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Stroke Your Way to Gains – Is Swimming Good for Bodybuilding?

Bodybuilders and water don’t usually mix, unless BCAA’s are involved. But is swimming good for bodybuilding? Is it actually possible to stroke your way to gains? Let’s find out…

Whilst it will never beat solid hours of hard work in the weight room, regularly donning the Speedos might not be a bad idea. Swimming can offer many benefits for bicep bulging bodybuilders besides being another opportunity to show off our dynamite guns.

We’ll not blow bubbles into your eyes, bro. Pretending that a little poolside action will get you instantly stacked is just a bare faced lie.

But we will say that diving into the deep end instead of pursuing the same old boring cardio routine can definitely accelerate your physique development.

The best part? You don’t have to train like Michael Phelps to reap the rewards.

Why even the Judy Dench should get drenched:

arnold schwarzenegger and reg arnold in swimming pool

Before we start breaking things down into more detail, let’s outline the major advantages of taking the plunge. For bodybuilders specifically (everyone else sucks), here’s what you need to know.

Regular swimming can:

  • Improve cardio
  • Help iron out muscular imbalances
  • Be a low impact alternative to running
  • Strengthen the core
  • Rehab restrictive injuries from lifting
  • Break the mundane treadmill routine

Right now you’re probably nodding your head, chugging a jug of aminos and saying to yourself, “I need me some of that!” Cool, we’re with you on that too bro.

Inevitably there’s going to be that one guy absolutely sweating buckets into his stringer at the sight of the word “cardio”. This is usually the dude who always takes the elevator just in case he burns away all his beloved hard fought size.

All we’re going to say is take your brain out of your pants and put it into your skull for five minutes. When done right, cardiovascular training can amplify your quest for hypertrophy.

It will not instantly devour your pecs, like in some kind of whey protein sponsored horror flick.

[infobox] Summary: When used properly swimming will enable you to become bigger, better and stronger. [/infobox]

Better cardio = faster recovery times

bodybuilder butterfly stroke swimming for gains

When we swim our cardiovascular system has to work overtime to aid propulsion and keep us afloat. Hell, if you want to be serious for a moment, it has to do a pretty good job just to keep us alive.

So it should come to no surprise that swimming can offer a big boost to our cardio performance. Not only do we potentially increase our overall lung capacity, we give the heart a bloody good workout too.

As a bodybuilder, this is awesome news. By challenging our lungs and heart in this way we encourage them to adapt and grow. Getting us just as swole on the inside as we are on the outside.

The result is an improvement in both VO2 Max (how effective we are at utilizing oxygen during intense exercise) and stroke volume (how much blood the heart can pump in one go).

Without getting too sciencey, gym rats can use this improved level of cardio to shorten their rest times. This is because you will be able to return to a recovered state faster, due to a higher level of aerobic fitness.

Iron out those muscular imbalances

ross edgley showing muscular physique in poolOne factor that plagues even the most pinpoint precise bodybuilder is the potential for muscular imbalances.

Essentially, whether intended to or not, most of us have developed bodies that are not 100% symmetrical.

It may not seem like a big deal, but if ignored over time it can raise a tonne of issues. An obvious example is to take a vanity inflicted bro who only ever trains chest and arms.

Because he spends more time in the mirror for selfies rather than working out, his back is underdeveloped. Over time his dominating chest will pull on the much weaker lats, traps, and delts; ultimately creating a pain in the thoracic and maybe even injury.

Swimming may help to fix this kind of physique catastrophe. The full-bodied approach necessary to keeping a bro afloat will give the neglected body parts a chance to finally work. Plus, because it is super-low impact, the risk of injury from overcompensation is minimal.

Now, apply that principle to your own inevitably prized chiseled vehicle. Any imbalanced caused by lack of awareness of lifestyle could be easily ironed out. At the very least, a few creases knocked out will get you looking and feeling that bit more pristine.

[infobox] Tip: When in the water mix up your stroke approach to ensure a maximum full body experience. [/infobox]

Different strokes for different folks – how to hit every muscle

StrokeTarget Muscles
Front Crawl- Chest
- Lats
- Remaining Back
- Core
Back- Shoulders
- Hamstrings
- Core
Breast- Chest
- Arms
- Quads & Glutes
- Core
Butterfly- Chest
- Shoulders
- Back
- Core

Swapping sneakers for Speedos: lowering the risk of injury

You’re a dedicated reader of SpotMeBro, right? So let’s assume you’re a well above averagely sized, stacked motherf*cker.

Running on man-made concrete is 100%, not something mother nature had in mind when she sculpted us. Let’s face it, a dude our size should definitely not be pounding the pavement on the regular.

Not if we like our hips, knees, shins and IT band in good (not painful) form anyway. The repeated thud of heel to toe on such a hard surface is an added stress our already challenged body doesn’t need.

Floating around, on the other hand, offers quite the opposite. Here we have an opportunity to move from A to B with minimal impact what so ever. We’re not grinding and jerking the essential joints we should be saving for smashing out supersets.

To put it into a short summary; swimming offers all the cardio and mobility benefits of land-based training without the impact based injury risk. There, we said it, now stop sending us Facebook event invites to your stupid 10K races people!

[infobox] Summary: Lower Impact = Lower Injury Risk [/infobox]

Developing a stronger core for bigger lifts

bodybuilder core developed through swimming

In order to stay balanced and buoyant swimmers have to engage their core. As bodybuilders, this could be an awesome training opportunity to work the area.

Without a solid core our body would fold and we would simply sink to the bottom. Likewise, we would be sh*t at generating and transferring force from our limbs. Leaving us stationary waiting for a hopefully hot lady lifeguard to come save us.

Core training directly translates to bodybuilding, whether the broscience douches like it or not. It’s these vital muscles that support the spine when we lift heavy. Which, if you’re truly dedicated to the iron life, is pretty much every day.

Unfortunately, a few hundred crunches spanned out over years of lifting just won’t cut it. Focusing only on the external and highly visual ab muscles will still leave your muscular base lacking.

Challenging your internal spinal stability in the pool will do the trick though. Then, in theory, the extra strength you’ve bagged in the pool will facilitate even bigger lifts out of it. You’ll be able to stay structurally strong under numbers that once made you crumble.

[infobox] Tip: When in the water try to keep the spine in alignment. Actively engage the core and check in with it regularly when tiring. [/infobox]

Poolside therapy

Anybody who has spent a decent amount of time in the weight room will have experienced an injury or two.

Obviously, severity varies, and if you hurt yourself beyond the standard barbell shin bashing it’s a good idea to see a professional.

Okay, now the legalities are dealt with, let’s get back to why we are here. Swimming is a great way for bodybuilders to rehab injuries both new and old. So much so that it is used by physiotherapists for athletes all across the globe. Here’s why:

  • Swimming is a low impact exercise
  • There are minimal risks of tripping or falling
  • The water carries most of your body weight
  • A swimmer can fully control the level of resistance they require
  • The resistance training aspect can help stop muscle wastage

Imagine you’re nursing a jacked AC joint. Getting dressed and driving is painful, and the sight of another dumbbell makes you queasy. But, you’re all about that iron-life and you just have to work out.

Swimming is the perfect way to get that part of your body moving again in a safe way. The water can offer as much support or resistance as you want. Plus, swimming is essentially active stretching, which will stop the area becoming tight.

[infobox] Summary: By strengthening and increasing mobility in these areas you’ll be back under the bar in no time. [/infobox]

Breaststroke away from boredom

This final point is something almost always overlooked by serious athletes. Training isn’t always meant to be fun, sometimes you’ve just got to grit your teeth and embrace the grind.

Whilst this is all well and good for an athlete on paper, it comes with added downsides. Monotony in the gym leads to low enthusiasm, plateaus, and even mental exhaustion. To clarify – that’s fewer gains, bro.

So that painstakingly boring treadmill walk you dread every week might be doing more harm than good. In theory, it should put you in the fat burning zone and help you cut. But it’s actually sapping your energy and leaving you feeling flat.

Now is the time to take the plunge and try something new for a change. Hitting the pool with your gym buddies or even on your own can break the mundane. Giving you a new environment to work out in and new goals to destroy.

Hey, just a little heads up, if you head outside to open water you could even raise your natural levels of testosterone production. That’s because of vitamin D, which we actively absorb from the suns powerful rays, has been proven to help boost the male sex hormone.

[infobox] Tip: It’s always best to build up both skills and confidence in a lifeguarded pool before hitting open water. You’re probably tougher than a shark, but mother nature can still be dangerous. [/infobox]

So, is swimming good for bodybuilding?

arnold schwarzenegger bodybuilder swimming

The short answer is yes, it can be. If done correctly at the right intensity levels it’s a cheap, natural and safe way to speed up your gains.

At an absolute minimum, all you need is a set of shorts or Speedos and a go-getter attitude. You could be almost anywhere in the world and you’ll find a pool to dive into.

SpotMeBro recommends fellow bodybuilders try out the breaststroke first. It’s the easiest of the methods to master and doesn’t require so much chest rotation.

The backstroke can be tricky is you have lats like the wings of a fighter jet. But if you can handle it, there’s an awesome opportunity there to stretch out tight shoulders and knotted hamstrings.

Lastly, rules are made to be broken. Dive bombs off the top board will always be fun.


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