2 swimmers in the pool swimming opposite direction

Swim Workouts for Fitness: How Swimming Makes You Stronger, Happier, and Healthier

If you’ve set a goal to get into great shape, there aren’t many things more effective than swim workouts for fitness to help you progress on that journey.

Regardless of your age, body composition, current level of fitness, or the outcomes you’re striving for, swimming is one of the best and most well-rounded forms of exercise you can do.

But what makes swim workouts for fitness such an effective form of exercise and where should you start?

Here’s what you need to know.

Setting Goals for Your Swimming

Before you go ahead and jump into the pool to swim workouts for fitness, it’s a good idea to think about what you want to achieve.

Some people choose to make swimming the focal point of their fitness routine while others simply use it to compliment their existing exercise regimen. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone.

Your goal may simply be to swim for 20 minutes, three times per week, as an enjoyable and casual form of exercise.

On the other hand, you might want to set a distance, time, or pace goal for how far and fast you want to be able to swim laps.

Or, your goal might be somewhere in between.

Whatever goal you set your sights on, knowing your goal will influence the way you do swim workouts for fitness.

The Physical Benefits of Swim Workouts for Fitness

When you’re looking to improve your fitness, there’s no shortage of exercise options available to you. From running and cycling to HIIT training and beyond, the opportunities are virtually endless.

But swimming is well-renowned as one of the best ways to get fit for a whole ton of reasons.

Full Body Fitness

Fundamentally, swimming is all about overcoming resistance. It requires you to be consistently pushing your entire body through water, which is about 800 times denser than air.

And because of that, swimming is an incredible form of full-body exercise.

As opposed to other kinds of workouts, which may isolate or focus on one part of the body more than another, swimming requires:

    • Strength: Overcoming resistance and propelling your body through water requires upper and lower body strength as well as core strength. This muscular strength is required to maintain swimming technique.

    • Coordination: Swimming requires you to do multiple different movements and focus on a number of different things simultaneously, including breathing, kicking, and using your arms for swim strokes.

    • Balance and Flexibility: Moving efficiently through the water requires you to balance and elongate your body.

    • Endurance: As a generality, swimming often involves periods of long, steady activity. Even when your swim workouts for fitness are broken up into shorter intervals with periods of rest, being able to swim for even 20 minutes takes a significant amount of endurance.

    • Sprint/Power: For stronger efforts, anaerobic and neuromuscular power are utilized for hitting short, fast, sprints! Sprint training will provide different fitness adaptations to endurance workouts, so mix it up!

Incredible Cardiovascular Improvement

Since swimming is a full-body workout, it’s also incredibly effective for building your cardiovascular strength.

With tons of big muscle groups working together all at once over long periods of time, swim workouts for fitness require your heart to work hard pump oxygen through your body.

Significant Muscle Mass Increases

Swimming will help you build muscle much faster than some of its cardio-heavy exercise counterparts.

For example, while cycling and running will help with your leg strength, they focus less on your upper body and core.

But since swimming involves propelling your entire body through water and overcoming significant resistance, you’ll be using as many as fifty muscles at any given time—from your shoulders to your back, chest, arms, abs, glutes, legs, and even your hands.

High-Volume Calorie Burns

Swim workouts for fitness are a great way to burn calories. While your personal caloric expenditure will vary based on your height, weight, and the distance and speed you swim, the average person can burn between 430 and 575 calories per hour when swimming.

Low-Impact Physical Toll

While water is significantly denser and offers higher resistance than air, it also gives you buoyancy which means it relieves the pressure that gravity puts on your joints, bones, and muscles.

So, while swim workouts for fitness still help you build muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness, they do so without the same physical toll you might experience while running or lifting weights.

Effective Injury Rehabilitation

Because its low-impact nature, swimming can be incredibly beneficial for actively rehabilitating injuries like sprains, strains, and tears.

In fact, it’s one of The American College of Sports Medicine’s four preferred rehabilitation exercises for injuries to ligaments, muscles, and tendons.

However, it’s important to consult with an expert prior to considering swimming to help you recover from an injury. So, make sure to speak with a professional before getting into the water.

The Mental Benefits of Swimming

Swim workouts aren’t just great for fitness. They also offer a ton of psychological benefits as well.

Stress Relief and Improved Moods

Like all forms of exercise, swimming stimulates the release of endorphins, providing a sense of happiness, positivity, and general well-being. Over time, the consistent and frequent release of endorphins has even been tied to mental health benefits and can help your body respond better to stress.

But that’s not the only way swimming can help relieve your stress: being in the pool requires you to disconnect completely from the outside world, leaving things like social media and email aside for a period of time.

Enhanced Cognitive Function

All exercise offers mental and physical benefits through increased blood circulation, but regular swimming, in particular, has been shown to improve memory, cognitive function, immune response, and mood.

Swimming may also help repair damage from stress and forge new neural connections in the brain.

Things to Keep in Mind When It Comes to Swimming for Fitness

Whether you’re a seasoned swimmer or you’re just starting out with swim workouts for fitness, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re getting ready to jump in the pool.

Lap Swim Etiquette

If you’re newer to swim workouts for fitness, make sure you understand common lap swimming etiquette before getting into the pool.

While it may not seem like a big deal, it can make swimming a much more enjoyable experience, both for yourself and those around you.

You can get a full rundown of what to consider in our resource, Lap Swim Etiquette: Everything You Need to Know.

Warm-Ups and Stretches

While swimming is certainly a lower-impact form of exercise than many others, it’s still important to make sure you’re warming up and stretching to ensure you don’t strain muscles or get a nagging injury.

Swim Training Plans

By the time you get to the pool, you probably have fitness goals in mind that you want to achieve with your swim workouts. But without a plan and a way to measure your progress, it can be hard to tell if what you’re doing is actually making an impact.

That’s why following a swim training plan is such an important component of swim workouts for fitness.

Swim training plans provide you with structured, intentional workouts tailored to help you achieve your goals. And FORM offers a ton of different plans you can follow that have been crafted by world-class coaches to help improve your fitness, prepare for a triathlon, or boost your swim technique. With expertise from Olympic coaches, FORM’s progressive weekly workouts even come complete with tutorial videos you can watch for additional support.

That way, you can take the guesswork out of using swimming to get fitter and focus on generating the results you want.

With FORM goggles, you’ll even see your swimming pace, heart rate, distance, and workouts right in front of your eyes while you swim.

Hydration and Fuel

Even though you’re doing it in water, swimming is still a high-intensity activity. So, it’s important to fuel accordingly.

Make sure to keep a bottle of water or electrolytes at the edge of the pool so that you can stop and rehydrate during the prescribed rest periods in your workout. If you’re looking for high-quality options, our friends at Precision Fuel and Hydration have an excellent assortment of resources and products to help keep you hydrated during your swim.

Consistency and Patience

Becoming fitter takes time, consistency, and patience, and swimming is no exception. Be patient with yourself as you learn, improve, and strive towards your goals.

If you’d like to learn how to adopt this mindset, check out this installment of FORM Fundamentals: How to Stay Consistent with Swimming.

Rest and Limits

Just like any form of exercise, it’s possible to do too much of a good thing when it comes to swim workouts for fitness.

Always listen to your body and make sure you’re giving yourself adequate time for rest and recovery.

If you follow a swim training plan, your rest days and recovery swims will all be incorporated so you won’t have to wonder when to do it.

3 Essential Swim Workouts for Fitness

If you’re ready to jump in the pool and get going going with some swim workouts for fitness, here are a few options you can test out.

Water Water Everywhere (Low Intensity Endurance)

This 700-yard workout features a mix of short distances and easy to moderate intervals focused on generating a powerful kick, improving your aerobic capacity, and nailing down your body position.

Warm Up

  • 1 x 100 Choice @ Easy + 30 seconds rest
  • 2 x 50 Kick @ Easy + 30 seconds rest between intervals
  • 1 x 100 Choice @ Easy

Main Set

  • 3 x 50 Freestyle @ Moderate + 30 seconds rest between intervals
  • 1 x 50 Choice @ Easy 30 seconds rest

Warm Down

  • 1 x 100 Choice @ Easy

Alternating Efforts (Moderate Intensity Endurance)

This 1,200-yard workout is a lot of fun! Alternate between 100s at a moderate effort and 50s at a strong effort in this main set. A great set for working on your overall base endurance.

Warm Up

  • 1 x 100 Freestyle @ Easy + 20 seconds rest
  • 2 x 50 Choice @ Moderate + 15 seconds rest between intervals
  • 30 seconds rest after set

Main Set

  • 3 x 100 Freestyle @ Moderate + 20 seconds rest between intervals
  • 2 x 50 Freestyle @ Strong + 30 seconds rest between intervals
  • 2 x 100 Freestyle @ Moderate + 20 seconds rest between intervals
  • 2 x 50 Freestyle @ Strong + 30 seconds rest between intervals
  • 1 x 100 Freestyle @ Moderate + 30 seconds rest
  • 2 x 50 Freestyle @ Strong + 30 seconds rest between intervals
  • 30 seconds rest after set

Warm Down

  • 1 x 100 Choice @ Easy

Shorten Your Rest (Moderate Intensity Endurance)

The focus of this 1,800-yard workout is to swim with less rest, in an effort to train for longer, stronger, continuous swims. The main set features two sets of 50m interval repeats on short rest.

Coach's Tip: Fins are always optional, but adding them to your workout can make technique easier to focus on.

Warm Up

  • 1 x 100 Freestyle @ Easy + 20 seconds rest
  • 4 x 50 Choice @ Moderate + 20 seconds rest between intervals
  • 1 x 100 Freestyle Kick @ Moderate
  • 45 seconds rest after set

Pre-Set (One Round)

  • 4 x 50 Six Kick Switch (Beginner) @ Easy + 20 seconds rest between intervals
  • 2 x 100 Catchup (Beginner) @ Easy + 20 seconds rest between intervals
  • 45 seconds rest after set

Main Set (1 Round)

  • 8 x 50 Freestyle @ Moderate + 15 seconds rest between intervals
  • 8 x 50 Freestyle @ Moderate + 10 seconds rest between intervals
  • 30 seconds rest after set

Warm Down

  • 4 x 50 Choice @ Easy + 20 seconds rest between sets

Get the Most Out of Your Swim Workouts for Fitness

Swimming is great way to get fitter, but it isn’t always an intuitively easy process. Having the right guidance can help ensure you reach your goals over time, and FORM is here to help.

With FORM, you'll swim with real-time metrics right there in your goggles. Plus, get a free 1-year membership and boost improvement in the pool with 1,000+ workouts, 30+ training plans, and a custom workout builder.

Backed by a 2-year warranty and 30-day return guarantee, FORM goggles are built to last.

Already have FORM goggles, but don’t have access to our full range of features? Head to the FORM app to start a 30-day free membership trial*.

*30-day free membership trial is only valid for one-time use for new members who have previously purchased FORM goggles.