T Nation

Swimming For Cardio?


First question, what do you all think about swimming for cardio? My friends and I went to our college pool and swam laps for 25 minutes. Each of us taking about 15 seconds off between each lap. Is this a good alternative to running a couple days a week?

Also, is sitting in a steam room beneficial for anything else besides losing water? Thanks!!

  • Ethan


If you are doing cardio for the fat burning effect, swimming is not your best choice because of the diving effect. When your face is submerged in water your body naturally starts to conserve 02. Because of this you don't get the full aerobic affect and actually burn less calories because less 02 is burned. For fat loos, weight bearing exercises would be a better choice because they burn more calories and you don't have the diving effect.

Now, if you want to gain or increase you lung and vascular system aerobic capacity, swimming is excellent because of the diving reflex.

But any aerobic training at a medium to intense level will reduce your muscle mass and ability to gain muscle because it is counterproductive to gaining and maintaining type II muscle fibers.


It's fine for whatever your purposes, if you enjoy it do it.

Cardio really shouldn't be looked at as a means to burn fat since there are many options for fuel, and really we're capable of burning fat any time we're in an aerobic state, right now we're aerobic.

As long as the swimming is done at a challenging intensity you're fine.


Thanks guys, I appreciate the resposes. I'll substitute the swimming once in a while. I should have been more clear with the type of swimming. We're doing hard "sprints" with about 30-40 seconds rest in between. It feels like an intense cardio workout.



I sometimes like sitting in a sauna/steam room to warm up prior to a workout.


I usually do repeat interval sets quite hard - a session might look like this;

Easy100-200m warm up

10 x 50m HARD with 30s break
3-5min break/stretch
5 x 100m HARD with 1 min break

You might need to play with breaks/distances depending on your swimming ability.


Have a look at the top level 50-100m sprint swimmers, they are usually very lean and have a good lot of muscle on them, so that may answer your question.

It is important to remember that because tall people are naturally suited to swimming due to the streamlining effect most of the top level swimmers will look very lean and this may bias people towards saying that swimming doesn't let you build up muscle because that's what they see on TV when the Olympics are on! There have been periods when I have personally concentrated on swimming a couple of times a week for a few km each session AND I have not been weight training or had a decent diet! (This was pre-Tnation) Yet I did not become some scrawny stick-figure in the process.

I think that swimming is a good active recovery exercise as you use the whole body and I feel that the action of the water is therapeutic, plus it is non-impact.

If you are doing hard sprints all the time be careful of not overdoing things. Although you could do swimming sprints more frequently than running sprints I still think there is a danger of overtraining with too much HIIT, especially when training hard in the gym as well.

Hope this helps,