Swimming Cardio

Swimming can be a great cardio workout with a lot of added benefits … if you approach it the right way and have great technique!

We’ve talked in the past here about High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for your cardio needs as opposed to the standard Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) workouts that have you on a treadmill or a bike for 45 to 60 minutes at a time.

Obviously, unless you’re already an accomplished endurance swimmer, you’re not going to be able to swim for an hour at a go. But swimming for cardio can fit perfectly with a HIIT workout, which is a great way to burn fat.

HIIT Recap

For those who are new or who missed our previous posts on it, HIIT is an alternative form of cardio that’s less time-consuming yet has shown to be at least equally effective as LISS in a number of studies.[1,2,3]

There are a number of different ways to do it, but it basically breaks down to doing an intense sprint for a period of no more than a minute, then doing a light jog or pedal at low resistance for a minute or two. You alternate this pattern about six to ten times, again depending on exactly what training method you’re using.

HIIT and Swimming


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So you can see where it’s possible to work this basic principle of cycles of intensity and rest into swimming. You can’t really translate the patterns of common running/elliptical HIIT programs directly to swimming, however, because there’s the added complication of muscle fatigue and staying afloat. It will also probably be easier to measure your exercises out in distance covered rather than specific time segments.

In theory, you can do HIIT swimming with any stroke that you’re comfortable and practiced with. The most basic pattern would be to do the stroke at the highest intensity you can for about 25 yards. You can then either lower the intensity for as long as needed to recover, or simply do a back float or paddle with minimal propulsion just to keep moving.

Advanced swimmers may want to simply alternate strokes every 25 to 50 yards instead of having a rest cycle. A high-intensity stroke like the butterfly can be alternated with a more comfortable freestyle stroke every “x” amount of yards for two or three cycles, then take a rest by floating or paddling for 100 yards before starting another set of alternating cycles.

Another possibility for those who are stronger and more comfortable in the water is to cycle briefly through the major strokes as your HIIT portion, then rest with minimal forward motion for 100 yards. Try the breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle for 25 yards or so each.

LISS Swimming?

If HIIT sounds a little too intense for you at this point, it is technically possible to do LISS swimming, but it’s difficult to manage – especially if you don’t have great form or don’t occasionally stop. You need to already be a pretty strong swimmer to have the endurance to do it for a long session, and it’s also more difficult to actually keep your body in a low-intensity state while swimming.

Is Swimming Superior to Jogging or Biking?

You’ll see people arguing both sides of this point, but strictly from the perspectives of cardiovascular health and lung capacity, no cardio exercise is technically better than another as long as they’re done properly. It’s all about the amount of effort put in. Equal amounts of effort and energy expenditure in any exercise should yield equal results.

Protect the joints!

Swimming Technique

Good technique is KEY when swimming. Get enrolled in a class and have a coach check out your stroke!

Swimming does have some intangibles that other cardio exercises can’t offer, however. If you have leg or foot problems, it isn’t nearly as taxing on those joints. It’s also a solid all-around body workout that can actually develop leaner and longer muscles.

Of course, the joint issue could worsen if you have poor technique — especially the shoulders! This is why it’s great to get an instructor for a while to perfect your stroke. Swimming is a very technical sport, and if you approach it haphazardly, you could do more damage than is worth it. Properly shoulder and arm placement is key.

Better physique

The swimmer’s physique is considered one of the most desirable, and is a good choice to aspire to for those who don’t want a bodybuilder look or for those who aren’t genetically predisposed to keeping muscle mass on.

Because swimming is working so many muscles, the overall caloric burn is usually greater than that of the standard cardio exercises, and the recovery period may require a higher BMI. So swimming can potentially burn more fat than running or biking! Just watch out for post-swimming food binges, as the intensity of the exercise can trigger some serious hunger.

Myokem Pyroxamine Keeps You Chugging Along

Burn Belly Fat

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Drink mTOR Pro during your workout for more endurance

Another great thing about swimming? You can leave your shaker cup of your Myokem mTOR Pro at the wall and use it as a “sports drink” to help boost endurance and keep you from getting as sore!

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