Swimming can work wonders for your cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and is a great stress buster to boot. But when it comes to choosing from the many swimming strokes, how do you decide what’s best for you? The answer really lies in your fitness goals, and whether you are constrained by certain injuries or are trying to specifically tone up certain muscles. To find your perfect swim stroke match, consider the benefits of everything from the challenging butterfly to the popular freestyle stroke.
Amp Up Muscle Strength And Cardiovascular Fitness With Swimming
As you master the different strokes like the crawl, the breaststroke, the backstroke, or even the challenging butterfly stroke, you’ll also improve your coordination, posture, and balance in and out of the water.
Swimming is a great way to lose weight, tone up, and stay fit – no wonder it’s up there with the best kinds of workouts. It can help you build muscle strength as well as cardiovascular fitness. Combine your swimming routine with a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, and you could lose or manage weight. Since your movements are buffered by water, it takes the impact of other aerobic exercises like jogging or running out of the equation. It also helps improve flexibility. Many swimmers will tell you that they find swimming is also a great stress-buster. The relaxing and soothing nature of the workout can help you fit in a workout even when the weather is hot and no other exercise seems possible.1
Different Strokes: Mix It Up For Variety And To Exercise Different Muscle Groups
By moving between different swimming strokes, you give yourself a full body workout and exercise different muscle groups – without being bored by the same routine. While one stroke may work the arms and upper body more, another may use more lower body strength. This also helps reduce the risk of strain and repetitive stress. Plus, it will make your entire body limber and strengthen muscles to give you that toned look overall.
Here’s a look at the different swimming strokes and how they could help you.
1. Freestyle Stroke/Crawl: Get A Full-Body Workout And Tone Up Overall
The front crawl or freestyle stroke needs you to keep your body straight and time breaths with your strokes, tilting your head sideways to breathe at fixed intervals. Kick hard with the feet and alternate raising arms overhead, bringing one into the water as the other rises out on the other side.2
Benefits Of The Freestyle Stroke: Easily the most popular kind of swimming stroke, the freestyle or crawl does give your entire body a proper aerobic workout. Resistance from the water causes your arms to get stronger as they push the water away and propel you forward. Your legs, in turn, need to kick and power that forward motion. Swimming freestyle uses your core, arms, neck, shoulders, chest, upper back, and legs. In other words, pretty much all your joints and muscles are in play!3Of all the strokes, this one is most effective at toning your back muscles.4
You stand to burn anywhere 330 calories per half hour of swimming the crawl or freestyle if you weigh around 125 pounds or 409 calories per half hour if you weigh 155 pounds.5
2. Breaststroke: Work Those Leg Muscles And Tone Your Back
Here, you move your legs in a manner similar to a frog kick, with the knees bending, and kick out below you inside the water. Your arms move in one stroke, starting at breast level. As you push the water away with your arms, it propels the head out of the water naturally, allowing you to take a breath. The breaststroke is the swimming stroke that is linked to the lowest number of shoulder pain complaints from swimming. Although you do need to lift your head to breathe, the way you lift your upper body is more natural than in the butterfly stroke, so your lower back and spine are less likely to experience strain as well.6
Benefits Of The Breaststroke: With the breaststroke, your legs are the source of power needed to generate the forward motion and are used more than your arms.7 So if you want to pick a stroke that really uses your leg muscles, from your hamstrings to thighs and lower legs, this may be the one to go for. It will also work your chest muscles and tone up your upper back and triceps.8
Plus, you’ll burn off 300 to 444 calories per half hour depending on how much you weigh.9
3. Butterfly Stroke: Strengthen Your Core And Work Your Upper Body
The butterfly stroke is seen as one of the more challenging strokes. When you do this, you need to raise both your arms above your head simultaneously and then push down into the water with them to propel the body forward. Your legs move in a dolphin kick motion – straight and held together as you kick down with them.10
Benefits Of The Butterfly Stroke: The butterfly stroke engages your core. You need to leverage your abdominal strength to stabilize your body and get that rhythmic motion needed to do the butterfly stroke properly.11 It also uses your upper body strength, so doing this stroke can help tone up your arms, chest, stomach, and back muscles.It could even help improve posture and make your body more supple and flexible – because of how much you need to extend your limbs and torso to achieve the right movement.12
Doing the butterfly stroke for half an hour uses 330 calories for a 125 pound person, 409 calories for a 155 pound person, and as many as 488 calories in a 185 pound person, making it the swimming stroke that can help you burn the most calories.13 Just take care to do it right to avoid pulling a muscle or straining your back, neck, or shoulders.
4. Backstroke: Improve Your Posture And Work That Spine
With the backstroke, the principle remains similar to the crawl – only you lie on your back and float instead of face down in the water. When you begin, your lungs should be at the surface but the rest of you must be below the water level. Try and keep the body as perfectly horizontal as you can while you move. Kick with your legs and alternately raising one arm at a time. Bring it back into the water in a vertical arc, so that the water that is pulled below your body propels you forward.14
Benefits Of The Backstroke: Doing the backstroke helps you lengthen your spine, making you seem taller and helping you hold yourself better. You will also tone your shoulders, legs, arms, buttocks, and stomach with this stroke. Because it helps work your hips, it is a great choice for anyone who sits long hours at work or home.15
The backstroke may not be as high on the calorie burn front as the breaststroke, butterfly stroke, or even the crawl. But it can help you use as many calories as circuit training, cycling at 12–13.9 mph, or running at 5 mph. And that’s nothing to scoff at! Burn around 240 calories with every 30 minutes of backstroke if you’re around 125 pounds; or use as many as 355 calories in that time if you tip the scales at 185 pounds.16
|↑1||Swimming – health benefits. Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia.|
|↑2, ↑10, ↑11, ↑14||Gulhane, T. F. “5 Important types of swimming stroke.” (2015).|
|↑3||A Comprehensive Joint and Muscle Analysis Regarding the Motion of Freestyle Swimming. Department of Health and Physical Education, Rowan University.|
|↑4, ↑8, ↑12, ↑15||The best swimming stroke for weight loss. Swim England.|
|↑5, ↑9, ↑13, ↑16||Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑6, ↑7||Pink, Marilyn M., George T. Edelman, Russell Mark, and Scott A. Rodeo. “Applied biomechanics of swimming.” Athletic and sport issues in musculoskeletal rehabilitation. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier (2011): 331-49.|