The answer is no. Swimming alone will not get you ripped. A combination of strict dieting, running, weight training and an intense swimming regimen can get you ripped and looking like an Olympic swimmer if that is what you are seeking.
Swimming is like a Swiss army knife compared to other exercises or sports. It can do so many things at once but to ultimately achieve a swimmer’s body, we will need to incorporate a lot more things. If you want to achieve that swimmer body look that most girls love seeing then read on.
What is Swimming Good For?
First, let’s address what swimming is good for. Although swimming alone can’t get you ripped, it is good for building endurance, strength and cardio all at the same time. If you have bad knees or sore joints, swimming is a great alternative as it is a low impact workout on your body. This is one of the main reasons seniors opt for the pool instead of the running track.
If you hate going to the gym and doing the same old dumbbell or machine exercises try swimming instead. You’ll find that an hour of lap swimming can work every muscle in your body more optimally than any dryland exercise you’ve done in the past. No, you will not build giant muscles like you see in your average bodybuilder, but you will gain stronger, leaner muscles which are more useful. And if you’re a woman then the answer is yes, swimming will get you that toned look you’ve been striving for.
Finally, if you despise working out alone doing the same old boring cardio (ie. treadmill, stairmaster, etc.) then put on a swimsuit and get to know your community better by visiting your local pool. Lap swim times are usually filled with regulars whom you can socialize with. The hot tub, steam and sauna areas (and the interesting folks you meet along the way) can be the perfect place to relax and chill in between sets.
The “Swimmer Body”
Let’s define what the swimmer body is and is not. If you’re thinking swimmer body then you are basically referring to an Olympian swimmer: tall, lean, strong, and most importantly, ripped! Now you’re asking yourself, how do they achieve this? Again, the answer is the same: strict dieting, running, weight training and an intense swimming regimen (2 sessions a day, 6 days a week) for several years.
If you have the right coaching, discipline and dedication to this sport then there’s no doubt in my mind anyone can achieve the swimmer body look. Contrary to popular belief, most swimmers do not look ripped. Based on 20 plus years of swimming, here are the type of swimmers I’ve frequently encountered at the pool:
Rarely will you meet a lifeguard that is also a competitive swimmer. Their job revolves around saving lives, not winning gold medals. You will notice that lifeguards are also swim instructors that primarily teach strokes and first aid at your local pool. As a result, their bodies are not the typical swimmer body that you’re thinking of.
They simply do not have time to lifeguard, teach and train full time like a dedicated Olympian therefore, their bodies are usually just average. Having enough body fat to work a full time shift lifeguarding and teaching for hours in the water. As a child I used to watch the tv show Baywatch and believe that most lifeguards looked like this but then when I finally grew up and worked as one, the reality was far far different.
Lap swimmers are very similar to runners. Runners spend most of their time running in order to keep fit which is what lap swimmers mostly do as well. When you’re thinking of a runner’s body, you’re probably thinking of a marathon runner. Someone who is typically not shredded and often skinny, average body fat with very little muscle definition which is what your average lap swimmer looks like.
Yes there are outliers, and in some cases you do meet a lap swimmer adorned with a swimmer body but not often. Don’t get me wrong. Just like runners, lap swimmers are in fantastic shape when it comes to stamina and endurance but aesthetically, they are not what you imagined.
Swim Club Swimmers
Yes swim club swimmers are technically competitive swimmers but they come in all shapes and sizes. When I think of real competitive swimmers I think of Olympians and when I think of swim club swimmers, I think of kids and teens working their way up to Olympian level competition.
As you guessed it, swim club swimmers are your average young adult in terms of general physique: skinny fat with very little muscle. It’s only when they fully mature and advance to college or university swim teams do they take their training and physique to a whole other level. So in conclusion, we can define the swimmer body as someone who competes in University or at the Olympics with years of dedication to the sport.
How to Get Ripped Like a Swimmer
Since most of us I’m guessing cannot devote our entire lives towards competing in the next Olympics, I’m going to list some tips on how you can get ripped like a swimmer based on what works.
Control Your Diet
Swimmers are notorious for having a huge appetite after a swim session. The problem with this is that most swimmers tend to eat whatever they want. If you’re a growing kid then keep splurging but if you are serious about obtaining the swimmer body then you’re gonna have to make a lot of sacrifices to your diet. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to dieting in order to get ripped:
- Prepare, bake and cook your own meals at home.
- Prepare your meals in advance ie. cook all your meals for the week and store them in Tupperware for easy heating.
- Eat lean steaks, beef spaghetti, chicken breast, salmon, turkey, eggs, oatmeal, muesli.
- Eat fresh vegetables e.g broccoli, cauliflower, peas, spinach, carrots, kale, brussel sprouts, salads, etc.
- Add fresh garlic, ginger, onions, cherry tomatoes, brown rice, sweet potatoes to your meals.
- Cook with butter, coconut oil, avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil only.
- Eat smaller portions (half of what you’re used to eating) and more frequently (5-7 meals a day).
- Drink more water, black coffee, protein shakes, coconut water and freshly made juice e.g. carrot, grapefruit or orange.
- Take supplements such as a multivitamin, omega 3 fish oil if necessary.
- Eat out: avoid fast food, takeout and restaurants.
- Eat foods cooked or deep fried in unhealthy oils e.g. canola, corn, peanut, margarine.
- Eat flour based foods e.g. donuts, pizza, instant noodles, cakes, bread, cereal, muffins, pastas (use wholewheat instead).
- Consume milk products e.g. ice cream, lattes, milkshakes, yogurt, cheese (use almond or oat milk instead).
- Consume energy drinks e.g. pop (including diet and zero sugar) Gatorade, Red Bull, Monster (drink coffee or green tea instead).
Start Weight Training
I’ve dedicated an entire article on the topic of weight training for swimmers so I suggest you check it out here if you serious about building lean muscle.
Run (A Lot)
No other form of dryland cardio can equal that of running. Not cycling, not walking, just plain old fashioned road work aka running. Why running? The simplest answer is that is it the perfect compliment to swimming in that in adequately tests our endurance. I like to call it “swimming without water.” If you want to start running strategically, think like a fighter as seen in this video:
If you want to swim 10km, the safest way to reach this goal is to test it on dryland first. And if you’re new to running, take it slow at first. Mix running with walking and slowly increase your endurance overtime. Wear proper running shoes, with proper running soles and proper running socks.
And if you have bad knees, strengthen them. Not running will not make them any stronger so there is a time to test your limits in a safe manner. Pro tip: use kinesio tape to wrap and protect your knees as seen in this video:
Being Ripped… Is It Worth It?
After reading this you may be asking yourself: is it worth going through all of these hurdles in order to be ripped? The answer depends on you. You will notice that swimming requires a certain amount of body fat in order to stay warm in cold water and for energy. But then again, looking good in a swimsuit or shirtless on a hot summer’s day at the beach can be worthwhile in of itself.
Me, personally I am ripped and love it! I work hard to achieve the body that others strive for and to me it’s totally worth it. Hard work does pay off and I hope to see you get in shape. Share your fitness journey with other swimmers and ask for help if ever you get stuck. Good luck!
Frequently Asked Questions
What muscles does swimming build?
Swimming works all of the muscles in the body but since strokes such as front crawl require us to constantly pull and kick the water, the lats are the biggest muscle group involved followed by leg muscles (glutes, hips, quads, hamstrings).
Which swimming stroke burns the most fat?
Butterfly stroke burns the most fat as it is the most taxing stroke compared to front crawl, back crawl and breaststroke. Butterfly is similar to sprinting as it can only be performed in short intervals since it requires a lot of energy to maintain so should be performed sparingly.
What’s the best swimming exercise to tone up?
Lap swimming in general is great for toning up however for women that want to avoid overdeveloping their shoulders stick to breaststroke and back crawl as it is less taxing on the upper body compared to front crawl and butterfly. Back kicking specifically is great for toning the legs while breaststroke arms are great for toning the arms.
Can you get a six pack from swimming?
No. A six pack is achieved through consistent dieting, cardio and ab exercises. Swimming may help in terms of cardio and developing your core but ab crunches specifically are more effective in building the ab muscles while strict dieting helps in the gradual loss of body fat revealing the abdominal area.
What are the best swimming exercises?
For beginners, I recommend performing front crawl exercises with the goal of swimming 1-2 sets of 20 or more laps consistently per session. As a beginner you will need to work your endurance up to this level of performance so work in increments and gradually improve your stroke count per session.