What muscles do you train while swimming?
A sentence that you often hear: “Swimming is a full-body sport, every muscle is moved!”
What’s true about it: Swimming is actually a sport for the whole body. It is clear that the arms and legs move. In order for this to work in a coordinated manner, the muscles of the torso have to hold everything together lifeguard training.
But: Anyone who now thinks that they can easily train their muscles by swimming is unfortunately wrong. The explanation for this is actually simple: in the water, the buoyancy relieves both joints and muscles. In other sports, such as jogging, the muscles work against gravity. When swimming, this task is partially relieved. In competitive sports, swimmers therefore often also do extensive strength training.
Building muscle also requires high levels of resistance, says Dr. Andreas Bieder from the German Sport University in Cologne. The conditions in the water are not ideal for this. “If I move my extremities quickly in the water, I get a lot of resistance,” says Bieder. “But the muscles can’t develop that much strength with fast movements.”
Swimming does not replace strength training
The concept behind it was described by the scientist AV Hill in 1938 in “Hill’s force-velocity relation”. It states that the rate of muscle contraction always depends on the force that is exerted. In other words, if you want to lift a certain load, the muscles always contract at the same speed. As the load increases, the contraction takes longer.
This also means that the faster the movement, the less force the muscle can exert – and not only in water. Hill’s observations actually apply to individual muscle fibers. However, an entire muscle consists of many different fibers, each of which is tied to Hill’s force-velocity relationship.
Untrained people can still see success in muscle building while swimming. Just don’t expect it to replace strength training.
Article section: What is the health benefit of swimming?
What does swimming do for your health?
First of all, swimming builds endurance. This applies not only to the muscles in the legs, arms and trunk, but especially to the lungs. Because when you swim, the water presses on your chest from all sides. So you inflate your lungs against an additional pressure that you don’t have on land. An increased lung volume in turn improves the pumping capacity of the heart and is ultimately good for the circulatory system.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCh), about two and a half hours of physical activity per week can reduce the risk of chronic diseases. This applies to swimming as well as jogging or cycling.
Swimming could reduce risk of death
A study also suggests that swimming significantly reduces the risk of death. Scientists from the University of South Carolina analyzed the data of over 40,000 men between the ages of 20 and 90 who had undergone a health examination between 1971 and 2003. Just over 3,300 of the men died during the time of the investigation. When the researchers looked at the physical activity of the men, they found that the risk of death in swimmers was reduced by around half compared to non-active men.
The authors also compared swimming to running and jogging. Surprisingly, there was also a clear advantage for swimmers here, with mortality being halved in each case. It must of course be said that these are only correlations. Statements about the direct connection cannot be drawn from such data. However, the authors eliminated age, weight and health factors before the analysis. The positive effects of swimming are not due to the fact that swimmers are particularly health-conscious or young.
Swimming might help with certain illnesses
There is evidence that swimming helps with diabetes and heart disease. However, the studies often examine specific target groups, so that the results cannot be generalized.
In 2016, for example, Chinese scientists showed that eight weeks of swimming training in overweight young adults improved blood pressure and stiffness in the arteries, as well as improved blood flow to the brain. Whether this also applies to people who are not overweight cannot be said on the basis of these data. Another 2016 study suggested that adults with arthritis in their joints can swim to improve pain, reduce stiffness, and build muscle strength. Cycling was just as helpful for this, though.
Many other studies are not directly about swimming, but about exercises in the water. This could benefit people with a wide variety of medical diagnoses, from hemophilia or multiple sclerosis to Parkinson’s, dementia and autism to patients after a stroke. The quality of the analyzes differs depending on the study: How many participants were there, were there control groups – and if so, did the test persons practice another sport or were they inactive?
So if you have medical problems and would like to relieve them with swimming or other water activities, it is best to talk to your doctor about it.
The basic rule for healthy people is: Exercise is good, it doesn’t really depend on the type. So if you have a swimming pool nearby, don’t like doing sports on land or just want to try it out, go for it.
Article Section: Can Swimming Lose Weight?
Can you lose weight by swimming?
In principle, yes, says Andreas Bidder from the German Sport University in Cologne. Because you use energy when you move. Whether you move in the water or on land doesn’t really matter that much. However, it’s easy to fall into the trap: “I’ve been moving, so I can eat a little more.” Then, of course, losing weight doesn’t work.
Some studies are also examining how well swimming helps you lose weight. In 2019, for example, Polish scientists analyzed how twelve weeks of swimming training affects the body of young women. The participants had to swim three times a week for one hour each. The sobering result: The training hardly changed anything.
Other studies come to similar conclusions, although the eating behavior of the participants was not regulated. It is possible that the test persons succumbed to the wishful thinking of being able to eat more after exercising.
Swimming burns calories, but jogging burns more
When it comes to losing weight, calories inevitably come into play. So how many calories do you burn swimming?
There is no simple answer to this, as it depends very much on the individual, on the weight and the intensity of the training. An example calculation: A person who weighs 73 kilograms burns just over 400 calories per hour with moderate swimming. Jogging (about five miles an hour) burns about 600 calories for this person, more than swimming.
Andreas Bieder advises caution with concrete values, because how one assesses the intensity is also very subjective. In addition, different training sessions differ in how long and intensively they are carried out. A jogger tends to have a smaller window of time, while cycling or walking can last all day. A trained swimmer can easily swim laps for several hours at a time – but for someone who makes swimming a leisure activity, that’s rather unrealistic.
If you want to lose weight, you should choose the sport that is easiest to implement and that is the most fun. Ultimately, what matters is that you do it regularly and over the long term without eating more at the same time.
Article Section: What Mistakes Can You Make While Swimming?
Swimming can be very stressful
Overall, motor skills in swimming are a complicated matter. “It’s easy to be wrong in the water if, for example, you move your arms and legs differently instead of at the same time,” says Achim Wiese.
And even if you do all the movements correctly, swimming can be very stressful for some people. “From an orthopedic point of view, we recommend backstroke or crawl swimming,” says Andreas Bieder from the German Sport University in Cologne. Finally, in the breaststroke, always bend back while inhaling to lift your face out of the water. Additionally, the leg movement puts stress on the inside of the knees. The straddle position when swimming breaststroke is therefore not good for people with osteoarthritis or other knee problems.
Achim Wiese also recommends that adults do a swimming course if they learned it wrong in childhood (for example, with their heads above water). Once you’ve learned it properly, says Wiese, you don’t need regular refresher courses.
Article Section: When should children learn to swim?
When should children learn to swim?
The DLRG recommends starting a real swimming course from the age of five. This is the step from seahorse to bronze badge. It is only from this age that children are able to coordinate the various movements and breathing. After about ten to twelve swimming lessons, most people have learned to swim. Achim Wiese, press spokesman for the DLRG, has an important tip: “Parents shouldn’t teach their children to swim.” It would be better for the little ones to take a swimming course with a trained coach.
Swimming lessons can help
Nadine Rug agrees. The teacher at the “Stairway Elementary School” in Erbach (Odenwald) noticed in the fourth year of swimming lessons in the last school year that many of the pupils could not yet swim. A swimming course could help to change that – for example because the children could have more fun in class together with their friends. “Adults do some swimming movements as a matter of course and may not even notice that the children are not yet able to do it or that they are doing it wrong.” Such mistakes can still be ironed out later. However, lessons with a trained trainer ensure that the children learn it right from the start. Nadine Rug’s own daughter will also take a course to learn how to swim.
Children should get used to water early on
However, it is helpful to start getting the children used to the water much earlier. “The children should get to know and learn to love the adventure space of water,” says Achim Wiese. At first they just play in the water. Then you can find forms of play in which the children actively deal with the physical properties of water. This includes, for example, opening your eyes under water. This is particularly important, says Achim Wiese: “If the child suddenly falls into the water, it needs to know that you have to open your eyes to orientate yourself.”