guide to the most common strokes and the muscle groups they target.


The breaststroke predominantly targets the latissimus dorsi muscles (middle and lower back) which are engaged with every arm push and pull against the water, while the glutes and quads are the main muscles worked during the frog-like leg kick.

Butterfly stroke

The hardest stroke of all, but the one that unsurprisingly reaps the most benefits. The butterfly works your core, glutes and lower back, targeting the muscles that lift the body up and out of the water when breathing.

Front crawl

This stroke is great for working the upper body muscles. With each arm stroke, you’re working your biceps, triceps and shoulder muscles. Your core is engaged through the exercise, which will have great results for your oblique muscles too. Additionally, the fluttering kick leg motion will benefit your foot muscles, calf muscles and hip flexors.


Similar to the front crawl, the backstroke focuses on a wide range of muscles, but the neck muscles are used less due to the head remaining in a static position. This stroke works inner and outer abdominal muscles, also targeting the hamstrings, lower body muscles and hip flexors.

Trying to build muscle?

Whether you’re trying to build muscle mass, improve cardiovascular fitness or generally feel fitter and healthier, why not register with LiveWell Dorset today and receive personalised advice from our team of LiveWell coaches? You can also find lots of great articles, tools and resources on the Get Active section of our website. Contact us today to find out more!


Further reading


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