Why Swimmers Have Broad Shoulders (Casually Explained)

If I were to ask you: What does a typical swimmer looks like? Most likely, you’re probably thinking of the following:

  • Tall
  • Skinny or ripped
  • Broad shoulders

Out of all these features, the main detail that stands out in almost any swimmer are the broad shoulders. Young, old, tall, short, guy or girl.. if I were to see you on the street and had to guess if you are a swimmer or not the first thing I look for are the shoulders and how broad they are in proportion to your waistline no doubt. And here’s why…

man at the pool answering faq for 7 day swim program
This guy definitely swims

Why do swimmers have broad shoulders?

The answer is simple. Swimming requires a lot of pulling. Front crawl, back crawl, breaststroke, butterfly.. all of these strokes involve constant use of muscles located in the shoulders and lats (as well as your core muscles and legs). Combine this with endurance (ie. lots and lots of calories burned) swimming thousands of laps and you have a recipe for someone with broad shoulders, a large back and a slim waistline.

Why don’t swimmers have large legs then?

Since swimming also requires a lot of kicking you’re probably asking: then why don’t swimmers have large legs? This answer is also simple. Freestyle swimming (which is mostly front crawl and breaststroke) requires more arms than legs.

female swimmer legs

In front crawl, most of the propulsion comes from the arms while the legs act as a support. Based on my experience, 75-80% of my power comes from my arms while the remaining 20-25% come from my legs (ie. front kicking). So as you can see, you don’t have to kick hard or fast, that is, unless you want to burn yourself out.

In breaststroke, the power is evenly distributed but not constant exertion like front crawl. Breaststroke has a whip and a glide, whip and a glide kinda motion to it which allows the body to rest and let momentum take over 50% of the work. This obviously is a lot easier to perform than front crawl which is why most swimmers switch back and forth from both strokes during freestyle.

Kicking when doing butterfly or back crawl

But what about kicking in butterfly and back crawl? In butterfly, the ratio in my opinion is about 70% arms, 30% legs (ie. dolphin kick). You need a strong dolphin kick to help propel your head and shoulders out of the water as you come up for air while doing a front crawl pull using both arms at the same time which is exhausting.

back kicking
Back kicking is much harder than front kicking

Back crawl is the only stroke which really develops the leg muscles in my opinion. In particular the quad muscles. Back crawlers have noticeably larger thighs aka quads compared to other swimmers I’ve noticed because the position of the body requires your legs to kick up towards the water’s surface (versus kicking downwards) which is wayyy harder.

If you’ve done back kicking drills using a kickboard then you know what I’m talking about here. For a good back crawl, I would say the ratio is more like 50% arms, 50% legs.

How to look like a swimmer without swimming

If you’re interested in looking like a swimmer without swimming, here four things you can do in the gym:

Do lots and lots of pull ups using a pull up bar or lat pull down machine:

How To: Lat Pulldown | 3 GOLDEN RULES

Do lots and lots of shoulder presses using dumbbells or machine:

Dumbbell Shoulder Press | Exercise Guide

Do lots and lots of single leg extensions on a machine:

How To Do A SINGLE LEG EXTENSION | Exercise Demonstration Video and Guide

Run a lot

11 Beginner Run Tips | How To Start Running!

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Swimmers have broad shoulders whether they like it or not. Personally, I like the look of a swimmer that balances swimming with diet, cardio and weight training. Too skinny and you look like an alien, too muscular and you’ll be moving slow in the water.

swimmers back

What do you think of broad swimmer shoulders? Join our group and let us know your thoughts. Happy swimming! šŸ™‚

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do some swimmers have flabby arms?

boy on a raft in an outdoor pool swimming looking very tired

Some swimmers focus only on swimming and do not pay attention to strict dieting or performing complimentary dryland exercises such a weight training or running. As a result they develop dense muscles with a larger proportion of body fat compared to your average Olympic swimmer that you’re often used to seeing.

Do swimmers get muscular?

Fit male swimmer out of an outdoor pool showing how weight training improves strength

If they weight train then yes, they can! You do not need to get bulky muscles to improve your performance but if you want to strengthen your overall physique then I recommend hitting the gym and weight training at least 2-3 times a week alongside your swimming regimen. This article will help you get started.

How do I get rid of broad swimmer shoulders?

Man squatting in shallow water in an indoor public pool

If you swim regularly the best thing you can do is balance out other weak areas of your body mainly legs by performing squats, lunges, calf raises and other related lower body exercises using a barbell or dumbbells.

How do I avoid getting broad swimmer shoulders as a girl?

tone girl female swimmer exiting pool toned in shape

If you want to keep fit and swim at the same time focus on back crawl and then breast stroke. Back crawl puts less strain on your shoulders and develops your legs whereas breaststroke gracefully and evenly balances both the arms and legs in terms of propulsion in the water.

7 Day Swim