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Guide posted by Coachbronze Nikki T in Swim Drills & Workouts

Muscles worked when Swimming (including different strokes)

Swimming is a great total body workout that incorporates many different muscles and muscle groups.  Each stroke uses different muscles.  It is important to work these muscles both in and out of the water to become a strong and injury-free swimmer.

Muscles used in all swimming strokes: 

  • Core muscles and lower back muscles keep your body stabilized on the surface of the water and maintain your body position.
  • Shoulder muscles, including the deltoids, help to have your hand properly enter and exit the water.
  • Triceps and biceps aid in stroke speed and propulsion through the water.
  • Forearm muscle strength is required to pull under the water.
  • The upper back muscles stabilize your shoulders throughout the stroke, and they also help to propel your body forward.
  • Leg muscles, such as the glutes and hamstrings, are important in keeping the body afloat and helping to kick efficiently.

 Muscles used heavily in freestyle and backstroke:

  • The core is used in all strokes, but the obliques are extremely important in rotating your torso during freestyle and backstroke.
  • Hip flexors are used to maintain a steady, powerful kick.

 Muscles used heavily in butterfly:

  • Abdominals and lower back muscles power your butterfly stroke and help to lift the body out of the water.
  • The glutes help the legs to move as one.

 Muscles used heavily in breaststroke:

  • When swimming breaststroke, the pectoral muscles in the chest as well as the lats are used to sweep the arms inward and push against the water.
  • The glutes and quadriceps power the frog kick and the ankles are used to point the toes are the kick is completed.

All of the muscles used in swimming, when strengthened, help to build endurance, power, and speed as a swimmer.  In order to build strength in the muscles, it is important to add strength work and cross training into your workout routine.

Tips for strengthening muscles used while swimming:

  • It is extremely important to strengthen the rotator cuff for swimming.  Many swimming related injuries occur due to weak rotator cuffs.  With a light dumbbell and the elbow at your side, rotate the hand from the stomach outward until it cannot go any further. Repeating this often helps the strengthen the rotator cuff. More information regarding the rotator cuff and swimming can be found at this website:
  • Incorporating core muscles is important for all strokes.  Be sure to target both the abdominals as well as the obliques.
  • Lat pulldowns will help strengthen the lat muscles that are used in all swimming strokes.
  • Seated rows are helpful in strengthening the arm and chest muscles.
  • Bicep curls and tricep kickbacks are important in arm strength to help with speed and propulsion.  
  • The hamstrings are needed for a powerful, steady kick.  In order to strengthen the hamstrings, hamstring curls can be done.
  • To build strength in the legs, leg press and leg extension exercises can build the muscle.

 Cross-training suggestions:

  • Rowing on a rowing machine can be used to work the upper back muscles and increase muscle strength.  Rowing is very similar to the breaststroke.
  • Running and sprinting helps to gain endurance, strength, and speed. 
  • Stretching is extremely important to keep the body lose and injury-free. 

Incorporating weights and cross-training help to build stroke and power while swimming.  All of the muscles work together to help build strength in the water, which is important for a swimmer’s success in the water. 

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Responses (5)

Great guide Nikki, good points about strength and cross training.

Adrian K responded Comment

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Awesome guide! A great read. Super helpful tips that I will definitely be trying out!!

Dee D responded Comment

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Great info' . Thanks for posting!

Smithy . responded Comment

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great info

Chiomzie C responded Comment

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Very informative. Thanks for sharing.

Kiran M responded Comment

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