Performance Benefits of Swimming

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Does swimming build muscle? Swimming is a low-impact activity with no progressive overload, which makes it hard to gain or build muscle. That said, swimming is ideal for strengthening stabilizer muscles, which aid in various lift in the weight room and movements on the field. It's also a great way to build muscular endurance throughout the entire body.

Besides strengthening muscles, swimming is great for recovering from long runs and lifting sessions. For "ground" athletes, I recommend swimming as a rehab (or prehab) activity.

Swim As Recovery
Swimming is much easier on your joints than running. Bobbing in water is the relief your body needs after the pounding of pavement, fields or stairs. Swimming will allow you to last longer in competition and throughout the season. So, instead of running three to five miles for cardio or recovery, try swimming at a steady pace for 30 to 45 minutes.  Use different strokes, such as breast, freestyle and backstroke. You will not only see great results but you'll feel better afterward. Use swimming as a recovery workout two to three times per week.

How to Get Started
If you haven't swum in a while, use a kickboard for the first couple laps as a warm-up. It will help you get used to the water and coordinate your arms and legs for the swimming motion. Once you're comfortable, follow the routine below. Perform this workout on your off-days two to three times per week.

Note: Using different strokes balances out the muscles used in the water and helps you beat boredom. Do not perform this workout at maximum effort. It is intended for recovery only. Swim at a steady pace.

Freestyle — 5 laps
Backstroke — 5 laps
Breaststroke — 5 laps


Shelton Stevens is a member of the strength staff at the University of Southern Mississippi. Prior to joining USM, he was the head strength coach at Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). He has also worked under LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt, helping to train the Tigers' nationally-ranked football team and their 2009 national champion baseball team. During his career, he has worked with four national champions, seven conference champions and 12 All-Americans. He is CSCCa, SCCC, USAW, NSCA and RSCC certified, and he holds a bachelor's degree in exercise science and a master's degree in athletic administration. Visit his website at and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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