T Nation

Swimming For Cardio

I have read these boards extensively and nobody ever mentions swimming for their recovery/cardio excercise. It seems to me that swimming fits along with bodybuilding perfectly, emphasisizing muscular endurance with low impact. Its also very easy to keep your heartrate at a good fat burning level. I think some people are afraid of the water though, particularly muscular bodybuilders. Lifting, swimming and running are the trifecta of the lean hard body. I like to get in 3 swims a week doing 100 yard sprints with around 30 seconds of rest in between. It always gives a good pump. Anybody else care to share their swimming routine.

I think bodybuilders’ general aversion to swimming is due to the fact that a bodybuilder (especially one with high muscle/low fat) will literally sink like a rock…

  • That being said, I partake in some pool cardio on occasion (but only in pools where my feet touch the floor!). IMO, the best situation is to have the water up to about chest-level, and simply do sprints. - And by sprints, I mean ‘running’, not swimming. With the resistance from the water, you can add some nice functional strength to your legs (great for football, volleyball, etc.). - Running in a pool is actually a skill in and of itself – you’ve got to lean forward at the perfect angle so that you find the balance between keeping your feet from slipping and losing power. I usually go for short, intense sprints of about 10-20 yards depending upon the pool size. After each sprint, rest as little as possible (5-10 seconds at most), and do another one.

Phischer I like your sprint swimming protocol and swimming definitely does provide a good change of pace for those who do a lot of lower body cardio. There was a good thread on swimming a couple of weeks back. Might try running a search on it.

nobody ever mentions swimming for their recovery/cardio excercise

There was a thread on this very subject just a week or so ago. Do a search. SRS

SRS, my man, that has to be the shortest post ever typed by your fingers;-)

You know I’m just busting your chops, and that’s what I do best.

Sorry for the brief hijack. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

To Timbo-
Maybe that medication the doctor prescribed me is starting to help. :-)SRS

after bulking to 235lbs and then trying to get back in the pool to train for water polo i realised why bodybuilder dont swim for cardio. you sink like a rock, your shoulders pump up and swiming stroke goes to custard. besides that have you ever seen anyone ripped with a decent amount of muscle from swimming. most swimmers are skinny fat.
Its definately good for recovery sessions or to keep lean as opposed to getting ripped.

Whetu, I’m going to have to disagree with you on your last comment regarding swimmers and body composition.

I want you to take a look at the elite and professional level swimmers next time you get a chance. I highly doubt you’ll be seeing any skinny fat swimmers. These guys are in excellent condition.

professional swimmers? these guys have a tour?

I agree w/ Timbo on this… I started out swimiming competively and did a little High diving… I felt that I did get some muscle and size from swimming. My traps especially… If you take a look at the olympic swimmers they are all pretty darn musclar looking not the skinny fat look like a marathon runner.

If its a distance swimmer yes I would agree they would look like a marathon runner. But if its a sprint swimmer I think its just the opposite… Remeber your using diffrent energy systems… for sprinting and long distance. Ones more areboic then the other.

Timbo’s right here- Skinny Fat!? I don’t think so. Whetu, if you’ve been a polo player you should have been around enough swimmers- I’m surprised at this comment. (BTW I used to play a bit of W/P myself as a teenager- awesome game in terms of mental and physical strength and fitness don’t ya think?)

Perhaps we have misunderstood your comments. I would certainly say that a most good swimmers DO have a slightly thicker layer of s/c fat than the more ripped atheletes in land sports- this will help in regards to bouyancy. However the muscle mass underneath is undeniable. For example, when have you ever seen a top-level female swimmer who was any less than “curvaceous”? (That’s what kept ME swimming for so long in younger years. Those shoulders just blow you away- HOT!:-).

Anyway, calm down SRS…

The difficulty is getting the optimal ratio between sc fat and LBM for maximal swimming efficiency.

check out www.totalimmersion.net. There is an article dispelling the myth about fat bouyancy. Basically, though you increase bouyancy, you also increase drag and frictional surface area… which leads to decreased performance. It has been awhile since I’ve read the article, so I’m sure there’s more than just that to it.

Also, there may be some value in “sinking like a stone,” for neurological reasons. The increased pressure of underwater swimming, combined with the increased C02 in the bloodstream, stimulates the blood-carotid response. The carotid arteries expand and allow more blood to get to the brain (to maintain oxygen supply). Swimming underwater everyday for an hour a day (obviously you come up to breathe throughout that time) for a minimum of three weeks may be sufficient to permanently expand the carotid arteries, leading to increased oxygen supply to the brain. This could increase neurological function in the same ways vasodialators do (such as ginsing, etc).

Nephorm- Had a look but couldn’t find it. I would still persist that there must be an “optimal” BF%, where the advantages of bouyancy from BF are matched by the drag/weight disadvantages. Would be interested to know (if you remember) where this lies, and whether (as I am supposing) this lies above that recommended for land sports? SRS

Maybe this is why…


If you want to lose weight, lower cholesterol, or help to control diabetes, swimming is better than nothing, but not that much better (1).

A recent report from the University of Colorado shows that obese people who start a supervised swimming program do not lower their fasting blood sugar, insulin, total cholesterol, good HDL cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol levels. They also did not lose weight or redistribute their body fat (2).

These results are different from people who start land-based sports such as running, aerobic dancing, racquetball and cycling. When you exercise on land, your body is surrounded by air which insulates you, causing your body to retain heat and your body temperature to rise for up to 18 hours after you finish exercising. Increased body temperature speeds up your metabolism and helps you to lose weight and lower cholesterol. On the other hand, when you swim, your body is surrounded by water which is an excellent conductor of heat away from your body, preventing your body temperature from rising. If you want to lose weight by swimming, the best way is to do it is by using a swimming machine on dry land.

  1. H Tanaka, DR Bassett, ET Howley. Effects of swim training on body weight, carbohydrate metabolism, lipid and lipoprotein profile. Clinical Physiology 17: 4 (JUL 1997):347-359. Address H Tanaka, Univ Colorado, Dept Kinesiol, Campus Box 354, Boulder, CO 80309 USA.
  2. Gwinnup The American J. of Sports Medicine 1987;15(3):275-279

yeah i was training at an institute with olympic swimmers. i would shoot myself if i was that skinny. sure they look good standing by themselves or around other swimmers, but these guys are really fukn skinny. i spose there are swimmers with good bodies such as B/fly sprinters, sure, and girls taking bucket loads of test. but in general most of them have very little muscle mass. Show me a swimmer that could go on stage and compete or with a BMI over 30. that person would be the exception rather than the rule.
hell show me a ripped female swimmer. they would have to be one of the fatter endurence athlete that come to mind (off the top of my head).
in comparison name a sprinter, nfl player, rugby player, basball player that could go on stage, i can think of heaps.
i think i have gone a little of track from the thread here…

Ok, the totalimmersion.net site has changed a lot since I first went on there. So here are two articles that discuss the issue (I believe the first one was on totalimmersion.net at one point, and was the article I read).


Basically, male competitive level swimming seems to favor bodyfat in the 10-20% range. If you have too little bodyfat, you could always wear a bouyancy belt :). There are all sorts of things going on here, though: inertia (more weight means more work to get going), drag (higher bouyancy means more of your body is above the water, reducing drag in one direction, but the shape of the fat can cause more drag), position in water (fat in the stomach causes the legs to rotate down, decreasing performance), etc, etc. Complicated issue.

Whetu, man, you bust me up. C’mon, brutha! It’s like asking a triathlete or marathoner to do the same thing.

If it was their goal to be huge and ripped (like your’s and mine), they would. But it’s not. Performance is a whole other animal in other sports.

Don’t start ripping on gymnasts now too, brutha:-)

nugg46- Nice post, thanks for that. Unfortunately I couldn’t find either of the articles you are citing to see for myself.

I would be interested to know how the authors came to the conclusions about the cause of the difference between the swimming programs and the land-based programs (i.e. no metabolic rate alterations from increased body temperature during/after swimming). I presume this was a theoretical conclusion?

Funny, I used to sweat like a pig and get real thirsty in the (admittedly heated) pool.

Did the authors by any chance take into consideration that these “athletes” they enlisted to take part in the study just couldn’t swim? (fast enough or intensive enough to have any effect vs land-based training). :-)SRS

Your right that many swimmers are skinny, but I wouldnt say that the majority are. A good sprint type swimmer is someone who is big. I am talking over 6 feet, cause tall is faster in the water. They of course have major upper chest shoulder muscles since swimming is a power sport using the upper body almost entirely. Plus they wear speedos and are really tan (remind you of anyone?=). The similarities are there but I guess the same could be said of many elite strength athlete.

I just find it surprising that bodybuilders who strength train would neglect the benifits that come from an excercise which promotes muscle development, definition and cadio training. Its also a good alternative to the muscle damaging effect that prolonged running can do. As a weight lifter I love to put on a speedo and get a great tan while I swim, but I totally understand this is a bodybuilding site devoted to the uber buff/ripped physique and not the slimmer underwear model type.

Bump for nugg46