Swimming – Why it should be part of your fitness and recovery routine

Response Physio | 08.08.21

Why Swimming should be part of your fitness and recovery routine
Swimming has the power to give your muscles a makeover

We often hear that swimming is one of the most complete sporting activities for building muscle strength and reducing injury risks with a positive psychological impact on health recovery.

But why is that the case?

Swimming is among the best forms of cardiovascular exercise available to us. It is one of the only exercises that utilises all muscle groups while constantly stimulating and raising our heart rate. As a result of its low impact nature, it is a sport most likely not to cause injury, and it has even been used as a form of physiotherapy by athletes who suffer from ailments in other, less forgiving sports.

Swimming improves muscles definition and strength 

Swimming requires both muscular strength and endurance. While endurance is the ability of muscles to perform repeated submaximal contractions over time, strength is the amount of force that your muscles can produce. In swimming, muscular strength dictates how much force your muscles can apply to the water, which in turn propels your body forward. Constant repetition of strokes improve muscle endurance and because water is much denser than air, the higher resistance against the body’s movements cause the muscles to be strengthened and toned.

All swimming strokes provide body workouts for the body’s main muscles, such as abdominals, backs, forearms, shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, and more. But there are important differences between the different styles of swimming in terms of the specific muscle groups. 

For example, Freestyle is a great way to work out the upper body muscles and strengthen those in the back, torso, and abdomen. The crawl arm movement extends swimmers’ shoulders and is tones the deltoid and shoulder muscles. The flutter kick leg action used in this stroke will work your lower body too, including the hip flexors and foot muscles. 

With Backstroke you do not need to use your neck muscles to the same extent by twisting your head to breathe, and also is great for working both the inner and outer abdominal muscles. It also particularly targets the hamstrings, as well as the hip flexors and other lower body muscles. 

The butterfly stroke is a great workout, using more energy than other types of swimming. It emphasizes the lower body, working the abdominal, lower back and gluteal muscles as you move through the water and lift your body to take a breath. The arm and shoulder muscles also get plenty of exercise with each stroke. 

How swimming can help improve injury and recovery

Swimming is a great way to recover after a hard strength day. In fact, a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that athletes who hit the pool for a moderate workout on a recovery day were able to subsequently work out longer than those who took it easy. The study also showed that swimming as part of recovery produced lower C – reactive protein levels, which is linked to muscle inflammation. 

Swimming is also a common rehabilitation method for injuries such as back pain, torn ligaments and surgery because it isn’t a weight-bearing activity. Different strokes can alleviate pain in different ways, like backstroke being a good option for back pain. All strokes are an active form of stretching, working your arm muscles, quads, calves and engaging your core. Injury can often cause the muscles to seize up, so slowly swimming laps and alternating strokes will keep your muscles loose and flexible. 

Lower-back pain, arthritis, or rehabilitation following a knee or hip replacement can all benefit from water or aqua therapy. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends swimming or walking in the water as rehabilitation exercises for injuries to ligaments, muscles, or tendons. Research has found that pain from mild osteoarthritis (OA) and joint stiffness will improve with regular exercise – particularly strengthening exercises and aerobic fitness. Therefore exercising in water will give you these benefits, but with no impact and less pain. 

New to swimming, what you need to know

Before you dive in: 

· Make sure you know how to swim.

· Choose a safe environment.

· Warm up and stretch your muscles and joints before entering the water.

· Have plenty of fluids on hand and drink regularly.

· Don’t overdo it if you’re just starting out.

· See your doctor if you haven’t exercised for a long time.


If you’re just getting started with an exercise program or if you’re looking to try something new, jump in the pool. Swimming has a host of benefits for our mental and physical health. Once you get the basics, try swimming laps for 20 to 40 minutes at a pace that keeps your heart rate elevated. Working out in water is not only effective but also great fun.

If you’d like more advice or arrange a physiotherapy session at any of our clinics, get in touch to find a physiotherapist near you.



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