T Nation

Swimming As BB Conditioning


Disclaimer: I went back and forth whether to post this in "Conditioning" or "Bodybuilding". I decided on "BB" because I don't want to discuss the technicalities of a swimming regimen as a conditioning tool, but rather a discussion on whether is effective or even compatible with bodybuilding either during a fat-loss period or a bulking period.

The question for me is if swimming is such an effective conditioning activity (at least that's what 'conventional wisdom' says) then why have I never read of any competitive bodybuilders use it as a tool (just because I haven't seen it doesn't make it so, but it's certainly not something that's prevalent).

The 3 big conditioning (ie. fat-fighting) tools we mostly see are: treadmill, bike, stepmill.

Why not swimming? It seems that it's low impact, obviously a calorie burner, and relatively practical in terms of time spent.

Is it TOO effective (ie. likely to burn too much muscle)? Is there something inherent about swimming that detracts from bodybuilding?

Just an observation on my part that I don't remember ever reading any major bodybuilders talking about "40 minutes in the pool". If it worked, I'd think after many decades of bodybuilders doing 'trial-and-error' that it would be common.

I'm looking at this from a bodybuilder and BB lifestyle discussion perspective, hence not posted in "Conditioning".

Thoughts (especially from any competitors)?


Probably because its hard as fuck, especially if you have a lot of muscle... you'll probably sink like a rock in the pool. lol


In my experience, the range of motion/flexibility needed for efficient swimming is mutually exclusive with a lot of muscularity. I'm not saying it wouldn't work or be beneficial, but swimming inefficiently is a lot less fun than swimming well. In fact, it feels more like slowly drowning than exercise.

That being said, if you have the gumption to do it I think it has a lot of potential benefit (total body fat burning, increasing flexibility).


lol I just imagine a bodybuilder doing lat spreads in between strokes to create additional surface area and glide like a mantaray. If anyone pulls this off, video tape it.


i swim, bike ride and do BB comlex's for cardio . i really enjoy swimming especially in summer evan though im not that good at it and can only do breast stroke and find that after i swim im ravenous .
when i started looking around the net i found a test from the university of florida that showed swimming in cold water does increase hunger and regular swimmers have higher levels of body fat than say runners or cyclists but were at a loss as to why this was .
maybe its something to do with the body adapting by holding on to body fat to maintain core temperature in cold water but thats just my thinking.
give it a try but stick with it a bit cos at first its really hard until you get some sort of technique and tempo goin


This summer I used to swim 750 or 1500 meters in open water at the end of back and bicep days. Felt very good, didn't get more sore, might actually have helped a little with mobility.

But I'm not strong or big.

Interesting question, Steely. You'd think the king of low impact exercise would be popular among the 300 pounders.



When I swam in high school and early college I was 155lbs. Now at 210, swimming is harder than ever.

Good luck if you decide to try it though. Buy a pull buoy.


Steely, ma bredda:
I think it can prove beneficial, provided you like it enough to keep at it.
I, for one, hate it. But I've had some good progress with it.

It's such a hassle, though:
* getting to the pool
* changing clothes
* fighting for your lane by drowning everyone else coming towards you on YOUR lane

2-3x a week?
No, thanks



I just enjoy going to the pool to see all the hot moms standing in 3ft with their boobs floating on top of the water and swimming past them like that time I accidentally touched her leg.



I'm not a bodybuilder (per se) but swam competitively in high school and university (just .5s off Canadian Olympic trial cut-off for 100m back and fly), but now have been lifting weights for 20+ years.

Two things;

1) the additional muscle mass does make swimming a LOT harder - from both an added weight perspective and a muscle mobility pov;

2) everything I have read is that swimming is an awesome cardio workout for the heart and lungs, but does almost nothing for fat loss/burning. True, the Michael Phelps of the world are pretty lean - but they swim for 6-8 hours A DAY. 30 minutes or so in the pool will help your lungs, but do nothing for fat loss like 30 minutes on a bike or treadmill. Why it doesn't help fat loss is beyond me, but I've seen the articles comparing the benefits of the various cardio exercises.

I swim once a week, because I still play soccer twice a week, but my knees are shot so I swim to keep my cardio (I also do complexes at the end of my weight sessions). The lat, tri and shoulder pump is incredible. Maybe it's worth it just for that.


I swam competitively for a number of year. Now bigger and older, I suck at it.

I have also read somewhere that it isn't a great fat burner because the water, pulling heat off your skin, tends to make your body try to build up skin fat to insulate itself. That was some years back though and I don't know how true it is. It's still a great conditioning exercise.


Hm. What I'm being taught now is that cold stress increases release of thyroid hormones, which makes you burn fat (and get warm). Although the opposite seems feasible as well.

And @brahmabull: I think the runners have a larger calorie deficit than the swimmers. Maybe half a billion people run to lose fat, combined with eating to lose fat. I don't know how true this is but it feels like swimmers swim to be healthy and fit, not to lose fat. So they don't eat to lose fat either.


I'm not an expert, but here are my observations on swimmers, not BB's who swim. (I also know next to nothing about BB-ing).

The distance swimmers tend to be more doughy or scrawny. The sprinters tend to have some muscle. The butterfliers require the most shoulder mobility and tended to be the most muscular. One might argue the backstrokers require the most shoulder mobility, but they get to go one at a time while the bf's have to do both at the same time, which to me means you need to be more mobile to do the bf.

So, if I were to go back to swimming to lose fat (which I won't because I hate it, hated it then, and will forever hate it...but it helped me get into college), I would focus on sprinting. If I were a BB who never swam, I would try to learn to swim freestyle at least respectably, then do only 1 lap sprints (to a swimmer a lap is the same as a length). If you get good, make it 2-laps with a minute or two in between for sets of 5 with a cool-down in between. Do it for no more than 30 min.

I'm not saying it will work, but when I was swimming I was <5% bf and far more muscular than my teammates. I was a sprinter and a butterflier and only did over 200 meters when my coach made me.

I'm not saying this will work and I'm not going to get into the pool to test it out. This is only what I can offer as a best guess from someone who spent 30+ hours in the pool for four years in HS. And I know nothing about BB. Great first post in this forum, right? I know...back to the PL forum...


I'll add to what a lot of others have said, having swam competitively most of my life: nothing makes me more hungry than swimming. Not running, not biking, not lifting. It's just this sense of constant, insatiable hunger much like the munchies...so I've heard.

Also, swimmers in cold water preferentially retain fat ostensibly for insulation purposes.

These two items argue against swimming for fat loss but swimming is excellent for cardiovascular conditioning.


The thing of it is, swimming is a totally different skill set. To actually be good at it takes A LOT of time and practice. Combine this with the fact that most commercial gyms don't have pools big enough to use for this purpose and you can see why its not all that common.

Swimming is also, usually, harder for heavier folks. The best swimmers I ever knew were all pretty light, i.e. well under 200LBs if they were of average height. Even the tall follks, 6'4" and up were still not much above 220 at the heaviest. Its tough to keep a big body moving when running for extended periods of time, and its even tougher to keep yourself moving through water.

Its also very demanding energy wise and can be rough to recover from. In the end its just not that practicle for most. I'm not saying swimming is bad, I just think that the skill set required for it is very different than that needed for heavy lifting/getting large.


Is that why you appear to be deadlifting in the snow? Also swiming was much easier when I was a fat 250+. I was so buoyant I could just kind of skim across the top. So I think it's body comp more so than size. But a 300 lb fatty isn't going to expend to much effort either.
And I'd agree with the guy that said to do sprints. I think if you do steady state cardio with it you'll end up no different than a marathon runner.


I'm not asking advice on what swimming technique for conditioning. Your speculation/advice is null because you don't know.

I'm looking for a discussion of why isn't used by bodybuilders if it's supposedly such a great conditioning exercise (according to so-called conventional wisdom).

I tend to think it's a mix of just not being practical, plus big lean people aren't as bouyant. While not convenient, swimming pools aren't exactly rare, and if they were effective for bodybuilding, at least some would have seeked them out. I've just never heard of BB'ers (at least at an elite level) or even BB coaches talk/write about swimming.

I don't know if I buy into the 'preferential fat storage' hypothesis. It seems to fly in the face of so many other ideas about 'targeted fat storage'. Preferential fat storage seems like it would be so much more controlled by genetics and that a couple years of swimming wouldn't be enough to change that. What about cold weather runners? Don't know.


Steely this is again just hypothesis as all of this conversation really is until someone posts a scientific study on the subject but here are my reasons:

Bodybuilders almost 100% use Creatine and unless I'm mistaken that would be the opposite tool of what you would want for swimming.

Running requires stepping outside. Swimming requires getting to a pool. Plus swimming cannot be done very easily in all weather unless you have access to an indoor pool. Running can be done in pretty much any conditions without having to worry about access to anything. As Bodybuilding is a sport of consistency consistency consistency getting access to a pool seems like a very difficult variable especially when you're at a competition for example. Sure there may be a pool at the hotel the comp is at but its not going to be a lap pool.


It's really dificult to say wrt the fat storage hypothesis, so I won't touch on that.

I would say the main reason you is the one you just touched on. It just isn't as pleasant or convenient as other forms. If you had to choose a form of cardio, would you choose one that involved:

1 - being in a pool of heavily chlorinated water
2 - potentially having to go to different facility and spend cash on another membership?
3 - being in a crowded pool, going too slowly for some and too fast for others.

I would rather go for a hike, run sprints, or just walk on a treadmill at my regular gym.

That said I would reconsider if I started getting serious joint problems.

I don't see the bouyancy thing being that much of a factor, as the point of cardio is to expend energy, and improve your cardiovascular health, not swim faster than others.


Some of the fat storage stuff makes sense. Swimmers tend to get a certain look, and I think that might be part of it. Also, the thermodynamic properties of water are entirely different than air. First, you can't wear clothing to keep the cold water off your skin. Second, water is going to absorb heat from your body many many times faster than air of the same temperature. It's why 70 deg water is going to feel very cold and 55 deg water will give you hypothermia. Water at a given temperature is going to be equivalent to standing naked in MUCH colder air, heat loss wise. Unless you know someone running around naked in like 20 degree weather while wet, it isn't comparable.

Nerd-age aside, Rocky swam as part of getting lean and it helped him win a boxing match. So, I'd go for it.